Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Identity Politics

As a Democrat and a philosopher, identity politics will always be at the heart of how I see the world.

Trump is the next President. Trump's Chief Strategist is a misogynistic white nationalist, so the next President's Chief Strategist is a misogynistic white nationalist. And Trump's infrastructure plan is a trillion dollars of useless corporate welfare, so the next President's infrastructure plan is a trillion dollars of useless corporate welfare.

There's room for tactical disagreement about which issue we should emphasize at what time. But we're bound together by a commitment to the rights of women and minorities, opposition to economic structures that benefit the rich at everyone else's expense, and the principle that x=y→∀F(Fx↔Fy).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Supreme Court Tactics After the Trumpocalypse

If you want a story about getting Trump to nominate a judge who isn't another Scalia, this is the story for you.

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March, and Republicans never held hearings so that they could pass the nomination forward to Donald Trump. This weekend, Senator Merkley told Republicans that if they want Democrats to cooperate, Trump needs to nominate Garland so he gets the hearing he deserves.

I think Garland is about as likely as Andy Egan to be the next nominee. But that just takes us to the other side of Senator Merkley's conditional: no cooperation, and a filibuster. Mitch McConnell might want to eliminate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations in response, but there are enough old institutionalists in the Republican Party to make this challenging within the GOP caucus. And there are a lot of other ways to tie up the Senate, which Chuck Schumer might employ if McConnell just ends the filibuster. Even if the vote goes forward, defections from three Republicans are enough to defeat the nominee.

With this in mind, Republicans will want to negotiate with Democrats about whom they nominate instead. And here's where things get fun. The person with nominating authority, Donald Trump, doesn't have any deep ideological commitment to the goals of the conservative movement. His main commitment is his own narcissism. Mike Pence will want to nominate another Scalia, but there may be a way around him.

The path forward might look like the Harriet Miers nomination of October 2005. Harry Reid's crafty move was to suggest that Bush nominate his unqualified but non-ideological friend to the Supreme Court. Bush accepted!

The nomination only failed when movement conservatives within the Bush Administration made him pull the plug. I don't know if anybody within could make Trump pull the plug on a nomination -- he doesn't feel he owes movement conservatives very much, and anyway Trump isn't a man who pays his debts. So a new Harriet Miers is a judge we can be very happy with.

A court with 4 progressives, the old institutionalist Roberts, the romantic libertarian Kennedy, two movement conservatives, and a Trump-crony who decides at random will rule our way pretty often. There are majorities there that can stop really bad Trumpy stuff, and also that can decide our way on other issues. I don't think this is the most likely outcome -- Pence is in the White House to prevent it. But it's an outcome worth playing for.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The path forward under a Trump Administration

2016 is the fourth time I've lived through this, and it's worse than the previous three. 1994 was Gingrich, 2000 was Bush, 2004 was Bush again. The deepest pain for me is the Supreme Court vacancy. That was our best path to a big advantage. Losing it is tremendously bad.

I'll offer optimism, because I'm your optimism guy. 2004 seemed like the worst -- unified Republican control under President Bush. But he didn't manage to do much new original damage apart from Supreme Court appointments. Nancy Pelosi shut down Social Security Privatization in the House when the Republican majority couldn't agree around a plan, and they couldn't pass it without Democratic votes which sweet Nancy made sure they didn't get. Bush gave up on a legislative agenda, and the worst we got was continuation of the terrible policies we had, including enormous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that make Libya and US Syria involvement look trivial -- plus economic mismanagement that led to the financial crisis. Obviously, really bad. But Bush didn't manage to initiate new hell.

Democrats held on, played defense, and won big in 2006 and 2008. House and Senate Democrats are way more functional than they were in the bad old days when Gephardt and Lieberman were supporting Bush's Iraq War Resolution. Schumer can get Wall Street money to fund Senate challengers (we didn't want to rely on this goddamned source of support, but the markets are crashing on Trump news). Pelosi does it because she's pure of heart.

So a possible scenario is for internal dysfunction between Trump and Congressional Republicans (combined with stalwart opposition from Pelosi and Senate Democrats) to prevent anything from really going forward. I didn't expect us to need to play the defensive filibuster game, but that's what it looks like we might have to do. I'd probably expect Republicans to get rid of the filibuster entirely for anyone else, but maybe not for Trump? I hope. We've pulled victory out of the elephant poop of past defeat a couple times before. Let's hope Pelosi and goddamned Schumer can do it again.

Certainly, the big worry is that Republicans fuse themselves to a crazy Trump agenda and there's no stopping it and everything goes to hell. That... could happen. But if there's enough internal conflict in the party to make things not work smoothly, as happened in much more subtle ways in 2004, we could get Trump-as-failure for the 2018 and 2020 cycles. After all, Trump is made to screw stuff up. Maybe his disaffected white working class supporters get the "actually, this sucks" message and don't support Republicans so well in 2018 and 2020 while our folks do their thing. Control redistricting in the 2020-2022 cycle, and you can take the House again. And then you can pass all kinds of progressive legislation, especially after this year's Senate misfortunes get flushed out in 2022.
As I said, I'm your optimism guy. Be well, and keep safe. We're going to need you.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

In Defense of Partisanship, forthcoming in Ethics in Politics

I argue for being a partisan Democrat in my forthcoming paper, "In Defense of Partisanship". Here's what I say about minor parties, beginning with an anecdote from a 2006 Senate race:

"The counterproductive nature of minor parties is well-understood by political tacticians. The $66,000 donated to Pennsylvania Green Party Senate candidate Carl Romanelli came entirely from Republican sources, except for $30 from the candidate himself. $40,000 came from identifiable supporters of Romanelli's Republican opponent Rick Santorum, or from their housemates. Romanelli received 99.95% of his funding from Republicans who hoped that he would cut into the Democratic share of the vote. Knowing how counterproductive minor parties are, hard-nosed tacticians among their ideological opponents coordinate funding schemes to prop them up.

Trying to get a major party to support a policy by voting for a minor party endorsing that policy is similarly ineffective. The major party may instead concede that policy's supporters to the minor party, and seek other ways to make up the lost votes. This is especially likely when the minor party is further from the center than the major party. If Democrats move right and win over a Republican voter, they gain a vote while the Republicans lose a vote. But if Democrats move left and win over a Green voter, they gain a vote without reducing the Republican total. So as long as Greens have less support than Republicans, winning Republican votes is twice as good as winning Green votes. Nader's pivotal role in 2000 certainly didn't create a left-wing resurgence within the Democratic Party. Two years later, 22 Democratic Senators voted for the Iraq War...

...Primaries make it easier to take over an existing party than to win with a new one. Winning three-way general elections requires at least a third of the voters. 34% will win if the opponents are divided at 33% and 33%, but usually the opposition won't be so neatly divided and more than 34% will be needed. But over a third of the electorate is always enough voters to take over one of the two major parties and win its nomination. If over a third of the population supports a policy, it's mathematically impossible for both major parties to consist of more than a third of the population entirely opposing the policy. So ideas with enough democratic support to win three-way general elections will always have enough support to enter and win a major-party primary."

Thanks to David Killoren, Emily Crookston, and Jonathan Trerise, editors of Ethics in Politics: New Papers on the Rights and Obligations of Political Agents, for inviting me to write this! It begins with an account of party coalitions. The selection above is on the section about partisan political action. The final section is on epistemic partisanship, with an argument from coalition dynamics that Democratic media will be systematically more reliable in getting the truth than Republican media and perhaps even nonpartisan media.