Analyst, generalist, rationalist. PhD, geography (world culture/politics), UCLA. Complete archive at http://the-stewardship.org/english/.
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Trump rally, Orlando, 2016 March 5 (Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Trumpism is new in its name and its details, but it is not a fundamentally-new phenomenon, in general or in the United States. The transformation of the Republican Party into a Trumpist organization is not a fundamental change, either. And the usual way of understanding Trump and his party, as expressions of conservative and reactionary sentiments, is not wrong; but it is also not the best way of understanding Trump, or understanding what we must do in response. Trump and his party are not quaintly indulging in nostalgia for a bygone era. They mean to rule.

We must recognize in Trump and the Republican Party a desire for dominion — a pursuit and seizure and desperate attempt at retention of power, by a minority, for the benefit of the minority. If that means keeping things as they are, they will do so. If it means taking us back to the past, they will do that. And if it means creating an entirely-new condition that better suits their desires, they will do that instead. They have no adherence to other principles or fidelity to long traditions, and for that matter no loyalty to the independence and purpose of the United States. If they speak reverently of the Constitution, it is no more than rhetoric, a calculated nod not to a set of laws but to a malleable and empty symbol of whatever they happen to want at any given moment. They are not a party of laws. They are a party of power. Until this is clear in our minds, our response to their actions will always be inadequate. …


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2017 September 22

Our current social struggles over the actions of the police are a matter of justice, of course, but they are also rightly seen as an element of our larger cultural wars, with the police lining up against those who feel victimized by the police, many with good reason, and each side drawing passionate supporters. As a matter of justice, this dispute could be analyzed in the limited terms of public policy; but like other cultural clashes, its antagonists enter the dispute with very different, mutually-unintelligible perspectives, as though lacking a common language. What is unusual about the cultural clash over the police is how much of it is based on a contradiction of values internal to the police themselves. For a large number of cops, there is a direct conflict between an ideal that they claim and often imagine themselves to embody, and a reality created by their deeper, unstated beliefs. …


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(Andrew Harnik, AP)

Donald Trump needs to be removed from office as soon as possible. He has always been and will continue to be a genuine threat to the entire world, not merely the United States, for as long as he remains in power. He is erratic, corrupt, impulsive, mentally impaired, uninformed, lazy, vindictive, and probably compromised by numerous foreign states. He is, in short, unfit for his responsibilities. …


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Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison (W. Ridgway)

From 1952 to 1976, every presidential nominee from an incumbent party of two or more terms lost. This fact is the foundation, and the only foundation, for the two-term fatigue theory, which states that such nominees, all other things being equal, will lose. But this streak involved only four such nominees: Democrat Adlai Stevenson (1952), Republican Richard Nixon (1960), Democrat Hubert Humphrey (1968), and Republican Gerald Ford (1976). The two main parties alternated in power every eight years starting, supposedly, with the enactment of the 22nd Amendment, which prohibited third terms to individual presidents.

By contrast, from 1840 to 1960, every president elected in a census year died in office — William Henry Harrison (1840), Abraham Lincoln (1860), James Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren Harding (1920), Franklin Roosevelt (1940), and John Kennedy (1960). This is Tecumseh’s Curse, and it is based on nearly twice as many data points, over five times as long a span. The curse is named for, and was supposedly delivered by, the leader* of the confederacy defeated by Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and I learned it as a child growing up in the neighborhood of the battleground. The curse is, needless to say, fiction. It involves taking a string of coincidences and imagining them to represent some law of the universe. In the absence of a compelling theory for why such presidents die in office, it has always been recognized by serious people as a string of coincidences. And the myth did not outlive my childhood; I was newly an adult when Ronald Reagan (1980) left office alive in 1989, despite being nearly 78 and having been the target of an assassination attempt. The curse had a sporting chance, but still failed. And for good measure, the next candidate, George W. Bush (2000), was unusually young and fit. …


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Trump and Putin in Helsinki, 2018 July 16

The gradual release and discovery of information in the Trump-Russia story, and the constant tactical retreat of Trump campaign and White House officials, has successfully moved the goalposts for many observers, such that the only Trump behavior they will recognize as bad is “collusion”, and the only evidence they will accept of collusion is a recording of a phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in which Putin asks, “So, Donald Frederickovich, shall we collude?”, and Trump replies, “Da.” But if you assemble the facts that we already know, collusion is plain.

What we have, in Trump and Russia, are two parties assisting each other, each aware of the other’s assistance and actively seeking that assistance. Because they have concealed their communications, we may never know to what extent they privately coordinated that assistance, or made explicit the quid pro quo nature of that assistance. Does it matter? There were working together, they knew they were working together, and they were doing something nefarious. …


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Sherrod Brown being sworn in, with wife Connie Schultz and Joe Biden (Getty)

There is already a large field of Democrats (or standoffish Democratic-leaning independent socialists) running for president, and it will get larger, perhaps much larger. While evaluations of them as candidates depend heavily on personal values, there are some hard facts that face Democrats in choosing among them from a partisan perspective. What is good for the party overall? Obviously, the goal is to capture the White House and the Senate in 2020, while holding the House, and winning as many additional governorships and state legislatures as possible — and then to use these offices to implement specific policies. …


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(Chip Somodevilla, Getty)

If Beto O’Rourke is the Democratic nominee in 2020, I will vote for him, and not just with great reluctance. Donald Trump and the Republican Party must be soundly defeated, it goes without saying. Moreover, I like Beto, and I see him as a politician with great potential. But he will not be my choice in the Democratic primaries. The problem is not just that there are good reasons for nominating someone else. It’s that people are supporting Beto O’Rourke for bad reasons. They don’t want Beto to run the government. They want Beto to take us all to prom.

Beto O’Rourke was, and is, unremarkable as a legislator. None of his supporters that I have yet heard have pointed to a single thing he has done in government to distinguish himself as the person who should be in charge of it, who should be making the most important decisions there are. I knew of him before his Senate run, but primarily for once claiming that the border fence in El Paso was something “the East Germans would be ashamed of”. Someone raised during the Cold War, as Beto was, should know how flippant a comparison that was. Apart from that, he was just a backbencher in his third term in the House, undistinguished on any national issue. That’s fine; it doesn’t make him a failure. …


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2016 presidential election by precinct (Ryne Rohla)

Pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson has gotten a lot of attention, and from serious people, for an analysis of the US midterm election results, but what she has to say is either trivially true or obviously false, and in some cases self-contradictory. Soltis Anderson’s overarching theme is that we should stop thinking in red states and blue states. She is right about this; but she has not yet heeded her own advice.

The state is a terrible unit of analysis, other than for specific government-related matters — laws, of course, or public universities and their fandoms. The state has never been a good unit of analysis for population characteristics or political views. It’s true that there is some relocation that might take place for governmental reasons, especially within metropolitan areas — lower taxes, better schools, the ability to smoke pot. …


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Women’s March, Washington, 2017 (Amanda Voisard, Washington Post)

In every election year, Democrats grow despondent over the outcome as the election nears. Sometimes it’s just because the stakes are so high, as they were in 2016, and in that case they were of course right to worry. Sometimes it’s because things clearly will go badly, as they did in 2010. This year, it’s because hopes have been high, but the polls appear to be softening. After much anticipation of a Blue Wave sweeping the Republicans from Congress, now there is doubt. Some degree of doubt is a good thing; the Democrats will not win anything this year if people don’t turn out to vote for Democrats, and any Blue Wave was predicated on a huge turnout, compared to historical midterms. After 2016, I feel no great confidence in predictions or my own expectations, and have no desire to encourage overconfidence by Democrats, in part because it is not warranted, and in part because it is counterproductive. …


Consider the following claims, frequently made:

The Democrats have lost thousands of seats in the last decade. Corporate centrism is a failure. The Democrats need a new, progressive approach.

and its complement:

The Republican Party has been organizationally brilliant and tactically ruthless. The Democrats need to match them, not continue with their usual, hapless milquetoastery.

The versions you’ve seen may differ slightly, but this is my good-faith summary of the arguments. …

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