Can Education Make Democracy Work? (Part 1)

Open to what?

K-12 Education Will Not Save Us

  • If by a democracy with an educated populace we mean an affluent modern democracy like those in Europe, North America, and the Pacific rim of NE Asia, in which virtually everyone has at least a high school education, then the answer is No.
  • I say this based on the current backlash against expansive and inclusive democracy running across affluent democracies, with special reference to the openness of American voters to conspiracy theories, among which is the widespread belief, especially among Republicans, that the 2020 election was stolen, despite the conclusion that the claim was baseless by 60+ judicial reviews, 2+ executive investigations by the outgoing administration, and three recounts by Republican officials in Georgia.
  • And then there are the polls showing rising disgruntlement and declining support for democratic institutions and processes. Pew Center poll, April 29, 2019; Pew Center poll, February 27, 2020
  • If by education we just mean functional literacy, then social media have made glaring what culture wars polarization had already revealed: literacy and access to the market of ideas simply paves a highway for rumor, quackery, scams and cons, trolls and bullies, and organized campaigns of disinformation, indoctrination, and manipulation.
  • The Net is the new, more potent medium for dispersing gossip and groupthink. Social media, like the rumor mill, prefer hot and flushed to cool and reasoned.
  • The group identification drives of social primates win out over the rational being’s call to knowledge. Given the choice, too many of us prefer being stroked to thinking, being outraged to finding a common ground.
  • Being stroked is effortless and satisfying, while giving us a warm feeling of being connected, of having found a safe haven in the embrace of a larger, more powerful community than we could ever hope to achieve by our own efforts.
  • Thinking is hard work. It does not come naturally, but involves discipline, effort, and sometimes the sacrifice of formerly cherished beliefs. The complexity of thought, the overwhelming diversity of voices and views, frustrates any who want simple, clear answers, armed with which they can go about the pursuits they really care about most.
  • The pursuits that engage most of us tend to revolve around family and friends, wealth and empowerment, pastimes and pleasures, and familiar, comforting traditions and identities.
  • Only a few look beyond these to make the cultivation of knowledge a central pursuit of their lives. This is most often the technical or professional knowledge that brings a high income, security and comfort. Fewer still pursue knowledge for its own sake, (so long as it provides at least sustenance and basic comforts).

Expertise & Experts

  • From those pursuits of knowledge, whether applied or pure, come expertise and its sometimes annoying manifestation in experts.
  • Simply put, experts are people who are better than us — but only in their own narrow field of expertise, unless we too are experts, and experts on their level.
  • That’s not to say that experts are never wrong. Even the most skilled can sometimes err.
  • And the average expert knows the current wisdom in their field.  They’re not at the frontiers of their field, where breakthroughs and disruptive innovations occur.
  • Experts sometimes overstep the boundaries of their expertise, believing that expertise in one area makes them experts in all areas.  Experts are human and have egos, and some have swelled egos.
  • This is all by way of conceding that experts can be wrong and can be annoying.
  • But alas, they’re necessary: no experts, no knowledge.
  • None, anyway, beyond common sense acquired through experience, which no longer suffices in our technical, technological, digital, and rationalized world. Forty acres and a mule doesn’t cut it anymore.

What High School Education Typically Lacks

  • Primary and secondary education mostly revolve around submitting to authorities.
  • Those authorities are the textbook, the teacher, and the test.
  • A History course in high school typically has a single textbook; a college course has multiple textbooks and dozens of primary sources. In college, then, you are engaged in comparison and evaluation from the get-go, not just absorbing a single authoritative account.
    • Better instruction is found in specialized programs like AP, IB, Cambridge, and the like. They are more aligned with college coursework, but taking them is invariably a sign that the enrolled student plans to go to college.
  • Teachers in high school typically are the only authority in the room. While that is often also true of college professors, they are published authors whose works are subject to peer review, available to any college student who looks or is directed there by a rival professor. College teaching is inherently more a competition of ideas.
    • Both dogmatism and groupthink can appear, but in a competitive arena.
  • Tests, in the name of objectivity, skew towards factoids and consensus views, that is, standardized tests reimpose solitary authority, because “objective assessment” requires a single undisputed standard.
    • In this way “objective assessment” distorts the content tested (and, thus, taught), converting controversies into doctrines with the controversy bleached out, like compromise candidates offered to rival political factions.
    • This is no problem where consensus views prevail, as in mathematics and, for the most part, the hard sciences. In fields where controversy is built-in, term papers are the norm at university, judged for the quality of argumentation rather than the claims put forth.
  • In a world increasingly reliant on STEM-led technological innovation, professional knowledge, big data, and emerging knowledge industries, the inability to sift through claims made by experts is debilitating.
  • Without that capacity, how do you navigate an increasingly bureaucratized and digitized world? How do you navigate social programs (Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare), how do you navigate the justice system, or the banking system?
  • If life means death and taxes, how do you navigate hospitalization or the IRS?
  • And how in the hell do you navigate the riot of claims and promises hurled at you across the Net and by politicians and other paid pleaders and benders of the truth?
  • Without the ability to recognize genuine expertise, to sift it out from the claims of charlatans and special interests with ulterior motives, you’re screwed.
  • Or worse, you’re ripe for harvesting by propagandists, cultists, con-men, and every kind of manipulator, whether intentional or merely misguided.
Know the rules for making credible claims, and apply them to any claim bearing upon a field of expertise or matters of fact.
  • Next Saturday, in Part 2, I’ll discuss what a college education ideally provides:
    1. Submitting one’s thinking to disciplines, with both consensus standards and an open and competitive arena of ideas in which the competitors follow rules and are penalized for avoiding, evading, or cheating on the rules.
    2. Learning how to assess the credibility of experts outside your own field, and developing the lifelong habit of doing so.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Odd Humor: Pandemics, Politics & Predators

  • After months of mask-wearing and hand-washing, I now sometimes visualize my body as a vast, virgin continent — the broad plains of my back and belly, the navigable waterways entered via my mouth, nose, ears, and anus — over and through which wave after wave of rampaging bacteria and surging viruses war against one another, fighting for place in this primal expanse. Pass the soap, please.
  • There’s an inner wildebeest in every wingnut. (If you don’t believe me, look ’em up; but y’already know ’em as lion lunch and crocodile crunchies.)
  • A cunning new predator, the product of millions of years of evolution, now stalks my patio! Okay, it doesn’t stalk, it’s an ambush predator. And it only moves when the wind blows. Because it’s a plant. That’s right, a pitcher plant! “Here, skeeter, skeeter, come to Daddy!”
Picture a pitcher

What McConnell-Cheney Republicans Want

A very different bunch of republicans. From these, the ides of March. From ours, the bromides of February.
  • Caesar is dead, long live Caesar!
  • It is becoming clear what the mainstream faction of Republicans want and the strategy they are deploying to get it.
  • They want Trumpism without Trump.
  • They want to remove the Trump cancer without destroying the neighboring Republican cells, like a precisely targeted chemotherapy.
  • They want Trump to bleed out in the Senate, but they do not care to wield the knives themselves.
  • They will happily let the Democrats lay out their well-documented case that Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election led to the January 6th assault on the Capitol.
  • They will be moved and impressed by it. Many will acknowledge the persuasiveness — in off-the-record comments — of the Democrat’s case that Trump’s culpable behavior led to 1-6. But they will not convict.
  • They would rather the voters do that, should Trump himself try to run again.
  • They want to be rid of Trump, without Trump’s blood on their hands in the eyes of Trump’s base. With 57% of Republicans still believing the election to have been stolen, Trump’s base is now the Party’s base.
  • They want ownership of the policies with which Trump claimed his base to pass from Trump to them; they want to inherit his supporters, while gently weaning them from the Trump teat.
  • Their message to Trump’s base without which they cannot win the coming elections in 2022 and 2024: we support Trump’s policies but not his (demagogic) attack on the peaceful transfer of power, in accordance with the Constitution.
  • They want to gently wean his base from the view that the election was stolen — which, if true, by the logic of the American Revolution, would seem to excuse the assault on the Capitol — while continuing to endorse their grievances.
  • If, as Eric Posner argues in his book The Demagogue’s Playbook, a demagogue is a politician who divides his nation by appealing to prejudices and grievances, targeting scapegoats, and offering disinformation and blame rather than plausible, viable, and unifying policies, then the mainstream Republican strategy is Demagogue Lite.
  • That’s at least an improvement on Demagogue on the Rocks.
  • And it may be the best one can do — barring a widespread outbreak of moral backbone and courage (the Rapture, in political terms) — to move a nation incrementally back to unity and civility from the extreme partisanship and division of today.
  • No, it’s not fair, but life isn’t fair, and politics is less fair than life.
    • For students of human nature, politics is human nature in the raw.
  • I offer two links to The Hill
  • And here’s a link to the New York Times article “Why Seven Republican Senators Voted to Convict Trump” that demonstrates the electoral pre-conditions for those 7 Republican senators feeling able to vote for conviction: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/14/us/politics/republican-senators-impeachment-trump.html
  • Mainstream Republicans may have had enough of Trump, but they’re still playing to win.
  • That means they will continue to roll back mail-in balloting where they can.
    • They know, as Trump knew, it works against them.
    • But they better understand then he that mail-in balloting is not fraud, and no reason to challenge the peaceful transfer of power.
    • Dirty tricks are still in (they’ve never been out): vote suppression is still in (Republicans only, because it primarily excludes Democrat-leaning voters), and gerrymandering (practiced by both parties, but more by Republicans, using their advantage in state legislatures to offset their disadvantage in the national popular vote).
      • To keep the balance, remember that dirty politics is not solely a tactic of Republicans or ethnic insiders. Machine politics, Tammany Hall, the Daley machine in Chicago (contributor to Kennedy’s1960 election win, an uncomfortable truth for liberals), were a tactic of Democrats and ethnic outsiders.
  • Human nature in the raw certainly looks Darwinian.
  • And that’s the importance of the rule of law, constitutions, limited government, and civil norms.
  • Beware of those (on the Right or on the Left) who have no patience for them!

We’re Still an Unprecedented Experiment in Human History (A More Hopeful View Of The Current Political Crisis)

  • The freshest take I’ve found on the current political crisis in the U.S. (reflected to a degree in most affluent democracies) was published in December in The Atlantic, whose articles are posted without firewalls, for which the price of admission is some brief and dignified guilt-tripping (to which my Millennial readers have acquired herd immunity).
  • That article, whose title is more ominous than its message (you understand how clickbait and social-engagement work, right?), can be accessed through this link: (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/how-america-ends/600757/).
  • It has two key historical theses:
    1. America is approaching an unprecedented moment in the development of modern affluent democracies: the moment at which its ethno-national demographic majority becomes a minority.
    2. At prior comparable critical demographic shifts, the key to democratic durability has been whether the center-right party — the political embodiment of the dominant cultural heritage — chooses to expand its membership by defining itself by ideological principles (e.g., the rule of law, democratic institutions, self-reliance, advancement by merit) or by more narrowly ethnic or sectarian ones.
  • The practical upshot is that without a strong center-right party nations’ go down a dark path, adopting a radicalized, exclusionary ideology that devalues commitments to democracy and the rule of law.
  • Summarizing this article in a few theses oversimplifies it, so I suggest you follow the link above to that article itself.

Where Now, Republicans? (2 of 2)

https://www.wcjb.com/2021/02/01/increase-in-voters-changing-party-affiliation-reported-by-ncfl-elections-offices/ This is from Marion County in north central Florida. Relatively few people bother to change registration, so this matters more as an indication of sentiment than as a significant shift in numbers by itself. It both raises the chances of Trump-allied Republicans winning in their primaries and lowers their chances in the general election.

The Coming Battle for Public Opinion

  • Which Republican leaders emerge in the wake of Trump’s retreat, and which blocs of Republican voters determine primary and general elections (the topic of Part 1) will depend partly upon which way Independents break and will be seen in the 2022 and 2024 general elections.
  • Independents, at 41%, are now a bigger bloc of voters than either Republicans at 25% or Democrats at 31% — and in a media environment where facts have become politicized — they are the swing vote.
  • That might suggest that they’re ready to put the Trump years behind us.
  • I’m not so sure.
  • A post-election autopsy by Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio concluded that “In 2016, Trump won Independents by double digits in both the Flipped and the Held groupings. They shifted against him significantly in 2020.” He further notes that those for whom the economy was the top issue strongly preferred Trump to Biden , while those for whom the pandemic was the top issue strongly preferred Biden to Trump.
  • Here’s my accumulated impression of Independents:
    • Independents vote on how they expect policy to affect them, and especially short-term economic effects. The pandemic is a one-off, and will presumably be under control, if not by 2022, then by 2024.
    • Independents show an admirable skepticism about ideological principles, but seem little more concerned about constitutional ones. Their perspective seems transactional, which plays into the hands of the more manipulative sort of politician.
    • My fear is that if the economy feels bad to Independents (and with the large gap between the frothy markets and the real economy, the party will end sooner or later), we’ll be back in the soup, Trump-style, no matter who let the dogs out.
  • But my research via the Pew Foundation polling center gives a different, more fragmented impression. I’m still digesting it, so I’ll refer you to it (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/15/facts-about-us-political-independents/).
  • Here are the key points, quoted:
    1. Nearly four-in-ten U.S. adults (38%) identify as politically independent, but most ‘lean’ toward one of the two major parties. Only 7% of Americans overall don’t express a partisan leaning, while 13% lean toward the Republican Party and 17% lean toward the Democratic Party.”
    2. Independents who lean to one of the two parties are often much closer to partisans in their views than they are to independents who lean to the other party. For example, while 34% of independents as a whole said they approved of the way Donald Trump was handling his job as president in a March Pew Research Center survey, the gap between independents who lean to the GOP and those who lean to the Democratic Party (73% vs. 9%) was nearly as wide as the gap between Republicans and Democrats (85% vs. 8%).”
    3. On some issues, there are significant differences between leaners and partisans.
    4. Independents – particularly the 7% of Americans who don’t lean toward a party – are less politically engaged than partisans.
    5. Independents feel more negatively about political candidates and parties than partisans.
    6. Independents are younger and more likely to be male than partisans.
  • If Independents are the decisive swing vote, we better figure out who they are and what they want.
  • If coming elections boil down to how Independents feel about he economy, that remains in the hands of good ‘ole Mitch McConnell, the great obstructionist, who truly wants to perform a Trumpectomy on his party, but wants to do it as outpatient surgery, without the Republicans missing an election.
  • Remember when Republicans argued that it wasn’t for Congress to remove an unfit President, but for the voters to do so? And when the voters did so, Republicans insisted that the voters didn’t really do what they did, as shown by every fact, every recount, every investigation, and every one of 60+ judicial reviews — not to mention one post-election autopsy by a Trump campaign pollster.

The Road Ahead

  • Yesterday the Republican House Caucus voted to retain Liz Cheney as #3 in the Republican House leadership by a vote of 145 to 61, her allies outvoting her enemies by two-and-a-half-to-one.
  • But neither did it vote to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene (advocate, when convenient, for QAnon and other fringe conspiracy theories) of her committee memberships (including the Education committee).
  • These were the opening skirmishes in the civil war within the Republican Party between the two factions I’ll label the McConnell-Cheney faction and the Hawley-Greene faction.
  • The split had opened up over how far one went along with Trump’s election denialism and over how stringently to punish Trump and his hard-core backers for their contributions to the attempt to set aside the election results.
  • But yesterday’s two votes were the first tests of strength between the two factions, and it was a pretty decisive victory for the McConnell-Cheney faction.
  • What will this mean?
  • McConnell knows perfectly well that Trump supporters will have outsized clout in the coming Republican primaries (since 67% of registered Republicans persist in the belief that the election was “stolen”).
  • McConnell’s worst-case scenario: moderate Republicans get “primaried” by the Trumpists, who go on to win in deep red districts and states, while losing in purple and blue ones, deepening Democratic control of the House and the Senate.
  • McConnell’s plan: to undercut and isolate the ringleaders of the Hawley-Greene faction, so that they can be quietly smothered outside public view. In other words, he wants the costs of further extremism to constrain their future careers and behavior without either enraging the Trump base or giving Democrats a leg up on retaining control of Congress.
  • How might that work?
  • McConnell will maneuver behind the scenes to deprive them of platforms, power, and prestige within the party.
  • Never-Trump Republicans, like the Lincoln Project, will target ringleaders like Hawley and Cruz in the Senate, or mascots like Greene and Boebert in the House, raising funds, running ads, and supporting primary challengers.
  • And a section of Republican voters (its size is anyone’s guess) will shy away from the increasing merging of extremist views into the Republican mainstream.
  • This will be a long and drawn out process, far exceeding the public’s attention span.
  • This is where McConnell, a pure Machiavellian, shines; out of the public eye, in slides the stiletto.
  • But McConnell has no interest in an open Republican confessional and purge, and he will fight, and fight effectively, moves in that direction. This is the direction the Republican Party is moving, and it appears to have enough leverage to pull it off.
  • … meanwhile, a civil war rages within Republican Party ranks.
I’ve read that The Lincoln Project is only making minor efforts against Cruz, presumably because his position looks secure. Hawley looks the more vulnerable target.

A Virtual World that Exists for Agents Only

We can make of ourselves something beyond the first rough designs of nature
  • Picture a world in which nothing happens except what is dictated by the iron laws of nature. Forces, and the causes behind them, drive all that happens or can happen.
  • Creatures with volition, trapped within this world, could only react to the forces that threaten them with annihilation, staving off for a time inevitable dissolution and death.
  • Organisms in such a Darwinian system of nature must continually adapt to changing conditions.
  • Survival is the only enduring value, for just as long as it endures.
  • This may or may not be the world we live in.
  • This hypothesis of a purely amoral world, in which relations between beings is purely instrumental to survival, the hypothesis of amoral instrumentality is, at the very least, a rough first draft of the arc of a life for creatures driven to react to incoming external forces and limited by the fragile equilibrium that sustains life. Every crime and act of exploitation creates its own circumscribed sphere of amoral instrumentality.
  • In such a world, devoid of grand purpose or meaning, relations between creatures can only be instrumental; there can be only victims and victors. and most provisional victors become, sooner or later, victims.
  • Against this hypothesis, we can set the hypothesis of moral purposiveness.
  • A world with moral purpose can only begin as an outgrowth of the instrumental world, for purpose has no meaningful reference outside of animate life capable of volition, and life emerging from the inorganic is simple, unreasoning, and driven only by natural selection.
  • Put differently, the possibility of morality can only arise in complex creatures evolved from simpler forms, all of which must survive the rigors of natural selection.
  • Morality is a hypothetical behavior attributed to equally hypothetical agents.
    • For example, courtroom trials and judicial inquiries are attempts to establish whether the defendant acted as a moral agent in the particular case under review. The prosecutor interprets the evidence in the light of the hypothesis of amoral instrumentality, as applied to the defendant, while the defense does the opposite. Of course, here, the hypotheses are only applied as psychological hypotheses about the defendant and their motives, not as general hypotheses of human nature.
  • Agents must be neurologically complex enough to conceive of the hypothesis of amorality. It first appears as visceral fear of the world of dog-eat-dog, every man for himself, chaos, disorder, and lawlessness.
  • To become an agent one must distinguish the moral from the amoral and immoral, must know good from evil.
  • One must also want to be oneself moral, or at least to be seen by one’s peers or social group as such.
  • The crude beginnings of morality are always blended with group self-interest (a consequence of the moral realm growing out of the instrumental realm of nature): friend versus foe, like versus unlike, fellow versus foreigner.
  • The moral hypothesis is a kind of virtual reality which a community of agents constructs for themselves, within which shared values and reciprocal duties to each other are acknowledged.
  • It is an alliance of the willing, and valid only within that alliance, a community allied in upholding a set of values that they apply among themselves.
  • It is a virtual world because foes or non-members need not and do not acknowledge it. It is not binding for outsiders; it is not a reality for them.
  • But though the virtual world of this value system is not accepted as valid by outsiders, yet it can be imposed upon them by force, where force has the strength and reach to do so.
  • One can think of the instrumental world as the real world. Hobbes, and the social contract thinkers who followed him, call it the state of nature; Mearsheimer, and other contemporary thinkers, call it anarchy.
  • But one can also think of the purposive world as a virtual reality built atop the underlying instrumental reality, which can in fact change what is changeable in the underlying reality, as long as the group upholding it can together accept to be mutually bound by it, can defend the physical territory in which they establish it, and impose it, where need be, on those who would evade, undermine, or destroy it.
  • Conceived thus, morality arises from the desire to escape the worst excesses of the instrumental realm.
  • Moral agency (agency, in the strict sense) is the attempt to escape this endless cycle of victimization and victimhood by joining a community (a virtual, not a natural, whole) — call it a social contract, call it a social construct — of reciprocal limits on mutual victimization.
  • This community, and the moral realm in which it operates, is virtual (rather than real) in the senses that: 1) it only operates where an agent voluntarily chooses to abide by it limits, 2) anyone can choose to violate those limits if they accept the risk of punishment or believe they will escape detection or punishment, and 3) the community that sustains these limits can decay from within (corruption and subversion) or be destroyed from without (conquest).
  • The underlying empirical reality is that of an aggregate of individuals, each choosing to act in its own perceived self-interest, but an interest that takes into account the social forces it is subject to, including coercion, legal punishments, and social acceptance or exclusion.
  • And yet the virtual community acts according to its own governmental procedures, and in so doing shapes the above-mentioned real empirical forces: the beliefs and perceived self-interest of its members, public (and publicly condoned or permitted) uses of coercion, the laws, and social sentiments and pressures.
  • And yet it is virtual again in the sense that it is only the shared belief of the community that holds it together. When that belief in the constitution of the community fails, the community dissolves, just as a spirited defense can turn into a disordered route when the courage of the individual defenders frays to the tipping point of a general panic.

Deferral Notice

Looking before he leaps, Mitch McConnell.
  • I’m holding off on Part 2 of “Where Now, Republicans” for another few days, for the following reasons:
    1. Although I have some plausible conjectures about the voting profile of Independents, I need to research it, primarily through matching polls comparing the reactions of Independents to the January 6th attempted insurrection with those of Republicans and Democrats.
    2. Since Independents, unlike Republicans and Democrats, are not an organized party, there is little in the way of intra-party maneuvering to observe.
    3. As for the elections of 2022 and 2024, what we are seeing now is just the preliminary skirmishing, especially within the Republican Party. It will take time for this to play out, to see how lasting are the initial posturing and regrouping.
      • It’s pretty clear, for example, that Mitch McConnell, after signaling his willingness to engineer a parting of the ways between the Republican Party and Donald Trump, has read the way the wind is blowing within his Party, and now wants a more discreet distancing of the Party from Trump, without any overt repudiation.
  • So, I’m holding off until I research past voting patterns of Independents. From anecdotal memory, they are in-between Democrats and Republicans, but lean significantly closer to Republicans. In other words, the long-term fallout of present maneuvering is about as unclear as it could be. We’re really just looking at the starting line-ups being fielded by the two teams before play begins.
  • In the meantime, I’ll post a more theoretical argument about the wellsprings of human behavior, which I think goes a long way towards explaining what we’re seeing, but which has no predictive value apart from observing how the contest develops, once the starting-whistle has been blown.

The See-No-Evil Party

Who is playing devil’s advocate? the author of this post? or the party playing Russian roulette with the Constitution?
  • I am in a bitter mood, and it will show.
  • Watching the Republican Party evade responsibility for giving a patina of respectability to the lie of the stolen election — though always the path of least resistance, and hence the likeliest path for them to pursue — should make anyone tremble who cares about constitutions or republics or viable democracies or the rule of law.
  • Having played Russian roulette for decades with polarizing divisiveness, they are now playing Russian roulette with the Constitution.
  • First they abdicated their constitutional responsibility to check a lawless president with no sense of propriety, norms, or constitutional limits. Their pretext was that the people, not its elected leaders, should remove an unfit president.
  • When, at the next election, the people did so (though by a sadly narrow margin), the Republican party claimed that the people was a ventriloquist’s dummy, and that the voice that seemed to come from it was not its voice.
  • The people only speaks truly when it speaks with the party’s voice.
  • Sound familiar?
  • When that ploy provoked a clownish attempted coup, the Republican party denied, — except for a few brave souls — all responsibility for the poor deluded fools who acted as though that lie were the truth.
  • They were but cannon fodder, easily tossed aside, so that the manipulators and mainstream of the party could continue in their dangerous constitutional brinksmanship, without accepting responsibility or consequences for their actions.

The Bitter Truth behind an Old Chestnut

  • It is an old chestnut of American political science that the president’s party almost always suffers losses in midterms.
  • They like to call it buyer’s remorse.
  • They’re being polite.
  • Real accomplishments are less attractive than promises, and elections are auctions of promises.
  • Machiavelli indirectly shows that voters prefer promises that are short-term, bold, and simple (The Discourses, I. 53).
  • When these policies fail, they blame government corruption and incompetence (ibid.).
  • But corruption always begins in the voters: they want to be lied to.
  • When times for them are good, they’ll listen to truths. When times for them are bad, they want lies.
  • When a nation is split into two polarized factions, each faction wants to be lied to, but in different ways.
  • The more dangerous faction is the one that wants to be lied to — not just with promises — but about facts as well.
  • For them, there is no truth, and where no truth no norms, because every act can be rationalized with pretexts, myths, and alternate truths.
See No Evil

Where Now, Republicans? (1 of 2)

  • The post-Trump political process will be long and drawn out.
  • We’re not home free. Much is still at stake.
  • I see 5 areas to watch:
    1. Fringe Republican militants
    2. The Senate Republican Caucus
    3. Denialist Republican Voters
    4. Cross-Party Public Opinion, Independents especially
    5. The 2022 & 2024 Election Cycles

1. Fringe Republican Militants

  • The out-and-out crazies, the QAnon crowd, the Proud Boys, and overt white supremacists are the least danger in the long run.
  • Not that they’re harmless. They will do some sporadic damage. They inspire, recruit and support domestic terrorists.
  • The farcical yet deadly assault on the Capitol was their Waterloo.
  • The mob that became insurrectional (whatever their original, and varied, intentions) was a sea of feckless amateurs seeded, chillingly, with some adept and military-trained professional insurrectionists (I don’t mean they were hired mercenaries, only that they brought professional skills and equipment to the party).
  • That clownish attempt at spontaneous insurrection finally crossed a line that their legislative instigators and apologists would not cross.
  • Had Trump’s inept attempts to use and bend the Constitution to override the electoral results stopped short of publicly siding with the insurrectionist mob (before the political costs of doing so became evident even to Trump), he would have passed out of office still in full control of the Republican party.
  • As an ongoing political demographic, the question about such fringe Republicans are:
    1. Will they give up on voting, now that their idol has fallen (and disavowed them, adding insult to injury)?
    2. How large a faction will they be in Republican primaries?
    3. Will some subtler and more competent hard-right pol — like Ted Cruz. Josh Hawley, or Tom Cotton — pick up their vote and shift it back within the Republican mainstream?

2. The Republican Congressional Caucus

  • More significant than Whither the crazies? is Whither Republican leaders in Congress (plus a few Gubernatorial hopefuls)?
  • I see 4 types:
    1. Everything-but-the-Insurrection Trump Successors
      • Most prominent here are the leading Senators who voted against certification: Josh Hawley (R-MO), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Rick Scott (R-FL).
      • My sense is that Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the most powerful Republican of the moment, would like to ice these guys out, discreetly blackballing them. But he wants to do it quietly, tarring them without tarring the Republican party (a hard trick to pull off, but the sort of thing McConnell’s good at).
      • Just saw this: The Kansas City Star reported that Hawley’s in-state disapproval/approval rating has dropped 12 points since January 6th (17 points since the election was called for Biden), to 49% disapprove, 36% approve.
        • They call it the Show-Me State. He showed ’em, and they saw ‘im.
    2. Jumped-Ship-before-it-Sank Trump Successors
      • Tom Cotton (R-AR) jumps to mind, who backed largely frivolous challenges to the election results but did not support objecting to certification, once constitutional remedies had been exhausted.
      • He’s a buttoned-down version of Trump without the overblown narcissism. He can’t match Trump for demonizing rivals or for whipping up crowds, but those insults are sub-text now, and he could shine as a more constitutionally-alert standard bearer for the fallen idol.
      • He is, in my view, more dangerous than Trump, because he’ll play dirty, but just within the rules. It was Trump’s needless excesses that brought him down, not his main thrust.
    3. Reluctant Trump Partners
      • McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
      • Both were willing to work, if they had to, with a loose cannon on deck like Trump, but would have rather worked with someone more rulebound and discreet, like Tom Cotton.
    4. Trump Critics
      • Ben Sasse (R-NE), Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD).
      • These are the best hope for a restored Republican party, but I think they are least likely to prevail.
      • Best Case Scenario: McConnell and his crew succeed in blackballing Hawley and Cruz, and then there’s a Republican primary battle between, say, Cruz (Group 1) and Hogan or Sasse (Group 4); but it seems wishful thinking to believe that the latter could prevail in the Republican primaries.

3. Denialist Republican Voters

  • It’s not the fringe crazies that worry me, it’s the 2/3 of self-identified Republican voters who still say the Biden victory was illegitimate.
    • A Gallup poll taken December 1-17, 2020 showed these results:
      • 25% Republican
      • 41% Independent
      • 31% Democrat
    • So, 67% of 25% is 17% of all voters still believing Biden’s victory illegitimate after the failure of 61 court cases, Barr’s Dept. of Justice investigation, and multiple recounts.
    • If that stands, 67% of voters in Republican primaries will vote for Trump surrogates rather than unifying or responsible Republicans. Such candidates are likely to lose in statewide races in blue and purpling states, but they’ll win in deep red states, and the House will remain loaded with denialist advocates.
    • If that stands, politics will remain divisive and ugly, the Republican party will remain regionally entrenched in rural economic zones, while losing electability at the national level.
    • That is, unless candidates from Groups 2, 3, or 4 can win their primaries. My money’s on Group 2, but my heart’s with Group 4.
    • Someone like Tom Cotton is McConnell’s best case scenario — Trumpy enough to keep Trump loyalists voting, yet sufficiently untarnished to appeal to Independents.
    • This is the scenario in which the Republican platform stays wedded to the main thrust of Trump’s policy grab bag, while sliding away from Trump and his narcissist excesses. It would be something like the French anti-immigrant populist Marine Le Pen’s ousting of her openly anti-Semitic father Jean-Marie from France’s hard right National Front.

Provisional Conclusion: Watch the Independents in 2022 & 2024

  • So, it all depends on my last two areas to watch: Independents and Upcoming Elections, which I’ll discuss in my next major post.

Seeing and Being Seen

In a mangrove swamp at the Deering Estate…
  • I felt its presence as an absence of movement.
  • I had walked right past it, without noticing.
  • It was a yellow-crowned night heron, a quiet, still bird, mostly nocturnal, who stalks and feeds on crabs.
  • It’s about 2′ tall, with a wing span of 3.5′.
  • I once watched one take 15 minutes to imperceptibly inch forward into striking range.
  • This one was in a defensive stillness.
  • We watched each other for about 20 minutes. Its only movement was for the deep orange eye fixed on me going from half-lidded to wide open.
  • I finally left, keeping a distance of 15′ between us as I moved from one side to the other.
  • It never moved.
  • This is my parting view of it against the sinking sun.
In a stare-down, it would win.

Thinking German, Talking Irish, on Big Questions, with Banter

%d bloggers like this: