Some of you are interested in my political opinions out of a desire to be exposed to different viewpoints, or out of a certain amount of sympathy, or out of a feeling that “something needs to be done and at this point I’ll listen to anything.” Some of you have no interest in, or possibly actively hate my political opinions, but put up with them because we’re friends, or you like my books and are curious about what makes me tick. Others finally can’t stand it any more and unfriend, mute, or block me. I can’t complain, I’ve done the same with those who, for various reasons, I just couldn’t put with. Fair is fair.
But now, some of you wonder, will we finally be done with the Obama- and Clinton-bashing? Will Steve at least be focusing on the Republicans now? No and yes respectively.
Trump may be laughable, but he’s no joke. He has announced plans to drive toward WWIII, he has proposed a cabinet ideally suited to attack democratic rights and drive the working class back to Dickensian conditions. Anyone with a shred of human decency either opposes him or is, at best, hopelessly disoriented. And the rest of us have to ask ourselves: how do we fight? Or in the immortal words of Buffy: Where do we go from here?
We either view the way forward as with the Democrats, or against them. In terms of economic policy, of wars of aggression, of police militarization, of deportation of immigrants, of cuts to food stamps, of extra-legal drone killings of non-combatants, of persecution of whistleblowers, and of surrendering to the religious right, we have just come out of 16 years of George W. Bush. President Obama referred to the election of Trump as an “intramural scrimmage” in which “we’re all on the same side.” Clinton and Sanders have expressed their willingness to work with Trump. Does this sound like a party that can fight a fascistic egomaniac? To put it in the starkest terms I can: If the Democratic Party were capable of mounting a serious opposition to Trump, he wouldn’t have won the electoral college victory in the first place, and party hacks wouldn’t now be trying so desperately blame their loss on Russia.
I have no interest in talking to hard-core Trump supporters. “It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” And as for Nazis and overt white supremacists, well, punching them in the face one by one isn’t a serious solution, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than trying to debate with them. So, if I’m not going to address the Trump supporters, who am I talking to? Everyone else.
How do we fight? What is the way forward? Many, many people see the Democratic Party as the only alternative. A good number cannot seriously imagine the working class intervening on a mass scale because it hasn’t happened in their lifetime, or because they have some idealized image of what the working class is and think it doesn’t exist any more, or for some other reason; they thus believe that, like it or not, we’re stuck with the Democrats. Others consider any alternative to capitalism as absurd as Charles I and his nobles saw any alternative to feudal monarchy. I believe they are dangerously wrong, and I intend to continue fighting for this position. So if you’re a Democrat and you’ve been hoping you could read my blog and not have to put me with me hating on your party, I’m sorry to disappoint. Call this fair warning.
169 thoughts on “Okay, Steve. Will you finally shut up about the Democrats? No.”
My thought is: the Democrats are welcome to act as allies in the fight. When they do, I will be for them. When they do not, I will ignore them. When they prioritize preserving the power of the establishment with no regard for the usages of that power, I am against them. The intramural rival of my enemy is… a guy wearing a jersey whose loyalties cannot be counted on.
I think even if you’re a fanatic Democrat, it’s hard to argue that the party has been effective the way it is now. When was the last time the Republican Party controlled this much of national and state politics?
And here we are.
Good summary of where we are now. Anyone who still believes we can save the day by voting once every four years for whatever imperial capitalist champion the Democrats put forward may just be watching too much CNN and MSNBC.
The question for me has been, which is worse? Having the Democrats in power so they can ride social movements, keep those movements harmless to the underlying economic structure, before ultimately dissipating them? Or having a Republican who will at least openly attack the working class with savage abandon, hopefully spurring a response?
So far the populace seems more inspired to resist by having Trump as president, but marches are pretty harmless I suppose.
Mike S. — tell that to the 20 million Americans that have health insurance thanks to the ACA. Tell that to the women of this country whose reproductive choices are still their own. Tell that to workers who receive overtime pay and some assurance of occupational safety.
Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the air quality in Mexico City or Beijing. Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the reductions in ozone depleting CFCs. Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the resurgent populations of eagle, falcons, and other birds of prey.
The list goes on. Having to enumerate them gets tiresome. What it tells me is that you haven’t thought about this very much. There is an alternate theory to the Democrats haven’t been effective – it’s that they’ve been so effective that massive amounts of capital have been expended to stall or defeat them by interests inimical to a progressive agenda.
Propaganda, PR, advertising. Stealth candidates. ALEC. Koch brothers. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia …. and the Democrats have been ineffective. Good night and good luck.
I wasn’t clear, I’m sorry. I mean the Democrats are ineffective at winning support.
I recognize the good things they have accomplished. I also recognize the billions of dollars spent in all forms of propaganda against them. But no matter how much money is spent, this is a propaganda war it should be easy for American liberals to win: health care and retirement for the 99%, worker safety, equal employment, breathable air, sex education, abortion rights, gay rights vs. the opposite of all of those things.
Oneill-sin-wisconsin, Democrats used to do some good things. It seemed like they did a lot less starting around the time of Bill Clinton, and fewer still in the Obama years.
I guess they’re still better than Republicans. They at least get much better press than Republicans. It looks to me like a lot of the reason they’ve been ineffective at getting votes is that they in fact have not been doing things voters wanted. You can get a long way with propaganda, but it really helps when the truth the propaganda competes with is just not very good either.
Democrats argued that the whole country had swung right and they had to swing right too or they would be left behind. Bernie gives the impression that isn’t true. He’s the closest we’ve had to a forward-thinking candidate in the last 35 years or so, and he looked like he was very popular. But mostly voters who think outside the box their parties put them in, wind up with nobody to vote for.
It seemed like it didn’t matter so much when they lied during good times. They were only parasites we could afford. Like getting a few mosquito bites in the summer, they suck your blood but not enough to hurt you much. But now times are bad and they’re taking more than we can afford, and we don’t know how to stop them. The mosquitoes of summer have turned into the vampires of winter.
I am relieved to hear that you are going to continue speaking out. It seems to me that you take a rational and well informed perspective and build on it, most of your friends who do not see situations in exactly the same way also have logical reasons for their positions and if it were not for these discussions I would despair of finding any solution oriented conversations anywhere. Lately I see an overabundance of selfrighteous memes that appeal to the worst in people and are actually self defeating to any kind of government that serves the people. If people are to unite there must be sane voices to speak out.
I will note that you’re one of the reasons I no longer automatically self-describe as either a Democrat or a liberal, although I also haven’t ceased to be annoyed by the labels of ‘identitarian’ and ‘pseudo-left’ when broadly applied. My positions shifted in response to material changes I witnessed – my vocabulary and rhetoric, on the other hand, have been changed by virtue of long discussion and debate with you and Will.
I suppose the degree to which my perception of my positions and my rhetoric about said positions should be considered independently depends on how thoroughly one believes in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis…
I think it would be helpful if you were aware that the feudal monarchy in England and Wales ground to a halt in the 15th century; Charles I lived in the 17th century.
Neither he nor his nobles thought in feudal terms, unsurprisingly because they were living a couple of centuries after it bit the dust. Charles was a proponent of a radical form of the concept of the divine right of kings, created by his father James VI of Scotland, before he became King of England following the death of Elizabeth I.
That doctrine maintained that the king, and the king alone, had all of the power, both civil and religious. There was some element of reciprocity built into the feudal system, but none at all in James and Charles’ vision; Parliament was simply there to provide them with money, and adoration.
It is important to be aware of this because Donald Trump adheres to that vision; from everything we have seen so far he believes that he can, and should, do whatever he wants, because he alone knows what should be done.
The assertion of absolute power by Charles I led to our Civil War; from this side of the pond it looks as if Trump may emulate Charles I in that as well. Again, from this side of the pond, Civil War in your country would be preferable to Trump nuking China, and any other country he gets pissed off with. It is difficult to build a progressive future surrounded by radioactive slag heaps…
jetthomas – do you realize how inconsistent your argument is?? Do you? “…they in fact have not been doing things voters wanted”
Umm, are you saying voters then wanted things the GOP is offering? What ARE they offering. Dismantle Obamacare. Ignore global warming. Increase income inequality. Repeal women’s reproductive rights. Gender and sexual identity based discrrimination is OK.
OK, I guess the Democrats should have offered those things too.
Perhaps you may want to clarify your thoughts. I realize most here like to bash Democrats out of knee-jerk reaction. Hell, skzb tried to foist the false equivalence of Trump and Clinton off on us.
So voters didn’t want to move towards a system of national healthcare, voters didn’t want Family and Medical Leave, voters didn’t want environmental protections, voters didn’t care about global warming, voters didn’t care about Dreamers, need we go on?
Ignoring actual implementation of progressive policies versus the repeal of those policies should be a no-brainer. Obviously enough people were swayed by your logic to give us Donald Trump as president. Now, does that make you part of the problem or part of the solution? Oh, and please remember – the other side has all the guns.
Stevie: Serfdom was abolished, feudalism was not. The fundamental relationship that drove the economy was between those who worked the land and those who owned it Freeholders—a significant indicator of the rise of capitalism—were becoming a more significant part of the economy, but legally the protection of the feudal lords was all still in place, which is why the base of Cromwell’s army were those rising capitalists who were being strangled by both the market restrictions and the lack of labor that are common to a feudal economy. The Bishops War of 1639 (in my opinion, the actual onset of the war, though it’s generally given as 1641 with the raising of an army to put down the rebellion in Ireland) had beneath the religious issues questions of English landlords and Scottish land, leading Charles to summon a parliament in which rising bourgeois interests were represented and brought directly into conflict with the interests of the estates. That, at least, is my understanding. I hardly pass myself off as an expert on English history, so I’m willing to be corrected.
I love your posts, because they are well-reasoned and articulate. I am also coming to believe that you are right.
We need to create a united political force by workers, for workers, and of workers. Because nobody else will stick up for us.
“May you live in interesting times.” It is certainly an interesting time and watching Trump could be really humorous if the potential results were not so damn serious and important.
The question posed seems to be, can the Democratic party provide a real and corrective force, or do we need a new (call it Socialist) party to do that work? The present Democratic party is less than ineffective. Meaning that they were going the wrong direction deliberately. So can the Democratic party be re-oriented to going the right direction to help the average person? I wish it could, but too many Dem. politicians feed at the same tits as the GOP. This is a direct result of allowing huge cash contributions. Unless that changes, nothing will change.
Convincing people to support a socialist party will be difficult because we have nearly all been brainwashed that socialist and communist are the same thing. So that would be a tough re-education process. A different name is needed. Call it the “Progressive” party or “Populist” party something like that. Do not call it the “People’s Party,” as that is reminiscent of communist jargon.
skzb thinks there is a real possibility of a populist armed revolt. Unless Trump squeezes too hard, it is unlikely to happen. People have to be pretty desperate (not just mad) for that to happen.
“We need to create a united political force by workers, for workers, and of workers. Because nobody else will stick up for us.”
Yes. If that united political force is created primarily by individual Democrats in the name of Democrats and chooses to call itself the Democratic party, I won’t argue. But if it does, it will have to swallow the moneyed institution of the current party establishment and digest it entirely in order to be worker-based, so more likely the political force of the workers will be, at *most*, loosely allied with the Democratic Party,
> The fundamental relationship that drove the economy was between those who worked the land and those who owned it
The fact that ownership counted, rather than military control, was already a big step from the true feudalism of Game-of-Thrones-era Britain.
If British history teaches one thing, it is that even radical changes in underlying power relationships do not have to be accompanied by changes in the names of institutions; to believe otherwise is some kind of anti-materialist magical thinking.You can’t change the reality by naming things, and you can’t keep things the same by keeping the old names.
Or if you prefer US history, the change in the nature of the Republican party from Lincoln to Eisenhower to Trump is not merely large, but not obviously bounded in scope. It is not like if Trump wanted to do a thing, there would be someone with the ability to say to him ‘you can’t do that, you are a Republican’. Republicanism is what Trump says it is.
The two parties are sufficiently similar in internal organisation that what applies to one could to the other. If the times are right and the numbers are there, it could be made to happen.
Thank you for your response; having said that I hardly now where to start. So, picking some of the most obvious:
The modern study of English history is a great deal more analytical than it was when people loved to make dramatic and sweeping assertions about the tides of history. The study of the British Civil War has subsequently taken a very different route to that outlined by you, to the point that even the old school historians have conceded that it got it wrong.
Nowadays the real question is not ‘Why did Cromwell win’; it’s ‘How did Charles manage. to lose?’.
There was nothing predestined about the rise of capitalism, the Protestant Work Ethic looked good in the book, and is much bandied around, but it didn’t actually make any difference, beyond providing infrastructure in the shape of building Poor Law Houses (satire).
You have omitted the large numbers of people who were neither land owners nor labourers
in this country; for example, the Apprentices rioting in the streets reflecting both the power and weaknesses of the Trade Guilds in London and elsewhere. Some of those of noble families also joined Cromwell, frequently as a response to Charles’ claim of absolute power, as Trump demands today.
Your view of English history, and our Civil War in particular, is based on assumptions that are no longer believed by the vast majority of reputable historians of the period. That’s the short answer. The long one would last for a few years, since I spent some years at the ShakespeRe Institute , focussing on the socio-economics during the period. After all, if you hold Combined Honours in Drama and the Theatre Arts and Sociology, it seems a pity to waste that skill set.
I would like some sleep…
Not at all sure how my post went up as ‘undefined’, but undefined is me. And I still need sleep…
Thanks for keeping on with these posts. And for mentioning Charlie 1.
Leading up to the election voting D seemed increasingly like the only way to avoid Trump. With that failure, it seems like a great time to unite workers around a revolutionary program. If more people understand the scale of industrial productivity and realize that, often, scarcity is an illusion, it should make them more insistent upon sharing the wealth.
One of the most bizarre aspects of the 2016 election is that most of The Money wanted Hillary to beat Trump. I would guess it was an even split between establishment Republican and Hillary, but once Trump won the nomination, it was pretty clear that Money wanted Hillary (and probably a mostly Republican Congress to keep everyone “honest.”) For instance, ask China who they would have wanted in the White House? Or the EU? Or South Korea and Japan?
Russia and a faltering segment of the energy sector managed a Hail Mary win based partly on racism, partly on slick use of social media and partly on the failure of Democrats to actually put forward much in the way of proposed change. (I know the Republican could have blocked change for at least a few years, but what exactly did the Democrats even PROPOSE during the Obama administration. Don’t say the ACA, a proposal that Newt Gingrich was for before he was against it.)
I find most of these discussions to be discouraging. Growing up in a small town in northern Wisconsin during the 1960s and 70s it became apparent to me by the time I graduated high school that most of the world’s desperately poor lived in 3rd world countries; China, India, Bangladesh, central and south America, Africa. It also seemed apparent to me that accident of birth and arbitrary lines on maps played a significant role in our lives — often the difference between life and death. These beliefs were encoded into me before I was 18 years old and before Ronald Reagan was elected President. I’ve never found any compelling evidence to change them.
At the same time I discovered that the label that best applied to me was secular humanist. This posed a problem: how does one live in the wealthiest nation on earth and pretend anything but indifference to the world’s poor? When the local union is on strike to raise their wages from $17/hour to $18/hour when most of the world is living on pennies per day what exactly is the proper attitude? Is this the struggle to which we should devote our energies? What is the greater good? What if the proper answer is that the local union worker should NOT be receiving $18/hour, or even $17/hour, but $11/hour and that the difference should go – not to the company – but to the foreign workers in the production chain? How do you sell that to your local union worker?
So, when people like Paul Pinkosh write, “We need to create a united political force by workers, for workers, and of workers. Because nobody else will stick up for us.” I am really unsure if they know what they are asking. I rarely believe they have thought this through. Until we fully believe and realize that every other human on the planet is the local union worker we will always be hypocrites. For most Americans this isn’t a matter of becoming better off, it’s a matter of giving some of our wealth to the rest of the world.
Over the past 25 years we have likely seen the largest decline in extreme poverty humanity has ever experienced. It didn’t happen in America because very few Americans fell into that category. It happened in China. It happened because of western trade – especially American trade- with China. Globalization didn’t eliminate any of those arbitrary lines on maps, but it blurred some of them. As Dani Rodrik has written, “Expanding trade with China has aggravated inequality in the United States, while ameliorating global inequality.”
Now, should this be lamented or applauded?
Everybody wants a pony. Idealism has its place, but forgetting the real world and real world consequences is a bad option. The EU is an attempt to blur some of those arbitrary lines. Free trade policies are, in general, attempts to blur some of those arbitrary lines. This was always the real difference between Trump and Clinton; two different views on arbitrary lines. One wanted to reinforce them, one wanted to blur them.
150 years after the First International is anyone confident that a socialist worker’s party is the answer? And by that I mean – if it is, where the hell is it? There are many awaiting the rapture and the 2nd coming. I’m not one of them. Not in religion or politics.
This election showed that even though you finance a candidate (Clinton) well, that is not sufficient to win an election. It would be nice if the Democratic party learns from this experience. But I fear that they will not. The people who own the candidates (almost literally) are running the show. Not the politicians. That was just plain too obvious for Clinton. She lost not because people chose Trump over her, but because Democrats chose not to vote. The cynical game of saying you have to vote for me because Trump is much worse, did not play out as expected.
The voters need to make it clear to the Democratic party that if they pull the same crap again, they will lose again. In the meantime, starting a third party seems like a good way for workers to gain more power.
“150 years after the First International is anyone confident that a socialist worker’s party is the answer? And by that I mean – if it is, where the hell is it?”
This is an interesting comment and an important issue. Namely, why haven’t the workers today turned out in great numbers to demand more political power by whatever means? My thought is that most workers feel both exhausted and powerless to affect change. Namely, most workers are “getting by.” As long as they can continue to get by, don’t expect too much from them.
Things like the recent Women’s Marches show people can be mobilized in large numbers on issues they care about. Trouble is, I don’t think the Trump types care.
Stevie: Thank you.
oneillsinwisconsin: You talk about idealism, but your description of the EU is steeped in idealism. Come to the borders of Fortress Europe, where the bodies wash up and the survivors are put in camps, and you’ll see how blurred the lines are. Come to Greece and try to live in the conditions created here by capitalism (comparable in their economic impact to World War 2), and you’ll see how poverty is ameliorated.
The EU is a machine for supporting European capital; far from erasing the borders between people, it is massively increasing xenophobia and nationalism with its real-world policies, and hugely increasing the danger of world war, simply because it cannot deal with the contradictions caused by capitalism. It is the polar opposite of internationalism.
As for the rest of the argument, well, it boils down to something like “but if they have mobile phones, they’re not really poor!” Just because *more* extreme poverty exists than in the West, that does not make the suffering of millions of people without work, without access to adequate healthcare, education, etc., any less significant. And that things have gotten less bad in some places due to capitalism – entirely in keeping with Marxist analysis of the benefits of capitalism – doesn’t mean they will keep getting better, or that massive and unresolvable contradictions aren’t already on the horizon even in those places.
Your example of unionism is, frankly, dishonest and silly, as that has nothing to do with what socialists aim at (more foreign aid, taken from workers, while maintaining capitalism? right) and I’m pretty sure you know that.
What is this “Democratic Party” of which you speak?
Aside from California and a scattering of cities it famously holds no territory. We are about to find out if it can affect anything whatsoever in Washington. As far as I can tell, it consists primarily of expensive apparatchiks who scrounge the contributions that pay their salaries.
The bubble people are so distant they don’t seem to know they’re distant. (There’s a story I haven’t had the heart to check out: Before the election, when Michigan was in trouble, the Democrats in Iowa put together carloads of volunteers to go beef up the ground game. Headquarters back east ordered them not to go, because that wasn’t part of the master plan or something.) Why are their constituency so easily gulled by a spectacularly obvious con man? Where have the educational efforts been for the last half century? It’s hideous seeing the “Democratic Party” fighting off its foundational constituencies.
In the electoral framework, there seem to be two options. Retaking the party would be like all the labors of Hercules combined. Starting a “third” party may be physically impossible the way the two have legislated barriers against interlopers.
I have my own short list of Obama’s worst political sins, but chronologically there’s no argument which came first. He was elected, in part, by mobilizing demographics with historically low participation. Then, as soon as he was elected, HE THREW AWAY THE MAILING LIST. God’s bleeding hemorrhoids, you just don’t do that.
Sitting in an airport now. Here is a link to the bylaws of the Democratic National Committee. There isn’t anything in there that would preclude it from being a fully Socialist party that I can see; the trick being in changing the membership of said committee. Similar structures iterate at state levels.
Now seems like a fairly good time to change that membership as the old membership clearly failed wildly. This is challenging, but no one said things were going to be easy.
At the same time, alternate party structures should certainly be considered and worked on. There are currently many roadblocks that have been set in the path of any alternate parties at the state level and these should be worked on also.
All landslides start with some shaking and some pebbles. The amount of shaking needed depends on the forces put in place to oppose said shaking but rigid structures crack and break.
@Neil in Chicago,
What does territory have to do with anything? When did this country have the rule “One acre, one vote”?
The rest of your post is fine, but that particular point was irrelevant. It’s not like the Democrats lost the popular vote by a wide margin.
I’m British, living in a country currently disembowelling itself on fantasies of a new British Empire ruling the world, and whilst I most certainly do not regard the EU as a Utopia, I note that the picture you paint of it comes straight from the alt-right playbook.
I should recognise it, since I’ve seen it in action. One of Trump’s earliest visitors in his fake ‘Le Roi-Soleil’* home was Nigel Farage, notable, amongst other things, for his ability to lie straight faced during his campaign for Brexit, and, having won, then for saying that he wouldn’t want to be in the same room as the vast majority of people who believed him, and his promises, since they are stupid rabble.
So much for respect for the working class in the ideology of the alt-right, on both sides of the pond.
Greece has undoubtedly had a rough time with the imposition of austerity, but not all of its problems can be blamed on the EU. It wasn’t the EU who persuaded a group of Greek monks to borrow $1,000,000,000; they decided that for themselves, with the assistance of Goldman Sachs, despite all efforts to persuade them otherwise by the EU, and anyone else with any common sense. They ignored it.
* Le Roi-Soleil was Louis XIV of France, who was even more convinced of the Divine Right of Kings than James and Charles.
The first thing the Democrats *should* have done was to decide to work from the bottom up. Work in communities. Be the populist party, and realize that getting communities and state houses and Congress are more important than getting the presidency. But they can’t do that when the voters believe their politicians are working for Big Money.
howard: “Be the populist party”
And if everyone wants a pony, then we should offer them one? If everyone wants to build a border fence we should do so? Populism is often the antithesis of principled.
And if the public changes their collective mind tomorrow, then the populist thing to do is change right along with them, no?
In case you can’t read between the lines I am not in agreement that Democrats should be the populist party.
O’Neill– a pony? What everyone wants is affordable health care. The Democrats could have made a push for actual universal care. Instead, standing on principal, the Democrats delivered a compromised system that, all credit due, gave millions health care they could afford or nearly afford, but not everyone. The corporations that are supposed deliver health care loved it.
What everyone wants is the means to feed their family an adequate, healthy diet. The Democrats could have worked toward a a truly fair economy that gave every citizen the means to support themselves and a chance at meaningful work. Instead, standing on principal, they made token efforts at reigning in the worst excesses of cut-throat capitalism while leaving all the inequality of power in place.
Populist isn’t synonymous with ignorant, and acting out of contempt for the intelligence of the working class and poor is not principal. People know what they need, even if they aren’t sure how to get it. A responsible party would work toward meeting those needs while trying to raise the consciousness of all the citizens it serves. Instead, the Democrats, just like the Republicans, spend their time courting the monied classes with a wink at the “baskets of deplorables” that didn’t get invitations to the fundraising dinners. Believing that the people aren’t qualified to govern themselves is the first step serving yourselves before them.
What’s truly remarkable is that when I describe thousands of people drowning on EU borders and tens of thousands imprisoned in camps – which are well-established facts – UK liberals tend to immediately call me far-right. Far-right! For not wanting refugees to drown. For thinking the misery of people forced into camps is not acceptable to a democratic society.
Is it also “straight from the alt-right playbook” to note that the EU helped install a fascist party in an unelected government, thus legitimizing the far right in Greece and directly leading to the rise of Golden Dawn? You know, the ones organizing pogroms and stabbing people?
Is it also alt-right to note that the EU openly undermined democracy in Greece, using financial blackmail to reverse a referendum?
Is it also alt-right to note that the EU has been deeply involved in helping the Greek ruling class push austerity measures that have destroyed millions of lives?
Is it also alt-right to note the EU’s (illegal) deal with Turkey regarding refugees, which results in people being sent to die?
This inability to understand that the EU is opposed by most of the European left – and worse, this inability to look the EU’s crimes against humanity in the eye – is the most tremendous failure of what passes for a Left in the UK. Unable to articulate a vision beyond “UKIP is bad”, it has embraced one of the most reactionary entities in the world.
Yes, a section of the British ruling class has foolish designs of Empire. They should be opposed. But what is the EU, if not an empire? Is the EU not intellectually and structurally anti-democratic? Has it not imposed fanatic austerity at all costs? Is it not responsible for thousands of deaths – far more than the infamous Berlin Wall ever was? Is xenophobia only bad when it happens inside the UK, but perfectly acceptable when it happens out of sight, in the Aegean? Is poverty only an issue when it’s because of “Tory cuts”, but not when the EU used all its might to keep whole families in Greece living from a single pension, burning wood to keep from freezing and praying the flat won’t catch on fire? Would you care more if the dead were washing up on British shores? Would it be less alt-right to oppose barbaric camps for refugees if they were on British soil, not on some remote Greek island? If Theresa May instead of Angela Merkel was signing the orders, would you then express any kind of solidarity with people outside the British liberal bubble?
If anyone is working straight from the alt-right handbook, it’s you – reaching for the classic racist excuses (“hey, some of it is their own fault!”), downplaying shocking humanitarian crises (apparently Greece has merely “had it rough”, like World War II was “a bit of a scuffle”), casually overlooking brutality and inhumanity if they don’t fit the party narrative, which of course is solely focused on your country and the fantasies of your liberal middle class.
I’m sorry to be so impolite, but if you really want a united Europe, stop making excuses and fight against the EU *from the left, for an actually internationalist movement*. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem, and doing the far right a favour. If there is no meaningful opposition to the EU’s inhumanity – and God knows the British left has utterly deserted the rest of us – then the rise of the far right has only just begun.
larswyrdson – “Populist isn’t synonymous with ignorant,”
I realize the effort to double-down and support the home team is strong, but populism is generally what puts fascists in power. Check your news headlines; the pope just chimed in on the very subject. Populism is what politicians are doing when they are ruled by public opinion polls. Pat Buchanan was a populist. Hitler was a populist.
jonas – your argument supports to what I wrote, it is not evidence against it. Did I say the EU removed all arbitrary lines? No. And quite obviously those lines are only *within* the EU; refugees are from *outside* the EU; i.e. where the arbitrary lines have not been blurred we have a crisis.
The problem with Greece is that the EU has a single currency and free movement of people, but taxation and government expenditures are still largely national in nature. Greece is also a bad example of just about anything because most of its problems are unique to Greece and corruption and bad governance played a large part in her difficulties.
O’Neill- I know the definition of populism. I also know the definition of fascism and demagogy and a great many other words. I’m clever that way.
Populism is nothing more than the belief that political systems should support and respond to the majority of a society, not just an elite. Want some other names? Bernie Sanders (not especially trusted by our host) is a populist. Theodore Roosevelt was. Ralph Nader. Has populist rhetoric been used by right wing and left wing demagogues as a tool to gather political power? Of course. Does that mean that any attempt to involve the people of a democracy in directing their own destiny is a rush to fascism?
O’neill, I’ve voted for only Democrats my whole life, starting with Mondale. If I say that I am really ready for another choice, it is because I am certain that the party set itself on the wrong course some time ago. It is a party with a lot of ideals and ideas I value, but for decades now, it has all been warped by a pursuit of policy that is friendlier to corporations than to humans. Why is it a struggle now to even pass relief for the Middle Class when once Democrats talked openly and without shame about helping the Lower Class? Why is free corporate global trade the only path to increasing economic security? Why is it OK to continually shred the safety net while buying into the right wing’s rhetoric of the moral inferiority of the poor?
If the Democrats can’t step away from their Wall Street luncheons for five minutes to consider that most of their economic policies are just slightly kinder versions of Trickle Down, then, yes, fascists will come along and stir up the people they have left behind with empty promises of a brighter future. How much further could the Dems have gotten with a few genuine promises that actually met the needs of the people?
Just want to jump in long enough to say that this is an excellent discussion, with some really outstanding points being made. This is the kind of discussion I hope for on this blog.
Actually, I have seen considerably more of Greece than most visitors; there are a great number of archaeological sites, buildings and museums on the mainland and islands, and I have spent the last five years visiting as many as possible, along with those in Turkey.
Accordingly, I witnessed firsthand some of the horrors in the Aegean which you seem to believe are known only to yourself and people you know. You seem to imagine that the Greek Captain and officers on cruise ships in the Aegean were callous and unmoved by the tragedy of the refugees desperately seeking shelter; all I can say is that the ones I know were profoundly distressed. It is, after all, the first instinct of any sailor to aid those in peril on the sea.
In 2015 around a million people made it to Europe, and the burden was particularly heavy in Greece; the agreement by the EU to pay Turkey to hold back refugees trying to go to Greece reduced the number in 2016 to around 335,000. I appreciate you think this is despicable but since you haven’t put forward any alternatives I have to go with the consensus:
Perhaps if you explained to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan etc. that the EU is an evil empire they would go somewhere else; at present Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has taken a great deal of flack for agreeing to accept a million refugees, most recently from Donald Trump, though of course he described them as illegals. That is what the alt-right does, and yet you are so busy denouncing the Evil Empire of the EU that you conveniently omit the fact that Angela Merkel accepts them as refugees under International Law.
According to the International Rescue Committee there are around 57,000 refugees stranded in Greece due to the closure of borders on the Balkan route and the EU/Turkish agreement; the Greek government is, presumably, doing its best and I’m not criticising their efforts. I leave that to you since it’s your government not mine; I have enough on my plate criticising my own government, though I am cheered by today’s ruling by the Supreme Court that the Government cannot use the Royal Prerogative to bypass Parliament. We fought a Civil War on that issue.
The stated purpose of the British Government is to leave the EU because it wishes to seal our borders, and it can’t do that as a member of the EU. You appear to want your borders sealed to prevent refugees though you don’t say so explicitly. You also very obviously don’t want to discuss how Greece got into the financial hell-hole it presently inhabits: I am bemused by that because, at the very least, anything involving Goldman Sachs should be a red flag to anyone even slightly to the left of Ivan the Terrible, and yet you completely ignore it. For those who are interested, Michael Lewis wrote about this back in 2010; this is the preface to a lengthy article:
‘As Wall Street hangs on the question “Will Greece default?,” the author heads for riot-stricken Athens, and for the mysterious Vatopaidi monastery, which brought down the last government, laying bare the country’s economic insanity. But beyond a $1.2 trillion debt (roughly a quarter-million dollars for each working adult), there is a more frightening deficit. After systematically looting their own treasury, in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery, and creative accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing: they can’t trust their fellow Greeks.’
Recognising that Goldman Sachs is not your friend is the prerequisite step in trying to sort things out…
Short question, as goes to debates we are having around here in Sweden. Not living in the USA, it is hard to tell, but is Trump’s election evidence that the American working and wish-to-God-I-were working class is developing a class consciousness and going from whatr Marx calls ‘a class in itself’ to ‘a class for itself’? Trump may be an awful choice for leader of a class trying to organise in the persuit of its own interests (though God knows, Hillary was no choice at all), but if that was the intent, then ah, is there anything we can do in the international community to support such desires and disentangle them from the desperate-and-foolish hope that Trump could deliver on any of them?
You urgently need to consider the possibility of political ideas beyond nationalistic liberalism.
“You seem to imagine that the Greek Captain and officers on cruise ships in the Aegean were callous and unmoved by the tragedy of the refugees desperately seeking shelter; all I can say is that the ones I know were profoundly distressed. It is, after all, the first instinct of any sailor to aid those in peril on the sea.”
I don’t know why you’re talking about sailors; I’m talking about governments.
“Perhaps if you explained to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan etc. that the EU is an evil empire they would go somewhere else;”
Why are you turning things on their heads? I am being critical of the EU’s treatment of refugees, and you’re saying that means I’m saying the refugees shouldn’t come here? I’m saying the EU should stop treating them like subhumans.
“at present Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has taken a great deal of flack for agreeing to accept a million refugees, most recently from Donald Trump, though of course he described them as illegals. That is what the alt-right does, and yet you are so busy denouncing the Evil Empire of the EU that you conveniently omit the fact that Angela Merkel accepts them as refugees under International Law.”
Yeah, it’s wonderful that you’ve been reading the Guardian’s fantasies of the cosmopolitan leader Angela “multiculturalism has failed” Merkel, but these are a construct created for internal political purposes, and omit major aspects of reality. Such as 1) the policies of Fortress Europe, making it as difficult as possible for refugees to cross the borders, forcing them into dangerous journeys across the sea and resulting in thousands of deaths 2) Merkel’s supposed humanitarian efforts, really just a PR job to cover up that they didn’t know what else to do, have already ceased and been replaced with a new emphasis of sorting out “deserving” refugees and deporting as many people as possible. Which comes on top of the demonization of refugees as rapists and thieves, in which the government has long participated. The logic of the alt-right, locally known as Alternative für Deutschland, has already been adopted by the EU leadership, if in slightly diluted form.
“the Greek government is, presumably, doing its best and I’m not criticising their efforts. I leave that to you since it’s your government not mine; I have enough on my plate criticising my own government”
The Greek government and the EU – remember, the EU demanded control of such things, because the Greeks were suppodly letting too many people through – is doing precisely nothing. Do a search for what conditions are like right now; people huddled in tents, freezing, with no heaters, sometimes no food and water, no medicine. Volunteers, who used to do what the government wouldn’t, are frequently banned from the camps. We’re talking about a major crime against humanity, and one that has been going on for months. The pathetic pseudo-left Greek government and the EU, which incidentally has promised personnel and financial support and never delivered, are both to blame for this situation, which they are intentionally creating as a message to other refugees. They want people to know that the EU will put them into camps and make their life a living hell, so they won’t come. Does that sound like the actions of a democratic, non-xenophobic entity to you?
As for the excuse that it’s not your government, sorry, that’s just not good enough. Elevating myopia to a political belief is not compatible with the internationalism you previously claimed; it’s throwing urgently-needed solidarity out the window and ignoring major crimes against humanity just because it’s not convenient. It is, if anything, the logic of Empire.
“You appear to want your borders sealed to prevent refugees though you don’t say so explicitly.”
Hello. I am a socialist. I oppose all borders. I am aware of the simple fact that the EU could absorb every single refugee and not even blink. I am also aware that the EU could take care of every single one of its citizens without breaking a sweat. Instead, millions are suffering in poverty.
Sealing the borders is *exactly what the EU is doing*. You think it’s bad if the UK seals its borders, but you’re OK with the EU doing it, because those borders are further away and you won’t see the consequences? Refugees could be coming to the EU just by buying plane tickets, but the EU has made that impossible. Or they could come on foot, but the EU has put up fences and mined the border (Trump would approve). The EU has done everything in its power to stop people from getting in short of shooting them (although plenty of people have suggested that too, not just in the UK). Innocent people fleeing wars our governments supported are drowning every day because of these xenophobic policies… but it’s OK if the EU does it?
“In 2015 around a million people made it to Europe, and the burden was particularly heavy in Greece; the agreement by the EU to pay Turkey to hold back refugees trying to go to Greece reduced the number in 2016 to around 335,000. I appreciate you think this is despicable but since you haven’t put forward any alternatives I have to go with the consensus:”
Consensus? Whose consensus? Have you read what human rights organizations have to say about this deal? The same deal that finances Turkey, a dictatorship in all but name, while it illegally ships refugees back to where they came from, frequently resulting in their deaths? You know, the thing that makes Turkey an unsafe country to return refugees to under international law? And why, when you previously accused me of wanting to seal the borders, are you suddenly OK with this? It’s just paying somebody else to seal your borders.
Let me make my alternative clear to you: open the borders, including the land crossing, and allow people to come in by plane. Take everybody in. They’re a fraction of the EU’s population. Help them get established. Immediately stop all weapon exports and all support for dictatorial regimes. Stop ruining their countries, in other words, so that those who want to go back eventually can, while the rest are welcome to stay. Combine this with establishing the economic rights of ALL people, no matter where they were born. Stop austerity and, eventually, end capitalism itself. Build a United Europe on socialist principles before the current system of irrational austerity and xenophobia sends us directly to another world war.
Do you really imagine that the only political choices in the world are between nationalism and anti-democratic technocracy? Are you really utterly incapable of imagining an internationalism that opposes xenophobia and borders EVERYWHERE, not just in your own back yard?
“You also very obviously don’t want to discuss how Greece got into the financial hell-hole it presently inhabits”
I’ve talked and written extensively about how Greece got where it is over the last few years, and I’ll happily do it again. I’ll do that if you’re willing to talk economics and politics, not random stories about Vatopedi and racist cliches of corrupt Greeks. “They can’t trust their fellow Greeks” – what vile bullshit. Only somebody who thinks in entirely nationalist terms would even think that “fellow Greeks” is a meaningful political concept. Of course we can’t trust the Greek ruling class; they’re a ruling class, and their interests are utterly opposed to those of the people. It’s the same everywhere, and culture or nationality have nothing to do with it. The crisis is the result of objective political and economic policies, which were *entirely* in keeping with the late capitalist doctrine of radical austerity, which Greece started enforcing in the 90s with the help of the EU. It’s in no way a phenomenon unique to Greece; in fact, many European countries are in the same situation. The difference is that Greece is particularly small and poor – partially due to its looting by imperialist forces and decades of Western-backed dictatorships and quasi-dictatorships – and the crisis hit it particularly hard. It’s also proved to be an excellent test bed for measures that will eventually be implemented in the rest of Europe as well, because it’s small enough not to matter that much (it’s harder to do the same to Italy, though they’re trying) and “alien” enough in the public imagination for the ravages of austerity to dismissed with racist cliches about lazy, corrupt Greeks.
There are more factors, of course, including a class of truly corrupt oligarchs – but those are the very people the EU has fought tooth and nail to keep in power, threatening Greece at even the slightest sign of those people being challenged, including massive interventions in elections, in ways previously unheard of in the supposedly democratic West.
You are still wriggling in a desperate attempt to avoid saying anything nasty about Goldman Sachs, indeed anything about Goldman Sachs at all.. And that, for a man claiming to hold progressives values, is incredible, and unbelievable. You are posturing, not arguing; when it comes to the realities of how Greece got into its present state you are ignoring the most important part of all: that of the financial markets, in which Greeks enthusiastically joined in a looting spree without giving a damn for who they were looting, and subsequently discovered that, having looted themselves, the predators had moved on to find fresh sources to steal.
As for socialists opposing sealing borders, Jeremy Corbyn has signed up to do exactly that; we have no Opposition to oppose the closing of our borders. He has even ordered a three line Whip to ensure his party votes for it in Parliament, contrary to every principle the Labour Party has ever expressed on freedom of movement as a human right. You appear not to have noticed this fact, just as you appear not to have noticed the role played by Goldman Sachs in bankrupting Greece. You certainly haven’t read the article, which sets out the eminently sensible reasons why, in 2010, Greeks didn’t trust their fellow Greeks when it came to money.
In short, you claim to be progressive whilst steadfastly ignoring the role of what is generally agreed to be the most destructive financial institution on this planet. I don’t believe your claim.
Grävling: I wouldn’t say it’s evidence of the American working class becoming more class conscious; I think Trump is driving the American working class in that direction.
I just come here for the news about the books.
But political discussion won’t drive me away. There’s also the occasional recipe!
I have to admit that I’m still in a bit of shock over Trump getting elected. We’re heading to Scotland in a few weeks for vacation and the party line if there are any comments about Trump is “We’re shocked and disappointed.”
Working for a govt agency, it is a new experience to be told that for right now, we can’t talk to the public about the work we do.
I honestly think that having Trump elected along with a congress that if not out right controlled by the far right is at least heavily influenced by the far right, will push workers much faster towards change then having the democrats in control and giving lip service to human rights. It’s like the bit out of the book by Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett – shit, blanked on the name of the book. But the section with one of the angels of the apocolypse being in control of selling “diet” food that has no nutritional value at all and people end up dying. They think they’re eating something good for them, but it’s really killing them slowly and they’re doing it to themselves.
Trump is more like someone hitting you repeatedly in the face with a bat.
While many attach the label of populist to Trump, I don’t see any particular evidence that the election results show this to be the case. He lost the popular vote, exit polls (flawed though they may be) indicate that his voters skew towards incomes over $50,000. He only got 25% of the total electorate.
So, nothing in his victory indicates any sort of class movement to me. Roughly 45.6% of the electorate did not cast a ballot. Coupled with the number of those not voting for either a Democrat or a Republican (5.7%) we get 51.3% of the voters who did not vote for either major party. This is in line with 2012 figures and seems to indicate that there is a background demand for something different.
I would add that a significant portion of the 45.6% that did not vote are people who have difficulty voting. That includes people without the necessary ID cards, people without transportation, people hospitalized on or right before election day, caretakers of all kinds unable to get someone to watch their charges while they vote, and people who happen to work a long shift on election day.
Of course, voting by mail is an option for most of those people. It just takes more effort than going to the polling station.
The point I’m trying to make is that I suspect the real percentage of eligible voters that are apathetic or so disgusted as to have given up is actually lower than the 45.6% figure. I’d guess it’s 30-40% in reality, but I’m pulling numbers out of a hat.
Mike S.:Sure–outright voter suppression and various impediments account for a good portion of that. Of course that rather reinforces the point. If you really had popular support, you wouldn’t need to suppress the votes of swathes of the populace.
I agree with your point. I just think it’s important for anyone arguing about voter apathy to remember that the 45.6% figure can’t be taken on face value.
The turnout actually was pretty close to 60%, but google results still seem to favor listing the early November stats/articles up instead of the final mid December results. So I can see why many people still repeat those low figures. It’s not a huge improvement, but it does have the virtue of being the actual turnout rate.
I have a feeling (not fully developed) that there is something going on to try to discredit the notion of “populism”. Namely that the people are not smart enough to understand their own needs and elect corrupt politicians as a result. Maybe this is the neoliberal establishment acting out for not getting enough of the populist votes.
I expect it is more a result of big money and power does a good job of corrupting politicians and enforcing the desires of the oligarchs.
David:Yes, of course. The aristocracy of the moment is always trying to convince the populous that their power flows from the aristocrat rather than the other way around. Discrediting and demoralizing the populace through varied propaganda mechanisms is forever at use.
The demagogue tries to harness the populace by promising them everything and then using their coopted power for their own means.
The populace just needs to figure out that they have the power and have always had it.
Oneill sin wisconsin — “do you realize how inconsistent your argument is?? Do you? “…they in fact have not been doing things voters wanted”
Umm, are you saying voters then wanted things the GOP is offering?”
No. You appear to be suffering from two-value logic.
It isn’t true that everybody who doesn’t like the Democrats’ agenda must like the GOP agenda, and vice versa.
They are after all more similar than different.
I think many voters like what the Democrats say they are going to do, but they just got tired of them not actually doing it. And the suppression of Sanders probably turned off a lot of young voters. If turnout nation wide really was 60%, that is still a pathetic number and great evidence that many potential voters did not like the available choices enough to bother. I can’t really blame them.
“In terms of economic policy, of wars of aggression, of police militarization, of deportation of immigrants, of cuts to food stamps, of extra-legal drone killings of non-combatants, of persecution of whistleblowers, and of surrendering to the religious right, we have just come out of 16 years of George W. Bush.”
Steve, I am delighted to have the opportunity to say you’re being much too conservative. We’re coming out of 36 years of Ronald Reagan, who funded Islamists and promoted privatization. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama simply followed in his tradition. The only thing “left” about the Democrats since the New Democrats came to power is they’re the left wing of neoliberalism.
Will, I agree. I am disappointed with Obama. He entered with a strong mandate and immediately squandered any momentum by “compromising” with the GOP. It isn’t compromise when you do what they want. There is so much more he could have done.
Either you’re arguing in incredibly bad faith, or you seriously cannot imagine anything outside the Tory/Labour spectrum. (No, Corbyn is not a socialist; he’s a social democrat, and a fairly conservative one at that.)
Why are you so obsessed with Goldman Sachs? Yes, they were involved with the Greek crisis, as they were with so many other crises. So what? They’re one of the manifestations of the capitalist system. I’d be surprised if they *weren’t* involved in some way, but that doesn’t mean we have to treat systemic crises with the logic of conspiracy theories. It’s not *specifically* Goldman Sachs that is the issue; if it wasn’t them, it would have been one of the other similar groups, playing their part. This is how capitalism operates everywhere, in every European country; it’s just that countries in the periphery crash first.
“the financial markets, in which Greeks enthusiastically joined in a looting spree without giving a damn for who they were looting, and subsequently discovered that, having looted themselves, the predators had moved on to find fresh sources to steal.”
So, the classic liberal attitude: condemn racism when it comes from conservatives, happily wallow in it if it’s convenient for your own side. How is your notion of “looting Greeks” any different from that of the Nazis at Alternative für Deutschland?
There is no such thing as “Greeks” as a group with common interests. The Greek *ruling class* joined the looting exactly as *every other ruling class everywhere*. The Greek working class paid the price. These are entirely different groups, and by conflating them you are doing the work not only of the far right, but of the Greek ruling class, whose most famous motto is “we ate it together” (i.e. we wasted all the money together), when in fact working people in Greece have been struggling with increasing austerity measures since the 90s.
Jonas: ‘There is no such thing as “Greeks” as a group with common interests. The Greek *ruling class* joined the looting exactly as *every other ruling class everywhere*. The Greek working class paid the price. These are entirely different groups, and by conflating them you are doing the work not only of the far right, but of the Greek ruling class, whose most famous motto is “we ate it together” (i.e. we wasted all the money together), when in fact working people in Greece have been struggling with increasing austerity measures since the 90s.’
Without getting specific about the conversation you’re in the middle of, I just wanted to excerpt this part so it would stand out if anyone isn’t following the rest of that conversation. It is one of the most important points, and one of the least understood points, in contemporary politics. Failing to understand it is how well-intentioned people fall unthinkingly into nationalism, and, from nationalism, to promoting anti working class positions.
You’re bumping against one of the great linguistic divides between socialists and liberals. When liberals say “the Greeks” or “the Americans”, they mean the ruling class. When socialists speak of the people of a nation, they mean the working class. Liberals focus on the few who have power. The logic of capital demands that.
I don’t buy that generalization. Not all liberals are neoliberals.
It’s tough being a liberal, you get attacked from both the left and the right.
My apologies in advance – there have been many posts since my last comment and trying to fit all responses into a short concise comment may not be possible. This may be a bit scattered as i read through chronologically.
Jonas K writes: “Let me make my alternative clear to you: open the borders, including the land crossing, and allow people to come in by plane. Take everybody in. ” And there goes populism (not to mention reality) out the window. This is **THE** problem with many people; what point does this “if I were king of the world” stance serve? You’ve responded to a concrete, political, real-world problem with a metaphysical or philosophical answer. It is pointless and usually a waste of time to press for policies that are simply NOT going to happen. The EU was a move in the right direction. The next step is not to remove all borders everywhere, but to look for more politically acceptable/practical ways to do more.
larswyrdson – OK, you’ve tripled down on populism. Why is it so hard to simply admit that principles – not populism – is what should drive our politics? Populism is what’s popular – not what’s right. It was popular to deny african americans rights as citizens, it was popular to deny women the right to vote, it was popular to stigmatize single mothers, LGBT people, HIV patients, etc., ad nauseum. *BEFORE* 9/11 52% of Americans favored invading Iraq. After 9/11 74% favored invasion. Keep your populism.
Will – The original funding of the mujahideen in Afghanistan began under Jimmy Carter – not Reagan. Now, the knee-jerk reaction vis-a-vis bth Afghanistan and iraq is to believe that our support was conservative, but a liberal case can be made in both instances. Was opposing Russia in Afghanistan a liberal or conservative stance? Was opposing Iran in Iraq (our support for Sadaam) a liberal or conservative stance? US foreign policy with minor exceptions has been the same regardless whether Democrats or Republicans were in charge. Post WWII it was first driven by the cold war and since then ‘national interest’ — we nominally oppose dictators and obvious widespread human rights abuses, but mostly lip service unless there is money at stake.
oneillsinwisconsin, I’m cool with the idea US neoliberalism began with Carter. McGovern was probably the last major attempt to elect a classic liberal president.
David, I hear you, but the liberal record on supporting the people is erratic. Johnson’s war on poverty was well meant, but he let himself be pulled into the war on Asian people instead.
Populism. Hmm. No, it does not, in fact, mean simply “what is popular,” any more than “pop song” necessarily makes the Top 100. There is in this country a very complex and contradictory history around populism. Some has been left wing, and progressive (although inherently limited) such as the original Populist movement, from which the term was coined in the late 19th Century; some has been reactionary, such as that of Huey Long or Father Coughlin. In general, it means focusing on the concerns of “ordinary people.” The lack of any scientific definition of “ordinary people” is part of its contradictory nature, and why populist movements lend themselves to being co-opted.
But, whatever its limitations, left-populism had progressive elements, such as the desire to unite the exploited of all races in a common movement; hence the panic it caused among the Southern post-Civil War elite, leading directly to Jim Crow as an effort to combat it.
But the claim that populism means, “what is popular” is simply incorrect.
SKZB – I agree there is a little more to populism than momentary fads, but we’re still talking what’s ‘popular’ among the working class in any given era versus principles. Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, George Wallace, Pat Buchanan and John Edwards can all be legitimately called ‘populist’ candidates for President. Each railed against the entrenched interests that opposed the working man, but putting actual policies on that idea leads in oftentimes contradictory directions. Andrew Jackson might have been a populist, but he wasn’t going to oppose slavery.
Today the average ‘working man’ believes that US manufacturing jobs have disappeared due to unfair trade deals and (mumble, mumble something bad) China. That idea is wrong. Policies based on ‘correcting’ that will not help. The average working man also believes in a strong dollar, but a strong dollar means we will export *less* which exacerbates the already noted decrease in manufacturing jobs; i.e., to increase manufacturing and manufacturing jobs we actually want a weaker dollar.
The fact that populists candidates have sprung from both the far left and the far right should be enough to write it off as a pig-in-a-poke. It is whatever you want it to be. I’ll still take principles.
A contrast noted in the Financial Times;
Xi Jinping, president of China, made a speech last week on globalisation at the World Economic Forum that one would have expected to come from a US president. At his inauguration, Donald Trump made remarks on trade that one would never have expected to come from a US president. The contrast is astounding.
Mr Xi recognised that globalisation was not without difficulties. But, he argued, “blaming economic globalisation for the world’s problems is inconsistent with reality”. Instead, “globalisation has powered global growth and facilitated movement of goods and capital, advances in science, technology and civilisation, and interactions among people”. His vision matches that of the last US president to address the World Economic Forum. In 2000, President Bill Clinton argued that “we have got to reaffirm unambiguously that open markets and rules-based trade are the best engine we know of to lift living standards, reduce environmental destruction and build shared prosperity”.
Mr Trump rejects this vision: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” Moreover: “We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.”
Trump the populist, Xi the communist. Whoocoodanode?
oneillsinwisconsin:Trump is a demagogue. There is no doubt whatever about that. His demagoguery seems to appeal to a particular minority of the population. (That he seems to believe his popularity far outshines that of the Sun and the Moon is for another tale perhaps, “The Madness of King Trump.”) Trump cares not a whit about either the populous nor any principle. Trump’s sole concern is Trump.
Having correct principles is great; getting everyone to agree on that correctness is the trick. A democracy acts to sort among principles by asserting that the majority of the populous is generally able to pick the correct course. (The Mytilenian Debate is a classic example of the dangers of temporarily inflamed emotions with a demagogue thrown in for fun). A republic puts in a buffer between direct vote and course picking in the hope of avoiding sudden swerves. Of course, then you run the risk of a minority gaining control–we see this example right now. An autocracy has one person in charge. Monarchies are clearly an example of this and it appears Trump would very like to be an autocrat and may not particularly understand that neither is he nor does he hold popular support.
A written set of laws that require a super majority of votes in order to change is another cushion against spur of the moment reversals. Of course, when an unprincipled adversary gains a super majority by suppressing popular vote, this to is at risk.
So, since you have stated many times that you are completely against populism, even the very reasonable form skzb mentioned above, what kind of government do you want?
Steve H. — The assertion was that the Democratic Party should become the populist party. No one was questioning the form of government in this context.
My rejoinder was that the Democratic Party (or any other political party for that matter) should be based on principles – not populism. Populism does not lead to a consistent set of policies. Populism has been used as often for goals opposed to a progressive agenda as it has been to further that agenda.
We’re trying to move our stalled car up a hill. We can push or we can pull; either way we’re trying to move it forward. When you’re grounded in principles you almost always know which way ‘forward’ is — with populism the compass needle is always spinning round.
To be clear, Steven Brust and Steven Halter are using the definition of populism that Brust gave, “In general, it means focusing on the concerns of “ordinary people.””. You are using the definition of populism that Brust specifically rejected, “Whatever is popular.”
So I think you have to either reject their definition first before rejecting populism, or else you have to explain why you reject populism as they define it.
Populism as they define it (and as I define it) *does* lead to a consistent set of principles: policies that harm ordinary people are bad, policies that aid them are good.
Populism as you define it has no fixed principles because “whatever is popular” is constantly changing.
Mike S. — you perhaps didn’t read my reply at 26 January 2017 at 10:42 pm.
Populism *today* is inconsistent. It leads to contradictory policies.
Also, one cannot remove the base notion that populism must appeal to the average working person. Populism has no fixed principles because it relies on this appeal to the average working person and that varies by era. Moreover, populism does not define what direction that appeal to the average working person will take.
oneillsinwisconsin:OK, so if we throw out the overloaded word populist and instead say (as Mike S. does above) that the Democratic party should be focused on improving the lot of the ordinary person, would you have a general problem with that?
O’Neill- I’ll keep my answer short, since I think I have said this in other forms before. If the desire to represent the ordinary citizens’ best interests is based on principal and combined with an effort at raising their consciousness of what those interests actually are, I would still call that populist. A successful populist party would start from those principals and win the support of the people, not start by appealing to prejudice or misinformation, as many demagogues have done throughout time.
I would also say that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the strategy pursued by the Democratic Party for the last 30 years.
Steve H — No, of course not. That’s what everyone here wants as far as i can tell. I haven’t seen an elitist show up and post here yet – though perhaps I missed one.
The real question is – as i outlined at 22 January 2017 at 6:25 pm — who is the ordinary person? Is the ordinary person the 26 year-old at the McDonald’s drive thru window or is the ordinary person located somewhere in the West Bengal province of India?
What happens when policies that directly benefit the ordinary person in the USA are at the expense of the ordinary person worldwide? Where do you draw your lines? I am on record saying we need to remove or blur these arbitrary lines and work for a greater good than our own parochial interests.
“All I know is that my happiness is built on the misery of others, so that I eat because others go hungry, that I am clothed when other people go almost naked through the frozen cities in winter; and that fact poisons me, disturbs my serenity, makes me write propaganda when I would rather play…” — John Reed
The trouble with left-wing populism is that it is inherently limited—it can’t move beyond the bourgeois regime. In the end, it is a reformist movement, and like all reformist movements, it sees as unshakable that which it intends to reform. Thus it becomes absurd at a time when capitalism doesn’t have the flexibility to permit reforms. I wouldn’t call Trump a populist of any sort, though he used elements of populist rhetoric. Maybe a “pseudo-populist?” But one element common to both right- and left-wing populism is railing against finance capital in general and the banks in particular, which of course Trump never did. Sanders would be closer.
As for the Democratic Party, which has at times flirted with populism as a shy high school geek flirts with a cheerleader he’ll never have the courage to ask out, the only “principle” guiding it is the preservation of capitalism–the same as the principle that guides the Republicans. The differing tactics of the two parties reflect the different interests of sections of the ruling class, but both see their job as preserving capitalism at all costs. This is the meaning of President Obama’s comment about the recent election being “an intra-mural scrimmage,” as well as the efforts by leaders of the Democratic Party to normalize Trump.
skzb – “This is the meaning of President Obama’s comment about the recent election being “an intra-mural scrimmage”
No, actually it’s NOT Obama’s meaning. “Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we are actually all on one team, This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first; we’re not Republicans first. We’re Americans first. We’re patriots first.”
Obama went on to talk about the orderly transition of power. His exact same comments could come from the leader of Denmark following an election there. The sentiments expressed have nothing to do with vested interests or economics.
oneillsinwisconsin:Actually, that rather enforces skzb’s point. Obama is either mistaken as it is fairly clear that a number of Republican leaders are not operating in an “Americans first” principal but on a themselves first principal. Obama may very well be deeply deluded about this; his wild passivity seems to show this.
The alternative, which is what Steve is saying, is that Obama & Repubs are on the same team–that team being Team Capitalism, not Team Ordinary People.
O’Neill- For such an intelligent guy, you seem complete blind to certain implications. Look at the quote you just posted. “We’re Americans first. We’re patriots first.”
What is that but the vested interest of Nationalism and the ruling class? You are absolutely right, it is no different from what the outgoing Prime Minister of Denmark might say, or the losing Prime Minister of Greece. That is the problem. Our Nation is more important than the people it represents, and for its leadership, far more important than the people it doesn’t claim to rule.
You said yourself you want to work for more than narrow, parochial interests. How is preserving the transition of power in one nation more important than objecting to the rise of a despot whose goals and whims threaten the whole world?
lars – did I say I agreed with Obama’s sentiments? I’m fairly sure I didn’t. I didn’t offer a criticism of Obama’s comments, but pointed out the intended meaning is very clear and has little or nothing to do with vested interests.
O’Neill- it seems like we can agree on the description of every part of the elephant, but we keep calling the whole beast by a different name. ;p
It keeps being implied that the ordinary person, the ones which populism supposedly represents, is some kind of ignorant, easily manipulated, fool. So you guys don’t sound much different than the elite money people who “know better” what is good for the country (them).
I don’t know if that is your intention, but it seems to be the message. This has a number of problems. For the socialist: how can you believe in socialism if the workers are fools? For the rest of us: it puts lie to the very notion of democracy and representative government.
Obviously, I feel that the average person / worker is pretty well aware of their best interests and not dumb at all.
The powers that be have worked diligently to separate the populous into different (identity) groups in competition with each other. The notion is that everything is a zero-sum game, so that I can only get ahead if I take from somebody else. That isn’t true, but it has wide emotional appeal and fuels the group competitions.
In the mean time, we are encouraged to argue about things that have little real meaning. It makes us weak and powerless, which is the intention. Go ahead and argue against abortion while the bank takes your house because you can’t pay your medical bills. That is what happens when you put too much energy into principles. Maybe it would be better to improve health care instead and not worry too much about who gets credit.
skzb, Trump did rail against the banks, big money and “Jewish bankers”, for a little while. But he shut up pretty quickly. I think a case can be made that the huge international banks are destroying the world with their imposed austerity programs.
David Hajicek:I don’t think that most of us think the majority of people are easily fooled. At least, that’s what I was trying to point out by mentioning that Trump only got roughly 25% of the possible vote. He fooled a bunch of people but not a majority in any sense of the word.
For something like “ignorant, easily manipulated, fool” it becomes difficult to talk about a mass of people, and impossible to talk about them outside of their social context. Most of them are too young to have lived through the immense labor battles of the 30s and 40s. Most of them have been fed lies all through school and have yet to encounter honest history, much less scientific analysis of it. Most of them are deluged by propaganda blaming everything on race, or foreigners, and have been told that the most they can do is pick some politician to make decisions for them. Most have no had the experience of participating in a mass movement. Each individual, upon going through new experiences, understands it to the best of his or her ability. The most class conscious workers are the most ready to respond to attacks by capital; the most intellectual are the soonest to generalize their experiences. The process by which the proletariat comes to understand it’s historic mission starts slow, and varies with each individual, but picks up speed as events come more quickly and are more extreme.
And during certain periods when masses of human beings are feeling the attacks of capital, but few have learned to generalize their experience, many will be susceptible to different sorts of easy sounding answers, at least for a time. This explains why so many followed Sanders, and why some number voted for Trump.
Holding the masses is contempt is antithetical to understanding their shifting moods and current thinking; but so is idealizing them.
I began a comment that I think I deleted which pointed out that all populist movements have principles. The fact that there’s right-populism and left-populism doesn’t change that. Many things take right and left forms.
David, in addition to authoritarian and libertarian socialism, there’s top-down and bottom-up socialism. (Yes, those names invite silly sex jokes now.) I don’t know if any form of socialism is purely one or the other, because all of them agree that the revolution, whether violent or democratic, won’t happen until the people are ready, and the main point of a socialist party is fundamentally the same as a capitalist party’s: to guide the people when they’re ready to move. I don’t think there’s anything anti-democratic in that. Democracy should be about having options, then choosing the one that seems wisest.
Which is the long way of saying I completely agree with “I feel that the average person / worker is pretty well aware of their best interests and not dumb at all.” It’s why Sanders had a wider base of support than Trump or Clinton, and why more Millennials voted for him than for Trump and Clinton combined.
I don’t think I idealize the average person / worker. My personal experience is that nearly everybody I have ever worked with or interacted with were good and smart (in their own way) people. Yeah, there were some assholes, but statistically, they were a small percentage. Maybe I just have rose colored glasses or maybe I just like people in general or maybe I was just lucky.
This leads me to feel that the average person is not the problem, per se. The problem is to get them to understand that they have much more common interest than they have conflict. Call it education if you like, to counter the corporate propaganda. I do not think it is necessary for them to properly understand the history of socialism, though some US history would be useful. The necessity is to provide a common vision of what should be worked to gain. If that vision is clear enough and enough people support it, it will happen one way or another.
I personally don’t feel that the goal should be installing a pure socialist government or eliminating capitalism. Capitalism can be tamed (look at Iceland) and socialism can fail.
A couple of brief comments on the final para of your post at 5.28 pm.
Trump did muster the conventional Neo-nazi rant about banks, big money and Jewish bankers throughout his campaign: from CNN:
‘Trump’s decision to hire Goldman Sachs insiders is noteworthy. During the campaign, Trump vilified Goldman and bashed big banks. Trump’s closing campaign ad flashed an ominous picture of Blankfein* just as Trump condemned the “global power structure” for robbing America’s working class.’
It was only after the election that Trump did exactly the opposite of what he had promised and recruited Goldman Sachs employees past and present for some of his top posts.
Incidentally, they have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to austerity, as do many other investment banks, mainly because austerity is what tends to happen in the wake of the wreckage left behind them.
The $285,000,000 that Goldman Sachs is paying Gary Cohn, leaving to head Trump’s National Economic Council, is probably in breach of various ethics, but that won’t worry them. It never has before.
I must get some sleep before I return to my magnum opus on the political parties in the UK; it’s almost 2am over here.
*CEO of Goldman Sachs
Will S. writes: “all of them agree that the revolution, whether violent or democratic, won’t happen until the people are ready….. I completely agree with “I feel that the average person / worker is pretty well aware of their best interests and not dumb at all.”
These two beliefs are either contradictory or need to be explicated. First, there is a large body of literature and public opinion polling that supports the idea that “Americans are largely incapable of critically assessing domestic and international issues, and therefore lack the knowledge and ability to participate effectively in the political process or to select political leaders in line with the national or even their own best interests. [And] that voters are repeatedly and systematically misled and manipulated by politicians…” Wiki on Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter, by Rick Shenkman
But let’s assume that average people *are* aware of their best interests, then why do they so often act against it? Isn’t this the unstated ending of the phrase, “until the people are ready”? I.e., until the people are ready to act in their best interests.
Overconfident, emotional, irrational, lacking willpower, procrastinating, addicted, insane — these are the reasons psychologists cite for people who act against their best interests. Humans versus Vulcans. Apparently we’ll be ready when we’re Vulcans — at least if you believe that the average person is already aware of their best interests, just unwilling to act on them.
Unlike Will, I disagree with “I feel that the average person / worker is pretty well aware of their best interests and not dumb at all.” There’s just too much data that shows it to be false. But at least that leads to a different set of problems as opposed to waiting for human nature to change.
 – ignorance and stupidity are two different things. I don’t believe the average person is stupid (dumb), I believe they are mostly ignorant. Of course individuals can run the whole gamut of reasons for acting against their best interests — ignorant, stupid, insane, or just plain evil.
The appropriate question is: Why do some people vote in a way that seems to me to be not in their best interest? In other words, you (we?) have set up ourselves as a judge as to what their self interests might be without actually asking them. I’m guilty of this too.
In this presidential election, neither candidate represented my best interests. We had one candidate who looked like he was going to drive the clown car over a cliff, and another who said she knew better than us what was good for us. So if I vote, I am automatically voting against my best interests. So things are not so simple, even for us smart people.
O’Neill, I think the support for Sanders shows the people have a mighty fine grasp of what’s in their interest, and the efforts of the Democratic elite to sideline Sanders shows the elite knows that too. Do the people know all the details of politics? Of course not. But I look at most of the leaders we get and conclude that I’d prefer a lottery system for selecting representatives to the current system of the rich letting us pick from a few of their choices..
Thank you Will. Well said.
Will, the support for Sanders shows a small percentage of the people supported Sanders.
If you believe he was the candidate that best represented the average person’s best interest, then the support for Clinton and Trump shows the vast majority voted against their best interests. Sanders support level is thus dispositive to your argument.
I believe in the polls that showed Sanders had more support overall than Clinton did because those same polls were accurate about the amount of support Clinton did get. I believe in the fact that Sanders got more votes from Millennials than Trump and Clinton combined. I believe in the places that supported Sanders in the primaries but did not support Clinton.
Regarding the last bit, I’ve been sharing a Guardian video about a poor county that supported Obama and Sanders, but not Clinton. Today I was given a link to a good criticism of that video, which included this:
“Trump’s alleged popularity was based on the presidential primary results, in which the Republican candidate won a total of 785 votes. Yes, 785 voters were enough to paint McDowell County as the poster child of regressive right-wing populism. Nowhere in the video or the accompanying webpage were the actual primary numbers presented, nor was it mentioned that Bernie Sanders won 1,488 votes in the same primaries—almost twice as many as Trump! Nor that in 2008 a large majority voted for Obama in the general election.”
Will, you’re still ignoring the overall picture. Trump received 14 million primary votes. Clinton 16.8 million. Sanders 13.1 million. Others received another 17 million (mainly Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio). Do the math — Sanders received less than 25% of all primary votes.
If, as you believe, Sanders best represented the average person’s best interests and that most average people are aware of their best interests, then virtually everyone should have been voting in the Democratic primaries and voting for Sanders.
But they didn’t.
So, A) they either voted against their best interests or B) they were not aware of their best interests. You can’t have it both ways.
Now, you’ve already said they *are* aware of their best interests. That means per your belief the (overwhelming) majority voted against their best interests.
The polls said that Sanders did better than Clinton, particularly with independents.
But Clinton did better than Sanders in the primaries, particularly when only Democrats could vote in them.
There is no contradiction between those facts.
If all those people (people who the polls said wanted Sanders) had been looking out for their best interests, they would all have voted in the Democratic primaries. Instead only around 30 million people total did. Why was that?
Some states didn’t let independents vote in Democratic primaries. And various primaries had their voter lists purged. Still, it would only have taken around 4 million more Sanders supporters voting for him in the primary for him to win the primaries, supposing that there wasn’t enough extra cheating to make up for it. But that wouldn’t be enough for him to win the nomination because of the superdelegates.
That might be part of the reason he didn’t get more primary votes. Maybe people believed the media that Clinton couldn’t lose, so they just didn’t bother to vote in the primaries.
And the polls could have been wrong. More than 90 of voters in the polls said they were going to vote, and about a third of them didn’t.
jethomas – average people include Republicans – or have they been deemed non-average by fiat. One can’t talk about average people and only look at Democratic Party numbers.
Pretty much what jethomas5 said, except the polls were right: RealClearPolitics had Clinton winning with 1-2% of the vote, which she did, but it wasn’t enough to save her from the antidemocratic Electoral College.
You need to remember the differences between party primary voters and the general population. The DNC exploits that to pretend a system with superdelegates and, in some states, closed primaries and long registration periods is democratic, even though independents, who are crucial to winning, end up being seriously underrepresented.
Will – we may have cross-posted, but you’re ignoring GOP voters just as jethomas did.
I wrote: “If, as you believe, Sanders best represented the average person’s best interests and that most average people are aware of their best interests, then virtually everyone should have been voting in the Democratic primaries and voting for Sanders.”
Most GOP voters are also average people. You’re ignoring them. Sanders garnered less than 25% of primary voters.
20 states have open primaries. How did Sanders fare in those states? Clinton won 11 of them and Sanders 9. And Clinton’s average margin of victory in those states dwarfed Sanders average margin of victory.
I supported Sanders, but nothing in the data suggests he had most average people supporting him. If he were the Democratic nominee he might have beat Trump — but only because people that preferred Clinton would likely have voted for Sanders. That’s the nature of primaries – both parties need all of their voters to coalesce behind the nominee to win. That does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of primary voters preferred someone other than Sanders.
I’m ignoring GOP voters because there are fewer of them.
Yes, the data says he had average people supporting him. He had the highest favorability rating, and the polls that showed Clinton barely winning the popular vote, as she did, showed Sanders trouncing Trump.
And, yes, Sanders had a tougher time at the beginning when he was less known and at the end when it was clear the superdelegate support for Clinton ensured she’d be the candidate.
Ah, well. We’re now in the realm of trusting our guts instead of the data, so I’ll drop out.
Will writes: “I’m ignoring GOP voters because there are fewer of them.”
Perhaps you missed the memo – more people voted in the GOP primaries than the Democratic primaries. Of course counting GOP voters cuts Sanders’ support by half.
I’ve heard that a lot of republicans said they would have voted for Sanders, given a chance. But the system deliberately limits people’s choices.
Which gets back to, how can you vote your best interests when you aren’t given an opportunity to do so?
O’Neill, the reason Sanders trounced Trump in the polls that were proven accurate is because he took voters away from Trump. That means he would’ve had a very strong majority in the final race. So, no, Republicans are not being ignored; they’re merely being established as being the minority.
Will – I supported Sanders. During the primaries I made the argument that there was some data indicating he would fair better against Trump than Clinton. No one is arguing whether or not Sanders would have won.
The argument is over *your* statement — “I completely agree with “I feel that the average person / worker is pretty well aware of their best interests and not dumb at all.”
For that statement to be true, then Sanders should have garnered more than 25% of the primary vote. He didn’t. The overwhelming majority of the electorate chose someone other than Sanders. Overwhelming. More than 75% of primary voters believed someone other than Sanders best represented their interests. That;’s what the data says.
ONeil:A number of primary contests are closed so saying Sanders didn’t get voted for in those seems odd. These aren’t numbers that are really comparable.
In any case, the only experiment that got ran was Clinton v. Trump. We are seeing those results play out in all too real time.
O’Neill, primary voters tend to be older and richer than the general population. Their interest isn’t the same.
Steve H. No, the real test was the primaries – especially the open primaries. I’ve already posted the results of the 20 completely open primaries. Clinton won 11 while Sanders won 9 — and Clinton’s average margin of victory in her wins dwarfed Sanders’ margin of victory in his wins. That argument is a non-starter and is not supported by the data.
In open primary states GOP voters could just as easily have voted for Sanders. They didn’t. They chose Trump or Cruz or Kasich or Rubio. That’s half the voters right there without ever counting a single Democratic vote. And Sanders received less than half the Democratic party vote.
My god is this math so complicated? Or is the real stumbling block that people here simply don’t consider average persons/workers to include Republicans?
News alert: there are as many average persons/workers that vote Republican as there are that vote Democrat.
Will – now you’re just grasping at straws. Please show me how 25% of the primary vote turns into 50% or larger when adjusting for age of the primary voters to that of the general populace. I have a B.S. detector and it’s beeping loudly.
O’Neill, do you agree that primary voters and the general public are not the same?
And why do you think RealClearPolitics is wrong when it was right?
O’Neil:I’m not clear on what you are arguing/asserting. Sanders lost to Clinton. Clinton lost to Trump. There are a lot of events that factored into those outcomes. I would have preferred many different results but that’s the only result we have. Everything else is woulda, coulda, shoulda.
The strategies the Democrats used clearly failed. Dealing with the Fascists we have is the fight we face.
Will — “And why do you think RealClearPolitics is wrong when it was right?” This is a non-sequitur. I’ve never said it was wrong. It predicted Clinton winning the popular vote and she did. So? How does that prove that the average worker is aware of their best interests? It doesn’t. It’s irrelevant to the question.
Of course there are differences in primary and general election voters and the general populace, but they do not lead to the kind of transformation you require. It’s a slight difference. Just look at the demographic crosstabs on any public opinion poll. The results are broken out by all respondents, registered voters, likely voters, etc. If everyone eligible voted, then Democrats would gain a couple percentage points. Sanders garnered less than 25% of all voters in the primaries. There is nothing that says this number would significantly increase if every single eligible voter had cast a vote.
Your whole idea seems to have been based on only Democratic voters and somehow proving he had more support among voters than Clinton. I don’t actually believe that’s true, but even if it were in would not change the fact that half the electorate is Republican. Most of those voting Republican are also average working people. They didn’t choose Sanders. Not even in open primary states where they could easily have done so.
1) Is the average person aware of their best interests? I’ll assert no.
2) Is the average person capable of being aware of their best interests? I’ll assert yes.
For 1), evidence seems pretty clear that the current socio-economic platform we are operating with is not geared to maximally benefit the greatest number of people. It could be argued that they are aware but unable to change the current system, but this seems to loop back to at least some form of non-awareness.
For 2), more discussion is needed than Icareto tap into my phone right now.
O’Neill, RCP showed Clinton beating Trump by 2%. That was accurate. RCP showed Sanders beating him by 10%. I believe that is also accurate and conclude it shows the American people know what’s in their best interest.
I think we’ll have to agree to disagree now.
Will writes: “RCP showed Sanders beating him by 10%. I believe that is also accurate and conclude it shows the American people know what’s in their best interest.”
Sigh. I’ve already covered this argument. In a runoff between Sanders/Trump, half of Sanders voters preferred Clinton. Sanders was thus their 2nd choice – not the one they felt best represented their interests. Basically you want to prove your point by claiming Clinton supporters as Sanders supporters.
What you are arguing is not your original statement, but a modification of it. I.e., if presented with only two choices the average person might be able to figure out their best interest.
O’Neill, you have more faith in the primaries than I do. I like polls because they go to people and say “In this contest, who do you prefer? And in this one?” I’m not denying that Trump was popular with Republicans. I’m only pointing out that he would’ve been beaten soundly by Sanders.
I see little point in arguing whether Sanders would have beaten Trump. First, Michael Bloomberg has said that he would have run as an independent had Sanders won the Democratic nomination. So a Sanders/Trump runoff was never in the cards.
And in a three-way race? Five public opinion polls had Sanders, Trump and Bloomberg in a three-way race, Bernie led in just one, with Trump ahead in three, and one a tie. In none of these three-way polls did Sanders win a majority. Which reinforces my point that “if presented with only two choices the average person might be able to figure out their best interest.” Apparently adding a 3rd contestant just makes the decision too hard.
The point of democracy controlled by plutocrats is to make the decision hard. Have you said what elitist system you would prefer?
I think the discussion is good and you’ve brought up valid points, so please don’t feel dogpiled or unwelcome.
But on the particular point of Sanders and voter support, many states don’t let independents vote in the primaries or allow registered voters to cross party lines in the primaries. I’m registered independent in Pennsylvania, so I couldn’t vote in the primaries. If I had been registered Democrat, I would have supported him.
So regardless of whether he would have won in the general election, I think it’s safe to argue that his platform had support from more than the tiny portion of the voting age Americans that got to cast a ballot in the primaries.
O’Neill- We seem to be arguing endlessly around the question of whether US citizen’s are qualified to govern themselves with only the last primary elections as evidence one way or the other. That seems to me to miss the point and to be an argument on shaky grounds, regardless of what point you are actually trying to make.
So, the question is, do average voters know their own best interests are and can we let them choose for themselves? My answer to the first is an unqualified yes. Everyone knows that they need to provide basic necessities for themselves and their family. Everyone know that they need live their life free from fear. Everyone knows that happiness comes from pursuing meaningful work valued by others. If you want to quibble, you can substitute “almost everyone within the statistical margin of error for this survey”, but I really believe that if “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was obvious enough for a man like Jefferson, it must really be a universal value.
For the second question, I’ll start by saying if we can’t trust the average person to govern themselves, then democracy is pointless. You keep pointing to the election of Trump and the Republican majority as evidence that the people can’t be trusted. That view is just what lead to the creation of the electoral college as a guard against the will of the common voter prevailing, and all I see is evidence that it is working just as designed. Gerrymandered districts across the country, purged electoral rolls, Jim Crow voting regulations disguised as protections against “voter fraud”, all worked exactly as designed to hand the Republicans big wins despite the popular opinion, not because of it. Trump’s win doesn’t invalidate that this is a system designed to maintain the power of elites against the rest, it just shows their clumsiness in hand-picking the elite spokesman.
Yes, you are right, average working people of all sorts voted for a fascist bigot, but with the visible KKK minority aside, I don’t think that even those voters can be fairly called either fascists or bigots. It was not a free election. They were not given enough choices to reflect their preferences. More importantly, there was no one telling them the truth about the source of their problems or giving them full information about possible solutions. So, yes, many did fall for the conman offering simple-minded solutions, and many more voted for him because they just couldn’t believe that the Democratic candidate would actually be better. That isn’t a problem with the voters. That is a problem with a system designed to keep them as powerless and ignorant as possible, to allow their “betters” to keep running things.
The average person is, of course, aware that they want shelter, food, freedom from harm, etc. and so pretty much everyone is aware that they themselves need those things. It becomes less apparent that they know how their personal desire for those things interacts with everyone else’s desire for the same set of things. The answers you will see on that side range from “Screw everyone else. I’m sitting here with my guns and food.” to share everything exactly equally.
The “screw everyone else” crowd doesn’t seem to grasp that there are A) many more of everyone else than themselves and B) the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. B is the really important part they seem to fail to grasp.
The question is how to arrive at a viable society in which everyone’s basic needs are met such as safety (from injuries physical or mental), shelter, nourishment and medical care. Further, rights to education, freedom of speech and freedom of lifestyle follow very closely (and perhaps precede) those.
The right has been waging a protracted assault upon a number of these basic rights. The assault upon education is one of the most insidious as it interferes with the ability to chart a course towards a better future. We see the current results of this.
The principle of democracy, that each person should have a say in where society is going is the right course to be on. Right now the course has been strewn with potholes.
I’m going to jump in here, because I think the subject—do people know their own interests—is important, and because I think some of you are approaching the question a little too formally.
To begin, I must point out that oneil’s first appearance on these pages was to argue against this rant: http://dreamcafe.com/2016/02/05/heads-up-people-are-not-stupid-and-they-dont-suck/ . I believe this is significant. No, people in general—whatever that even means—are not stupid.
ETA: I was wrong about the above; mea culpa.
As to the question itself, “do people know their own interests” leaves so much vague and undefined as to be meaningless. What people, under what conditions, referring to what interests, at what point in time? There is not a yes or no answer to that question.
I think the underemployed auto-worker in Flint today is very much aware of the need for clean water and a decent job. But that only gets us so far. How much is this worker aware of what circumstances caused the water crisis? Is this worker thinking that the enemy is the auto worker of another country, or is this worker aware of the common interests with that worker against the auto company that is exploiting them both? Is this particular worker still relying on the union, or has he or she become disgusted with the bureaucrats who collaborate with the company? Is this worker still convinced that voting for a Democrat can improve his or her situation, or is she or he already thinking that working people need to organize politically against the parties of big business? Consciousness, and the ability to make correct generalizations about complex issues, vary from person to person, and vary more as circumstances change. We take the working class as we find them, individual by individual, and fight for our ideas, struggle to break down illusions, and hope to improve that workers ability to make correct generalizations, to analyze situations and draw correct conclusions.
The 800-ppound gorilla in the room is Human Psychology.
In the 130 years since Marx died, psychology has become much more of a science. A “scientific” socialism must incorporate the science of psychology; political economy deals with human behavior, not just material conditions.
skzb writes: “To begin, I must point out that oneil’s first appearance on these pages was to argue against this rant: http://dreamcafe.com/2016/02/05/heads-up-people-are-not-stupid-and-they-dont-suck/ . I believe this is significant. ”
Then lose the significance. I have been around your site for years. WordPress these days always defaults to my secondary account “oneillsinwisconsin,” but I have posted here regularly for years using both “oneillsinwisconsin” and “Kevin O’Neill”
By now people should know that I really, really like accuracy. Your statement is inaccurate. I believe inaccuracy is usually a sign of poor scholarship, muddled thinking, bad memory, or laziness.
Now you build a hypothesis based on fictional significance. The significance is shown to be incorrect. Do you change your hypothesis or simply carry on as if your original assumption were true?
Google’s site search does not work on dreamcafe.com — too bad. You should allow it. In any event, a quick run through the archives gives us this from the “Win-It-Before-You-Can-Buy-It Caption Contest!”:
14 September 2013 at 11:26 pm
Skyler: I’ve seen books on EBAY listed signed by author – never *read* by author.
Steve: My point exactly.
O’Neill, got a link to the form of government you prefer?
Apologies if you already answered and I missed it.
Will – I think we covered this recently. Perhaps this comment from 11/30/2016, an excerpt:
“Marxian communism as a viable, practical political ideology I regard as a dead end. As an *ideal* it is always relevant, but as I pointed out earlier it’s a vision of the Star Trek world. It does not offer a practical prescription for how to attain that ideal.
Laissez faire capitalism is just as much a dead end, though putting a stake through its heart seems a much more difficult task.
The only obvious answer I see is the mixed economy of well-regulated markets with the state actively working to maintain a more than subsistence level existence for its citizens. Indeed with the possible exception of a North Korea or somesuch we only see mixed economies in the world today. The chief difference among them is how actively they approach income predistribution and redistribution to equalize outcomes.
Communist, socialist, capitalist and mixed economies have all been tried. It would be an overwhelming accident of random probability that those that exist today are all mixed economies. It is much more parsimonious to believe they dominate because they are more successful.”
ONeill:Heavier than air flight was attempted many times before the Wright brothers pulled it off in 1903. All the earlier failures did not show the impossibility of such flight merely that the design being used was not quite worked out.
Similarly, the few actual tries at Socialism do not indicate its impossibility but rather a lack of design and tools.
At many points in time democracies have been very rare, also.
lars and Steve H. — You’ve both shifted the goalposts in your most recent comments. The “best interests” concern was in context directly concerned with politicians. Here is the what Will originally wrote:
“Which is the long way of saying I completely agree with “I feel that the average person / worker is pretty well aware of their best interests and not dumb at all.” It’s why Sanders had a wider base of support than Trump or Clinton, and why more Millennials voted for him than for Trump and Clinton combined.”
Now, to divorce this from context and say they know their “best interests” are food, shelter, blah, blah, blah is banal. Boring. Of no interest whatsoever.
People’s voting habits can be informed by their correct knowledge of their best interests and still be varied, especially if no available choice appears both viable and desirable above all others.
Many people believe shaking up the system – via revolution, reform, or other means – is the only option that benefits them. Some of these people calculated Trump, as a political outsider, would shake things up most. Some saw Sanders, more genuinely devoted to leftward ideals, as their best bet. Some have had enough of men dictating women’s health choices and women’s safety, and thought Hillary would be their combo breaker. Some chose the SEP, while some did not see any viable option for disrupting the system and did not vote at all, preferring direct action or despairing of all action.
All of these actions can be motivated by the same facts. To say that people know their own best interests does not mean people all judge how to achieve those interests identically. Every election is an experiment in “How will this person’s choices work?” and beginning with the same variables and same hypothesis will not lead differing scientists to one inevitable experimental method or design.
The question of how someone votes is insufficient to judge whether they are aware of their own best interests.
O’Neill, thanks, but I didn’t succeed in asking what I was wondering. Because you seem to think the people don’t know or can’t know what’s best for them, I’m wondering if you want an enlightened dictatorship or something else.
As for your description of a mixed economic system, it sounds like socialism. Capitalists hate regulations, as Trump just demonstrated today.
Will – mixed economies are neither pure capitalism (laissez faire) nor socialist/communist. North Korea is the only exception that I know of to the rule. Every other country in the world is a mixed economy. Not one of these countries is pure capitalist or pure socialist – not even communist China. So, no, mixed economies are not socialist.
I did say that driving a stake through the heart of laissez faire was difficult. I spend way too much of my time having similar arguments with libertarians.
Nowhere have I said that people can’t know what’s best for them. I have continually pointed out that the majority in the context of politics often 1) do not know what’s best for them, or 2) vote against their best interests. Which brings us back circuitously to the post skzb linked to – the one he mistakenly said was my first appearance on these pages.
In those comments I laid out a theory of being wrong. Why do people hold the wrong answer to a question? I see only four possible reasons:
Nowhere did I see anyone come up with a viable alternative.
One of the funny things rereading those comments are the number of people that think this a misanthropic or self-righteous attitude. Why? Do they deny that people are often wrong? There are an infinite number of facts in the world and we are all individually ignorant of the vast majority of those facts. Obviously they have a negative connotation on the word ‘ignorance’ that I simply don’t hold. We are all ignorant on many subjects. Pretending otherwise is the actual self-righteous stance — not mine.
“Mistaken” is a perfectly viable alternative, as I believe I said at the time. I suppose in this context there’s some overlap with ignorance, but only ignorance as opposed to omniscience. Economists, meteorologists, statisticians, and voters may err while basing their judgment on impeccable reasoning and knowledge which is as certain as any available.
Which is more charitable – to believe that the average person/worker that voted for Trump was simply ignorant of the consequences or that the average person worker that voted for Trump was well aware of the consequences and voted for him anyways?
I voted for Donald Trump because I wanted him to ban Muslims from entering this country.
I had no idea that voting for Trump meant we’d ban Muslims from entering this country.
I believe ignorance is the charitable interpretation. Others can insist that the average person/worker was aware, but that leads to a less charitable interpretation. In reality, some Trump voters were ignorant, some weren’t. Some can’t believe he’s actually doing it even though he said he would and some applaud him for doing it even though they believe it’s against all our values. Ignorant, stupid, insane, and just plain evil.
doylist – mistaken is simply another way of saying the answer is wrong. I was wrong. I gave the incorrect answer. I was mistaken. Why did you give the incorrect answer? Why were you wrong? Why were you mistaken? You haven’t provided an answer to the question, merely rephrased the original question.
Almost all good faith efforts that result in the wrong answer are due to ignorance. In statistics we often refer to the rectangular distribution as the distribution from ignorance. I.e., we don’t know what the actual distribution is so we’ll just give equal probability to each possible value. But even then we are explicitly stating our ignorance and the true result should still be within our uncertainty bounds.
Oneil: “Then lose the significance. I have been around your site for years. WordPress these days always defaults to my secondary account “oneillsinwisconsin,” but I have posted here regularly for years using both “oneillsinwisconsin” and “Kevin O’Neill””
I stand corrected.
O’Neill, if the robber barons could see the present, they would think we live in a socialist hellhole. If the mixed economy you want is like what neoliberals want, it’s in the realm of regulated capitalism. If it’s like what Sanders advocated, it’s social democracy. If it’s like what I want and where I think Sanders’ heart is, it’s democratic socialism. There’s room for people to start businesses and make money in all of them. You seem to have decided that there’s a place between capitalism and communism that’s neither. But it’s socialism, and it can manifest in many degrees.
Do you want democracy and an educated populace? Then we agree.
You also seem to demand a more thorough understanding of what’s in people’s interest than I do, given the current political system, but it’s time to let that one go.
O’Neill: no, I am not restating. “Mistaken” is a type of wrongness, not a synonym. One can be mistaken and ignorant, or mistaken and informed. Mistaken and stupid, or mistaken and intelligent. One can also be wrong, but not mistaken – a sadist, for example, believes to be desirable something most of us find undesirable. It does not seem useful to call the sadist “mistaken,” although you might call them evil or insane.
Likewise, when someone with a doctorate makes an informed judgment, aware of the possibility of error but unable to eliminate error, and is nonetheless wrong, “mistaken” provides a more accurate summation than “ignorant” or “stupid,” both of which are highly misleading terms to describe an informed and rational person acting in an informed, rational, and incorrect way.
This also doesn’t even begin to address errors such as, for instance, typos. A typo leads to a spelling of a word which is wrong. Is it ignorant? Not if you know how to spell the word. Stupid? Likewise. Evil or insane? Don’t be ridiculous. A typo means your finger slipped. That slip is not ignorance, stupidity, evil, or insanity. If you insist on describing all such errors of imperfection as stupid or ignorant, you will understand less about them than if you recognize that correct decisions can lead to incorrect results.
Will – I still live in a world where ‘socialist’ means collective ownership. We live in a world where collective ownership is limited. For the most part it’s a regulated market economy with private ownership. A mixed economy.
We’re probably just looking at it with different semantics. On this topic here previously we’ve reached the same end. I don’t believe any of the western European democracies are actually ‘socialist’ countries – they all operate mixed economies – but they are more socialist than the USA. The tension is between using regulations, taxation, and the power of the state for the equitable predistribution and redistribution of wealth. Obviously most of the western European democracies provide a more equitable outcome than we see here and I want to push us in that direction.
I believe in all the standard goals of liberal progressives. I just don’t buy all the rhetoric that often accompanies it.
doylist – unable to eliminate error is nothing more than unable to eliminate ignorance of the true value. I do that type of specific work everyday for a living. I make expert judgements everyday that I *know* have a statistical probability of being wrong because we cannot always eliminate ignorance.
Otherwise, you’re still acting as if ‘ignorance’ is a pejorative. In this context it is not and don’t treat it as if it is.
Brain-farts or typos are actually a decent answer – I have given kudos to that response in the past. But they’re really a matter of execution rather than holding the incorrect answer.
Sadism? What was the question? Remember please that this can only even apply to objective questions for which the answer can be known. Which is the best color, blue or red? Whatever.
O’Neill, you are awfully harsh and critical of people. I can sympathize, but still, you would do better by being kinder to people. I’m tempted to say you are looking a little Trumpian in your obsessive need to be right. It looks like OCD to somebody who does not know you.
I have a technical background too. You use your knowledge of statistics as an excuse for some of your positions. Yet statistics should provide a caution to you that not everything is knowable and that decisions can be wrong even with the best of information at the time.
Real world outcomes are distributed. When results are forced into two boxes, the information in the real distribution is lost.
David – I suspect you actually haven’t written what I *have* said. I.e., ISIOJPE only applies to those questions where the correct answer is knowable. Not everything is knowable is obviously an implicit assumption.
skzb – “I stand corrected”
As I asked upthread, “Now you build a hypothesis based on fictional significance. The significance is shown to be incorrect. Do you change your hypothesis or simply carry on as if your original assumption were true?”
I do not know your thought process, but you said that the linked comment being my first comment here was significant. Now that you know it wasn’t my first comment here what do you do? Do we go find my first comment here and derive significance from that? Do we simply ignore it? The significance has obviously disappeared and everything else stays the same? That would seem to indicate it was never significant in the first place.
But the latter then begs the question, if it was never significant in the first place why did you say it was significant? And this is where I get lost. I do not say things I don’t believe. I do not say things I don’t believe are true. We are all think our beliefs are right or we are insane. i.e., I hold beliefs I think are false??? That’s insane. That’s not to say one should preclude the possibility of being wrong. The crux of the matter is once shown to be wrong does one change one’s beliefs?
I am not naive. Obviously most people don’t think the way I do – for good or ill. I just don’t understand why people would say things they don’t really believe. Intentional lies for a particular purpose I *do* understand, but that’s not what I’m trying to get at.
Perhaps the answer is something like: I don’t know why I said that – it was simply a rhetorical flourish that sounded good at the time.
That may be true, but it then requires that all of ones statements be examined in that light. When is this person telling me the truth as he really sees it and when is he not? That’s an added burden on communication that doesn’t need to be there.
O’Neill, do you know where you are on an Asbergers scale? You take things more literally than many people do. I say this as a guy who comes out a bit Aspie on online tests and whose wife thinks they’re right.
oneil: Mrrh? The rest of that comment had nothing whatever to do with you. You know how you can tell? By reading it.
skzb – You wrote: “To begin, I must point out that oneil’s first appearance on these pages was to argue against this rant: http://dreamcafe.com/2016/02/05/heads-up-people-are-not-stupid-and-they-dont-suck/ . I believe this is significant.”
Now, I may not be an English major, but it sure looks like “I believe this is significant” refers to the belief that my first appearance on these pages was to the linked post.
Is there another interpretation? I don’t see it.
Yes, and I withdrew that remark, and said, both in response to you, and in the comment itself, that I was incorrect. Since I drew no conclusions beyond those contained within that paragraph, and then said that paragraph was incorrect, just what else are you asking for?
Will – hard as it is to believe from what I write, I grew up on Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, and Monty Python. No one believes anything I tell them because they can’t tell if I’m being serious because I’m rarely serious. Bad puns, intentional misunderstandings., obscure and or irreverent references — I’m not usually the life of the party, but it is frequently my running commentary on the party that elicits the most laughs or groans. Most of this gets lost online so I no longer bother trying.
Is more what my regular circle of family and friends would expect.
skzb – even had it been true, what significance would it have had?
OH! If it had been true, it would have indicated the level of importance to you in believing that people are stupid. As it is not true, of course, it makes no such indication.
skzb – I attach as much importance to being wrong as I do to being right – they are opposite sides of the same coin. My theory of being wrong, though, does not imply that most people are stupid. As I’ve written here in this thread and probably back in the other, ignorance is the most common mode – not stupidity. And we are all ignorant.
If you look at the original link from 15 years ago I start with:
“There is no crime in being ignorant. We are all ignorant on different subjects. I am ignorant on most things Canadian. I don’t know how many provinces they have, couldn’t name all of them, haven’t a clue what the population of each is, etc., etc. You name it — if it’s Canadian — I probably don’t know it. It’s nothing to be proud of, but neither is it something of which to be terribly ashamed.”
I never developed a theory of being right because it’s harder. A theory of asking the right questions is harder still.
Oneill, I feel hopelessly muddled about whatever it is you’re arguing.
You say it isn’t worth arguing whether Sanders would have beat Trump but you have argued that at great length, arguing that Sanders would not have beaten Trump. It appears you believe in the primaries and almost completely discount the polling. Both had biases, of course.
It looked to me like the polls could have been flawed by their nonrandom selection. They consistently polled more Republicans, more independents, more old people, and more white people than they thought they ought to. Then they fudged the results to fit the numbers of each group that they thought they should have gotten. Usually they thought there should have been more Democrats than they actually got, because they used a survey from more than a year before to tell them how many Democrats there ought to be. But more recent polls on that topic claimed that the number of Democrats and Republicans had gone down and independents had gone up.
The same biases that gave them too many old people may have somehow given them too many young people who thought like old people. Etc. There was room for systematic bias.
But many of the plausible biases would tend to work against Sanders. Like, young people who thought like old people, etc. Or maybe they weren’t biased and the country was just more conservative than the pollsters thought a priori.
Well, but it’s only an intellectual exercise. We don’t know who would inevitably have won if things were different. Bloomberg talked about running entirely as a way to bleed votes from Sanders. I personally would not vote for a candidate whose only purpose was to bleed votes from another candidate….
Then you claimed that it wasn’t about what would inevitably have happened if things were different. It was about whether people mostly know what’s best for them. I don’t think they do. I know I don’t know what’s best for me. If I did, I would gather all the cash I can spare and invest it in the stocks which will return the best reward, and I would sell them at the right time and invest in other stocks that will get the best reward, and I will take my money out of the market just before the next crash.
I would not vote. If I know enough to tell which candidate will be good for me, almost certainly I would also know which candidate will win. Since I would know my vote cannot matter, why do it?
You have been quite unclear what you’re arguing, and why you care to argue it. That’s likely why you haven’t been able to make your point. Nobody understands your point. They argue with you about things they care about, and you say they don’t understand what you’re saying, and you’re right.
jet – an assertion was made initially by David H.
That assertion was fully agreed with by Will S. and given a political context
The disagreement and foodfight followed. Note how in my first comment voicing disagreement I said, “ignorance and stupidity are two different things. I don’t believe the average person is stupid (dumb), I believe they are mostly ignorant.” and yet skzb *still* thinks that *I* think the average person is stupid.
And people wonder why I have bruises on my forehead.
It’s from beating my head against the wall.
“yet skzb *still* thinks that *I* think the average person is stupid.”
I suppose because you came in to a post in which I said nothing whatever about ignorance, but took issue with the idea that people are stupid, and you disputed with me. I then came to the conclusion that you disagreed with my position that people are not stupid, thinking that, if you had not disagreed with it, you would not have argued against it.
O’Neill, there are many forms of humor that folks on the Asbergers spectrum enjoy. Our childhood entertainment appears to have overlapped considerably.
skzb – ” … and you disputed with me. I then came to the conclusion that you disagreed with my position that people are not stupid, thinking that, if you had not disagreed with it, you would not have argued against it.”
And yet I have been EXPLICIT that I do not believe most people are stupid. In the other thread as well I spent as much or more time on ignorance as any other possibility.
The whole point of laying out reasons for why people are wrong is to show that you can be wrong and not be stupid. Granting people are not stupid is not the same as saying they are correct in their beliefs.
SRSLY: I posted a rant–explicitly a rant–with the point that people are not stupid. Your first comment was this:
, “Three quarters of eligible voters in 2000 either didn’t vote or voted for George Bush.
Two thirds of eligible voters in 2012 either didn’t vote or voted for Mitt Romney.
In 2016 we can expect a repeat with the name being Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush.
This is prima facie evidence that collectively, Americans eligible to vote are ignorant, stupid, insane, or just plain evil.”
Now, from that, ought I to have concluded you were agreeing with me?
Will – If there’s an opposite to Asperger’s Syndrome it’s likely what I would be diagnosed with. I feel too much empathy for others. Along with that I am perfectly comfortable talking to anyone because I can almost intuitively sense the subjects they’ll be interested in and I have a wide enough general knowledge background to be able to pull it off.
*Everything* interests me. My regrets are that I don’t have enough time to learn everything.
Debate, argument, discussion to me are not social engagements – they’re a forum for the strength of one’s ideas. Being nice or kind in that arena is patronizing. And you don’t learn much by simply talking to people that you know ahead of time agree with your ideas.
At the same time I’ve reached a point in life where the end of the road is approaching rather quickly. Patience was never a strong suit of mine and I must admit to being easily annoyed now at having to explain something again and again. I used to coach youth sports – boys baseball and girls softball – I was very good at it and players and parents all loved me. I couldn’t be that coach today. Fortunately I stopped doing it long before the patience ran out :)
skzb – I *was* disagreeing with you, but note I listed all 4 possible reasons. I have never said I thought most people were stupid. I have been consistent in saying that when people are wrong there are 4 possible reasons why. And here, in this thread i have explicitly said ignorance is the most common reason why.
You assumed I thought most people were stupid even after i explicitly said most, when wrong, are probably ignorant.
I can say that I believe the people were wrong to elect Donald Trump. I can say that many GOP leaders are evil or insane and their words helped elect Donald Trump. I can say that I believe most Trump voters were ignorant of exactly what that would mean for this country.
What you ignore is that I’ve only spoken of those that were wrong. The reverse side of that coin is that many were right. The majority of voters were right to vote against Trump. Because I don’t spell it out you can’t figure that out? I did just say i no longer have patience, no?
O’Neill, there are people who think people with Asperger’s effectively have an overload of empathy, and others who think the empathy is, well, mischanneled. Here’s someone with Asbergers writing about the latter: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/aspergers-diary/200805/empathy-mindblindness-and-theory-mind
Anyway, we’re a long way from Steve’s subject, so I’ll try to bow out again.
O’Neill- so, most people do know what’s in their best interest? I think you are going to have to invest in softer walls, because for a guy overflowing with empathy and a deep understanding of human nature, you seem to be having a little trouble getting me to understand your point.
lars – I knew someone would make that observation, and you’re the winner.
A majority of voters voted against Trump. A majority of eligible voters did not. Steve even cited the comment i made that should have given you a clue.
oneill:Quite a while back, I was writing a technical book and working with an editor. I figured out that when he was telling me he didn’t understand a point I was making, it meant that I needed to restate/rewrite the point. He wasn’t lying to me or criticizing me. My point just wasn’t as clear as it could be. When people say they have trouble understanding a point you are making it just means that the explanation is not clear to them. Saying your point is perfectly clear is not a particularly useful strategy for clarification.
O’Neill- sorry, that last post was just a 3:00 AM attempt to take the piss out of you. Like most 3:00 AM efforts, not worth the time.
My actual response to you, which you have ignored every time I have made it, is that this entire election is invalid as an example of whether the people can choose the best course for themselves. The best course wasn’t on the table. In an election between a glib conman and a corrupt representative of business as usual, many voters choose to stay home. That is neither irrational nor foolish, simply a rejection of making a choice between unacceptable options. When better choices were offered back in the primary season, a great many voters were willing to consider them, even when the entire establishment including the corporate media told them they were foolish to do so. What would they have done if their options weren’t manipulated by one of the two ruling parties?
What would a free and fair election look like with a range of candidates offering a full spectrum of options, each presented in full? Who knows. What would an election look like where every member of the populace had access to quality information about policies and consequences and not balkanized echo chambers of managed and blatantly false propaganda? Who knows.
Why has every Republican for the last 40 years tried to gut public education and why has the Democratic Party consistently failed to stop them? Because it is not in the interest of the elite to have an educated populace, and no party member, however high their personal ethical and moral standards may be, can fight effectively against the entrenched interest of the the actual masters of our democracy.
So, for a last time, I do believe the people are capable of understanding their own interests and guiding their own destinies, but as I have tried to say in every post, a responsible political party would be one that gives them the one tool they need to do so. Information. Not state secrets, not clandestine operations, not backroom deals with big donors, a free and open flow of information.
So, the problem is “ignorance”, if you prefer. I just can’t blame the people for that. A system that makes no attempt to spread the tools of critical thinking and restricts access to facts to a chosen few is the problem.
lars – “What would a free and fair election look like with a range of candidates offering a full spectrum of options, each presented in full? Who knows.” ***
Many here believe Sanders actually represented that candidate, but it is also clear that expecting *ANY* candidate to fully express your views 100% is folly. One person can do that, you.
Primaries provide the largest number of possible candidates. In the primaries Sanders garnered less than 25% of all votes cast. Some argued that primaries are not representative, but they cannot provide evidence to show that any significant difference would have resulted had everyone voted. All data we’ve ever seen says Democratic candidates would gain a slight (usually less than 5%) advantage if everyone voted.
This is the point I was trying to make with Will: assume Sanders *had* won the primaries by flipping a few states or magically getting all the superdelegates. Assume he had then gone on to beat Trump. He *still* would have been the *first* choice of less than 25% of all voters. That’s what the primary data tells us. This is not indicative of the average person knowing their best interests.
*** We have free elections today. We have fair elections today. Your intimation that they are not sounds suspiciously like the ‘system is rigged’ meme of Bernie Bros. Yet, Bernie (who I supported) did disproportionately well in *caucus* states. I.e., Bernie did better in states where it’s easiest for a small cabal of activist citizens to skew the process.
O’Neill- “What would an election look like where every member of the populace had access to quality information about policies and consequences and not balkanized echo chambers of managed and blatantly false propaganda? Who knows.”
“Why has every Republican for the last 40 years tried to gut public education and why has the Democratic Party consistently failed to stop them? Because it is not in the interest of the elite to have an educated populace, and no party member, however high their personal ethical and moral standards may be, can fight effectively against the entrenched interest of the the actual masters of our democracy.”
“So, for a last time, I do believe the people are capable of understanding their own interests and guiding their own destinies, but as I have tried to say in every post, a responsible political party would be one that gives them the one tool they need to do so. Information. Not state secrets, not clandestine operations, not backroom deals with big donors, a free and open flow of information.”
“So, the problem is “ignorance”, if you prefer. I just can’t blame the people for that. A system that makes no attempt to spread the tools of critical thinking and restricts access to facts to a chosen few is the problem.”
These is the points of every one of my posts you insist on ignoring, to make your points based purely as a player of the game as it stands. I don’t care if Bernie could have won or not with more support from the DNC. I wouldn’t care if there were a dozen more candidates for the D primary or two dozen for the R primary. Nether would have made for a fairer election. What would have helped is an electorate with full access to the facts, and a real choice of candidates, not just the ones with enough money and institutional support to make it on the ballot. What would have helped would be a playing field where anyone with good ideas could be heard, not just agents of the Kochs and their more liberal equivalents. Our elections have never been “free”, and since Citizen’s United, the have become ridiculously expensive.
Yes, people have prejudices, varying abilities to understand complex issues, gaps in their knowledge of history, but give everyone a chance to learn and understand as much as they are able, and the collective decisions will be much better.
Sorry for the grammar errors! I usually have time to proofread before the edit clock runs out. :P
“they cannot provide evidence to show that any significant difference would have resulted had everyone voted.”
You keep ignoring the evidence of the polls of the general public which showed over most of the year that Sanders easily beat Trump, but Clinton would be only a point or two ahead of Trump, where the Electoral College could defeat her.
Do visit RealClearPolitics if you doubt me.
Will – and you keep ignoring the evidence that most of those same voters *preferred* Clinton – Sanders was their 2nd choice :)
I..e., only a small group of people (< 25%) had Sanders as their first choice. If you believe Sanders was the proper candidate to choose from the average working person's POV, then they only recognized their best interests when the choices were narrowed down for them. They could not recognize their best interests when 3 or more candidates were in the field.
This IS NOT about whether Sanders would have beaten Trump. It's about first choice as candidate that represented your best interests. That appears to *only* be true if Sanders and Trump were in a mano a mano runoff. In no other likely scenario do we see it.
You may have the last word.
O’Neill, I confess I will never understand how you can argue that fewer people supported Sanders when the polls make it clear that in a contest with Trump, he got more support than Clinton did in the identical contest.
But that’s okay.
“O’Neill, I confess I will never understand how you can argue that fewer people supported Sanders when the polls make it clear that in a contest with Trump, he got more support than Clinton did in the identical contest.”
I don’t understand why O’Neill continues to argue about this academic point which can never be decided by evidence, which he says is not worth arguing about, after he has quit repeatedly.
But there is a way he could be right about this.
Suppose the voters were split among Democrats, Republicans, and independents, 1/3 1/3 1/3. (Really there were more independents, Democrats were next, and Republicans least.)
Suppose that Clinton got 2/3 of Democrats as first choice, while Sanders got 1/3.
Meanwhile Sanders did better with independents than Clinton. But independents mostly didn’t vote in the Democratic primaries.
It could be true that more voters wanted Clinton as first choice and Sanders as second choice, but still Sanders would win better against Trump because Sanders would be the second choice for most Democrats, while Clinton would not be the second choice of many independents.
I see no reason to expect that.
In polls, pretty consistently 60% of voters said they didn’t want Clinton, and 60% said they didn’t want Trump but only 47% said they didn’t want Sanders.
Then in the election a bit less than 30% of voters voted for Clinton, and a bit less than that for Trump, and more than 40% didn’t vote. So around 3/4 of the voters who had earlier thought Clinton was acceptable voted for her, and around 3/4 of the voters who had thought Trump was OK voted for him. Pretty everybody else stayed home.
Imagine we could have had an IRV vote where people got to vote for their second choice too. Would Bernie have gotten more first-place votes than Clinton? I don’t know. There’s reason to think he might not have. Clinton was the first choice of 2/3 of Democrats, and Bernie likely wouldn’t get enough independents to make up for that.
Unless of course the things that happened after the primaries made Clinton look worse than she did when the primaries were going on. But if Bernie was still in the race she might have looked better. A lot of what made her unacceptable to a lot of Democrats was the way she treated him, and if he was still in the running, she wouldn’t have done that.
It’s all in counterfactual territory. We’re talking about what would have happened if things were different. I don’t know why any of us keep doing this.
“If there’s an opposite to Asperger’s Syndrome it’s likely what I would be diagnosed with. I feel too much empathy for others.”
Here are some of the things that get people to think a particular victim might be autistic-spectrum:
No sense of humor.
An odd sense of humor.
Continuing to argue about something after everyone else has gotten tired of it.
Continuing to argue after it’s clear essentially no one else agrees.
Continuing to argue after it’s clear no one else takes one seriously, and they are making jokes about one.
Failing to understand the points other people make.
Making points other people fail to understand, and continuing to explain after it’s clear they just don’t get it.
It isn’t exactly about empathy. It could imply a lack of empathy if you seem not to notice that people feel a sense of kinship against you, and they make jokes at your expense to your face, and they make fun of the fact that you keep repeating your arguments while no one is really listening. Some people would say that empathetic people wouldn’t do that. But they are wrong, sometimes empathetic people will do that anyway, despite everything.
Anyway, it looks to me like most of these fit you. The main one that doesn’t is that people here do take you seriously and don’t make jokes about you. So I don’t know what you’d do in that case.
The people here have made such an effort to understand that it’s clear there’s something kind of unnormal about them too.
I think we’re all bozos on this bus.
jethomas5, your attempt to explain O’Neill’s point made me laugh in a good way because I completely understand the desire to help clarify a point and your attempt is clear.
I would plus your comment to O’Neill if I could. I think we’ve all been trying because we feel bad about his frustration. We’ve been there.
I keep struggling to accept what I know intellectually: religion and its secular counterpart, politics, are far more about belief than logic.
This chain is kind of crazy. If I found myself agreeing with a lot of what oneil said does that make me autistic? In all seriousness I think that there is no stomach for a revolution into an ideal society like a Star Trek universe. I am the most far left thinker amongst my friends and family but I’ve seen no interest in organizing outside of voting in elections for the lesser of however many evils are present. Virtually no one is will to stand on principals even in a debate amongst friends never mind when a politician has a job to win or lose. I’d like to think that a true democracy where everything was decided by a vote of the citizenry would fix the problem but apathy could still be exploited to take advantage of the ignorant.
I’m not sure if that all makes sense but there is my 2 cents.