Saturday, July 23, 2016

Surprising Sabbatical Mission: Reassuring Folks About Trump

I don't know how I have found myself with a new sabbatical assignment, but it seems to be the case.  What is it?  Reassuring folks--friends, acquaintances, people I meet in Europe and Canada, etc--that Trump will not win. 

Last night, I spoke at a synagogue as one of my colleagues had recommended me to his Rabbi.  The theme of the talk was: the Rise and Inevitable Fall of Donald Trump.  The keys to the argument were that the primaries and the general elections are two different processes, and what it takes to win the former may not be all that helpful to win the latter.  I also made arguments about the weakness of the opposition in the primary, which facilitated the ethnic outbidding that worked for Trump, and the strengths of the Clinton campaign.  Much of this should be familiar to Spew readers. 

After my talk, folks came up mostly to argue about my answer* to the Netanhayu and HRC question (will the relations be better? Yes, but not much since US and Israel have some real differences and the Dems have a multiethnic constituency that includes Jews and Muslims and pro-Palestinian folks), but several wanted to get more reassurance about Trump.  The problem is that Trump has created two sorts of fear--that whites are under assault in the US and that Trump might win.  Obviously, two different audiences are feeling these kinds of fears. 

I do think the second set of fears might be productive--getting folks to vote (including some American ex-pats in Canada who have not voted recently in the US).  Folks worry about complacency--that people are taking for granted that Hillary will win and will not vote or they can vote for a third or fourth party candidate. Um, have you talked to anyone lately?  Lots of panic.  I think concern is productive, but not sure panic is.  The good news is that Brexit happened (sorry, UK), which will do much to encourage people (yo, young folks!) to vote and not to waste votes for protest candidates.  The stakes are, indeed, mighty high.

Indeed, I started my talk by suggesting what the stakes are this time: that Trump's promises include defaulting on the debt (hellooooooo depression), breaking NATO, ripping up NAFTA, sucking up to Russia (goodbye to generations of European stability), and on and on.   I also read a key quote that references the Holocaust as Trump is, indeed, the closest thing to Hitler the US has had.  Sorry, Godwin.

But as I keep saying: HRC has a smart, disciplined, organized, funded, learning campaign, with the electoral college and demographics on her side.  What does Trump have on his side?  White supremacists, Putin, and ?

Why do I feel it is my role to reassure folks about Trump's inevitable defeat?  I am not exactly sure.  I guess I just don't want people to be so stressed out for the next four months.  Anyhow, don't take my word for it.  Just keep an eye on the fundamentals--not just the absence of major war and the presence of low inflation/low unemployment, but also that the Democrats are united and have their stars out fighting for Clinton while the Republicans are divided and sending the D team out.

*  I learned at my second job talk a long, long time ago that I should never speak in public about Israel as I do not research/study it while everyone who cares thinks they are an expert.  Does not lead to productive conversations.

Things We Knew We Now Know Better

So, Russian hackers hit the Democratic National Committee servers a month ago, Wikileaks just dumps the emails (exposing people's social security numbers), as Clinton is about to nominate her VP candidate, a day after Trump's big speech.  Hmm, what can we learn from this?

  1. Putin wants Trump to win.  Well, we knew that because Trump has been promising to gut the current international order that benefits the US and constrains Russia.  Sure, people have pointed out all the ties between Putin and the Trump campaign, calling him the Manchurian candidate.  Now, we have the most concrete evidence (although attributing hacking to the right source can be tricky) that folks in Russia want to help Trump.  Had this happened two months ago, it could have been that this an effort to help Bernie, but now there is only one possible beneficiary.
  2. Wikileaks doesn't mind carrying Putin's water.  Well, we knew that, too, but it is now more abundantly clear.  Where is the release of Trump's emails?  The RNC's?  Nope, just the Democrats.  The friends of Assange are trying to make it seem like the Democratic National Committee was biased in the primaries.  Well, duh.  Of course, it was, as Bernie had been a card carrying democrat for a few weeks/months.  Why now?  To mess with Hillary's VP choice and to mess with the Democrats' convention.  So, I have always had a low opinion of wikileaks, and this just deepens it.  Being Putin's dupes?  Not a good look.
  3. If the best dirt is that one guy wanted to raise Sanders' faith and the campaign said no, this is weak sauce.  There is probably more in the leaks, but I am not impressed.  

The only potentially striking thing about this data dump is that Putin is not being subtle.  And really, since when has Putin been subtle about anything? The old KGB guy's game is off, as the lines to draw here are abundantly clear--from Putin to Wikileaks to Trump.  That might encourage a few Bernie Bros on one side of the spectrum, but many already queasy Republicans may see this as a final straw, along with Trump's NATO statements.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Figuring Out Trump and NATO

Why is Trump spending any time on NATO?  Why did he jam it into his speech?  Most Americans are supportive of NATO and of the United States in the alliance, so playing up the hard bargaining/protection racket stuff is not going to win votes from the majority of Americans.

Well, it fits a broader pattern which then needs explaining: the RNC convention was narrow-casting, playing to those who are already Trump fans and not trying to broaden his appeal.  There was no effort in any of the four days to appeal to independents, moderates, and disaffected Democrats except for token appeals to Bernie fans (which Bernie swatted away via twitter). 

I have two guesses about this: (a) Trump thinks that what worked for the primaries works in the general election; and/or (b) Trump thinks he does not need to get more votes beyond his base, but just simply get more of his base to turn out.

Regarding (a), Trump is such an amateur and his organization is small, thin, and mostly full of people who would never make a regular campaign's A team that they may think that the primaries and the general election are the same thing.  They aren't.  Getting pluralities in a 3-15 candidate race against people who don't want to offend one's base is one thing; getting pluralities in 50 states simultaneously (or whatever number of states gets one to 270 electoral votes) against one committed, organized candidate who can ignore/disparage/attack your base is something else entirely.

Regarding (b), I am flummoxed why Trump might think that he could get so many more disaffected whites (mostly male) to do much better than Romney in order to overcome alienating so many more "sub-groups" as Steve King put it.  Is Trump thinking that #voterfraudfraud will be so successful that getting historically low %'s of African-American and Latino-American votes will not matter?  Given recent court decisions, that would be a bad bet.  The numbers I have seen (thanks to my tweeps) indicate that Trump cannot win by just mobilizing a few more million white folks if HRC does as well as among minorities as Obama did.  Given Trump's awful stances on all these groups, she should do fine with them.

Oh, and the magical thinking of more turnout runs into a real problem: turnout requires organization and teamwork.  Having his campaign manager attack the Governor of Ohio means losing the networks and organization of the establishment in one of the most critical swing states.  Who is going to beat the bushes to get rural voters (who are, by definition, dispersed) for the Trump Campaign?   Oh, and alienating the Colorado delegation on the first day of the convention also cuts against the strategy of mobilizing more folks, as I doubt that the Colorado folks will be helping turn out Republicans for the candidate that crapped on them.

So, either way, Trump's decision to focus just on his base is going to bite him in a big way.  Which is good for me as I see my role in talking down my Democratic friends and non-Americans over the next four months.  Yes, we should not be complacent about the darkness that Trump would bring and there is some risk of him winning, but we should not panic either.  Trump is the man of fear and desperation, ceding optimism (a basic American approach) and hope to HRC and the Democrats.

Trump is Un-American

Sure, folks can look back at American history and find bits of Trump-ness in the past, but we tend to view those times as big mistakes, such as internment of the Japanese.  FDR gave into fear despite his admonition about fearing fear itself.  Yes, the US used to have a mercantilist trade policy, but that is not how we got from being a minor inconvenience to a superpower.  The international order the US created in the aftermath of World War II was surely not altruistic, but it was largely aimed at producing a better world than the one that preceded it.

Free trade?  Trade has never been completely free, but by reducing the barriers to trade, the US through bilateral deals and multilateral institutions helped the world rebound from the war and the Great Depression.  This created markets for American goods and later for American services.  It meant, ultimately, that the countries elsewhere would develop some comparative advantages, which led to declines in key sectors of the American economy.  Yes, it hurt, but we are far better off with economies that can buy the rest of our stuff, with products made elsewhere that are much less expensive than they would be protected market (clothes, ipads, cars, etc).  The decline in poverty around the world is in part due to the American fostering of trade.  Don't care about poverty elsewhere?  Well, the best way to prevent immigration, if one is intolerant, is to support economic growth elsewhere.

One of the ironies of Trump's ascension in the Republican Party is that he wants to impose tariffs on imports.  Tariff is a fancy word for TAX!  That Americans would have to pay more for the stuff that they like because there would be taxes on imports.  Where is the Republican objection to taxes now?

Security?  Yes, the US has fought wars since World War II, but entirely at our choosing and with declining costs.  Europe has been stable since 1945, first because the US deterred the Soviet Union and since because the US supported institutions such as NATO to continue to keep the peace and foster democratization.  Yes, it costs real money to keep Europe and Japan and South Korea secure, but our allies do pay AND we are not doing it out of altruism.  The American economy depends on freedom of the seas and stability in Europe and Asia (sorry, Africa).

Instead, Trump wants to undermine the security architecture and solve problems by having heaps of meetings with Putin and other autocrats he admires.  Selling out the allies to a Russian authoritarian leader is, yes, un-American.  Running alliances like protection rackets, "hey, it would be really sad if something happened to you, Estonia, if you didn't pay up ....," is not the American way.  Burden-sharing is an issue, certainly, but this is not the way to get the allies to pay the bills.  While we can be skeptical about credibility and resolve as the keys to American foreign policy, alliances do matter, and the credibility of the US commitment to its NATO partners is important.  They literally sacrificed lives for us, as they were mostly out of the fight on 9/11, but joined the US in Afghanistan anyway.

How Trump proposes to lead the US in the world is exactly what the US does not stand for.  Exploitation of allies?  Coercion of democracies (the US tries to coerce authoritarian regimes)? Striking up mercantilist deals (so much for NAFTA)?  These are not the American way.

While I remain confident that Trump will lose and probably in a landslide, the damage he is wreaking within the US via inciting violence and empowering white supremacists and outside via undermining America's standing in the world will endure past November.  And that does, indeed, make me sad.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

HRC Stances As Signs of Progress

Ok, the advent of Trump has been thoroughly depressing.  What good news can we glean from our political world?  How about Hillary Clinton focusing on the LGBT stances of the GOP and of Mike Pence?  What makes this good news?

Sure, HRC could be taking this stance because she genuinely believes that the government should not discriminate against LGBT people.  Or, one could be thinking that she is pandering to a small portion of her base. 

I cannot help but think that Clinton will only focus on issues and themes that are focus-grouped/poll-tested winners.  That is, that Clinton has many ways to attack Trump and Pence, and she has chosen to focus much of the attention on LGBT.  This kind of surprises me since it was not that long ago that the Democrats were afraid of issues relating to LGBT, that referendas in states on LGBT issues would be seen as hurting the Democrats' chances in those states due to the effect on turnout.

What has changed?  Mostly American public opinion.  The Republicans, with their heinous platform and with Pence as the poster boy of intolerance, are fighting old wars.  HRC, I am guessing, has done the homework to figure out that the polls we know about are pretty valid--that the tide has turned.  Sure, there are states and parts of states where intolerance towards LGBT play, but as Hillary Clinton looks to the patterns across the country, the need to pick up a number of battleground states, she is seeing this issue as a winner.

Yes, because I am cynical about the Clintons--that Bill always went by the polls and that Hillary is not going to base her campaign just on what is right but on what will work, I have some hope about where the country is on this.  Of course, we still have way too much support for xenophobia, for anti-Muslim stances, for racist politicians (that go by the name of Trump), but I see glimmers of progress in HRC's stances.  Given the awfulness of the GOP convention, complete with homophobia, racism, xenophobia, ignorance, hate, white supremacy, misogyny and all the rest, I will take what I can get.

Dumb, Lazy or Doesn't Care: Trump on NATO

One of the hard parts about understanding Trump is whether he is just not very bright, incredibly lazy or just doesn't care.  Of course, these are not mutually exclusive categories.  But I got to thinking about this after it came out during his VP nominee's speech that Trump had an interview with the NYT on foreign affairs, and he said stupid/ignorant stuff on NATO.  Is Trump's incompetence deliberate and strategic, or just a product of a man who does not care, is lazy, and perhaps not that smart?

Some folks are thinking that Trump doesn't want to win so most of his strange/dysfunctional/self-destructive actions/stances are purposeful because he does not care about the consequences.  I don't really buy this since the man's ego is, um, fragile, and drives much of what he does, and losing would be a blow to that ego, even if he can then blame everyone else (Trump never takes responsibility).  Still, not caring is definitely on the table. 

How about lazy? A Presidential candidate usually studies a bit before doing an interview, and this deep in the campaign should know some basic stuff about NATO and its members.  If Trump is only willing to have the US defend those that meet NATO obligations, then Estonia would be ok if the focus is on spending (at the 2% of GDP but Latvia/Lithuania are short), and all three would be deserving of defense if one factors in their Afghanistan performance.  Each country deployed a significant number of troops.  Latvia had the second highest percentage of troops deployed to available troop, and the ratios of the other two were greater than France's.*  In terms of what they did, these countries sent contingents that were, in general, far more flexible than much of Europe, leading to significant prices being paid--Estonia lost the second highest number of troops per capital, Latvia was seventh, and Lithuania was in the middle of the pack.**  One does not have to read my stuff to figure this out, but just do the basic homework.  Ah, but Trump doesn't do homework as that would require ... work.

How about dumb? Trump should know that the majority of the American public, even if it does not care that much about foreign policy during elections, supports NATO and the American commitment to its allies.  That Hillary Clinton's campaign is centered on the idea that he is unqualified to be President, so why give her more fodder?  That his party is already riven with cleavages, so why give folks leaning #neverTrump to take the next step?  At this point, Trump needs to move beyond his base, and this kind of stance does not do it at all.

Back to not caring, perhaps Trump doesn't care because he has other interests in mind.  Yes, it is pretty far out there to name Trump a fellow traveler of Putin, a dupe of our adversary.  But the evidence keeps rolling in--the economic ties, the background of his campaign manager, and the consistent stances Trump takes (a man who rarely takes consistent stances) about cutting breaks for Putin.  The funny thing about this is that eight years ago, the GOP made a big stink that Obama had some kind of links to a long irrelevant domestic terrorist (Bill Ayres). 

These days, much of the GOP seems not to care that its candidate actually supports the views of one of the most significant adversaries to American interests.  Where is the House Un-American Activities Committee when you need it?  Trump's supporters throw around the words "traitor" and "treason" quite carelessly, but giving aid and comfort to the enemy may best describe what Trump's positions are when it comes to NATO and Putin.  Yes, I went there.  Not that I am calling for Trump to be shot, unlike Trump's Veterans advisor, just that he should not get any votes from anyone who cares about America's place in the world, not to mention the security and stability of Europe (and Asia and Latin America and Africa...).

*  From Adapting in the Dust, p. 22.
*  From NATO in Afghanistan, p. 4.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Trump Campaign Insanity, a Daily List

Ok, which story about the Trump campaign is most disturbing?  Most predictable?
I am sure there is more, but this is the state of the shit-show* at 3pm.   The convention has not even started today, and this is where we are at.  My vote for most disturbing?  The call for violence due to HRC's "crimes".  The GOP did this before, and it did not end well. The most predictable?  Three way tie?  No, I think it is the first--that Trump is a lazy sack of extrement, that he would not want to do the hard work, but does want to get all the credit.

What say you?

* I have been using shit-show, which might offend some folks.  I tend not to curse when I do social media, but to call this campaign a dumpster fire or a train wreck would be to insult both. 

Never Tell Me the Odds: Understanding the Election Numbers

I really like 538's coverage of elections, but their focus on the probability of who wins drives me a bit crazy:

Currently, the odds of HRC beating Trump are roughly 2 to 1.  That is mighty scary--that Trump has that much of a chance.  Yes, poker has taught me that a 1% chance of something happening (like my opponent catching the exact card s/he needs both on the turn and on the river--the last two cards dealt in Texas Hold 'Em) means something can indeed happen.  That unlikelihoods can happen, as demonstrated in the climax of Dodgeball

I saw someone on my facebook feed make a reference to Russian roulette, and this is where I have a problem.  On election day, it is not like people will spin a wheel to see who they vote for.  The election is not a game of chance.  The probabilities relate to the certainty/uncertainty of the predictions based on past performance, the number of polls, what impact the third and fourth party candidates will have and so on, and not that the election is a coin toss or dice roll or card flip at the end, 

So, yes, I would prefer if HRC was ahead by much more (Trump is truly awful on so many dimensions), but she is ahead.  The uncertainties we can really point to are: the possibility that events may happen that shift voters' attention, that alter turnout patterns, that the polls are not hitting the folks who will actually vote, and so on.  But what is certain?  What can we focus on so that we don't get swept up by whatever the latest poll suggests (and I am guilty of confirmation bias, focusing on those polls that put HRC ahead and dismissing those that Trump even or ahead)?

I prefer to focus on the fundamentals of this campaign.  This usually means the state of the economy and whether the country is at war.  That stuff matters and mostly favors HRC (low unemployment, low inflation, markets have weathered Brexit well thus far, small wars with few American casualties don't count as much as larger wars with many body bags coming home).  But what I am referring to are the fundamentals of the campaign itself:
  • African-Americans will simply not vote for Trump, and there is little Trump can or will do to change that.  Indeed, he has had speakers that have tripled down on racism--Steve King's no "sub-group" has contributed to civilization crap.
  • Latino-Americans are going to vote overwhelmingly for HRC and are very likely to turn out (large voter registration drives) as Trump has thoroughly alienated this group.
  • Women are going to vote far more for HRC than Trump since the misogyny in his campaign is deep and is likely to worsen as the confrontation between the two candidates goes on and gets face to face in debates. Trump will have to do far better than Romney among white males to compensate for his failures to get minority votes and the votes of women.
  • The gap between the Clinton campaign and Trump's campaign is about as wide as it has ever been in terms of organization, professionalism, depth, breadth, resources, etc.  The hiring of Manafort was seen as a good move to improve the campaign.  This convention has demonstrated that he has either not made much of a difference or he is wildly overrated.  Either way, this campaign is not getting better at the basic stuff.
  • The convention demonstrates again the wide disparity in the two parties at this stage.  The GOP is divided--people are forgetting about Monday? Not the delegates from Colorado.  Not the governor of Ohio.  Who is Trump trotting out in prime time at this convention?  Who are his surrogates?  His family, Chris Christie (who would have thought that the bridge scandal would be so overwhelmed by the sycophancy and desperation that has destroyed his reputation?), Ben Carson, and Newt Gingrich.  Who will speak for HRC?  A popular President Obama, Elizabeth Warren who will strengthen HRC's weak flank, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and on and on. 
  • Trump lacks discipline.  That could be my biggest understatement in seven years of blogging.  To message well means sticking to scripts and schedules, but Trump called into Fox during one of the more moving speeches at the convention.  He simply has no ability to focus and stay the course.  Indeed, Trump's personality is a fundamental part of the his campaign--it works for him in some ways (when the audiences are narrow) and not so much in other ways.
  • HRC is the anti-Trump.  She listens (as Ezra Klein illustrated quite well) and, most importantly, learns.  She learned from her defeat in 2008 and from Obama's successes in 2008 and 2012.  She is disciplined, mostly.  She is used to dealing with crazy attacks from the far right.  She should be able to do well in the debates next fall.
So, yes, there is uncertainty in the forecasts, as there should be.  And this thing is about as close as it is going to get, in the aftermath of the FBI report and during the RNC convention.  My brother constantly urges me not to get complacent, but I think Brexit has helped solve that one.  That and Trump's utter awfulness.  Only white privileged folks will think of voting for Stein or Johnson, as the outcome here matters a great deal.  But it comes back to the fundamentals that will be constant throughout the summer and fall: Trump is awful, he is awful for larger groups of voters, the demographics favor the Democrats and Hillary Clinton has figured out how to campaign. None of that is changing.  Focus on the uncertainties if you must, but I am going to keep on focusing on what I know and what will not change.

Self-Plagiariasm: So Hip These Days

Thanks to the latest Trump-tastic night of conventioneering, self-plagiarism is now mainstream.  Last night, Donald Trump Jr.'s speech used the words from an article in the American Conservative by F.H. Buckley:
Turns out that the guy who wrote the article also wrote the speech (despite assertions that Trump wrote it himself).  Recycling your work is self-plagiarism, which is not as bad as the old-fashioned plagiarism that Don Jr's step-mom did the night before.

To be clear, self-plagiarism is not as clearly problematic.  I don't think I heard the phrase until a few years ago.  Scholars often published pieces of the same research in different places, and there used to be very little comment about it or expectations. Over time, the norms have changed, with the expectation that one publishes distinct enough pieces from the same project OR one clearly acknowledges the source material.

Sometimes, it is hard to be completely new, as the data speaks most clearly in a certain way.  I have used the same graph of the percentage of question period in Canada dedicated to the detainees issue in my book and in a piece on executive-legislative relations for a special issue (if it survives the R&R process).  But, of course, for the latter piece, I include a note referencing the former piece.

Political speeches don't have footnotes, so one cannot treat them quite like academic pieces of work.  Stump speeches are the same basic speech over and over again with just some revisions to fit the news or fit the location.  Big speeches at conventions have higher expectations, and speechwriters are expected to write completely new speeches rather than recycling old material.  Buckley was either too lazy or too enchanted with his previous phrasing to write a completely new speech or strangely enough to toss in, "as argued recently in the American Conservative."

The larger point is that this Trump organization is a bunch of amateurs who are poorly supervised, led by those with really no principles.  Donald Trump Sr has made a career of taking other people's stuff and then only reluctantly paying, usually underpaying.  It has worked so far, so why should he change his ways?

Many folks will say this plagiarism stuff is distraction sauce, as it causes us to focus on this rather than the racism in some speeches, the anti-democratic content of others, and the lunacy of Carson. I focus on the rancid serving of distraction sauce here less because I am an outraged academic and more because there is something positive about these bursts of writing misdemeanors.  That is, Trump's campaign is a mess--it is poorly organized, is messing up the easy stuff, and stepping all over its messages.  This is good news for November, as it is very unlikely that the campaign will become more professional as it goes along.  The learning curve is simply very flat here, and even if lessons are learned, the organization and the candidate lack the discipline to follow the lessons. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Political Plagiarism and Trump Campaign Incompetence

I went to sleep last night thinking that Melania Trump's speech was the only decent highlight of the night.  The political experts I follow were wondering how the Trump campaign could not close with it, as LTG (Ret.) Mike Flynn's speech was more of the shit-show that was the rest of the day at the RNC.  I wake up, I find myself having flashbacks to plagiarist episodes in my career.  Why?

Oh my.

First, plagiariasts, like pathological liars, often look better than their colleagues.  I had one class where the best student was the plagiarist: he/she could do the reading and talk about it during the class sessions because he/she was not doing the writing.  He/she had more time!  Melania looked better than the rest of the speakers because she was using, in part, the words that had been well written and revised and edited by professionals .... unlike the rest of the speakers.  That should have been the giveaway.

Second, Chris Christie really said tried to excuse the speech as being 93% original since only 7% appeared in Michelle Obama's speech in 2008--the part about hard work and ethics!!!!  This reminds me of the plagiarist who, when asked by a staff member in my department if he/she plagiarized, said a little bit.  Which leads to two responses:
  1. A little bit plagiarized is like being a little bit pregnant.  You either are or you are not.  No middle ground.
  2. 93%  My guess is that that other parts of the speech came from other sources, as plagiarists, in my humble experience, tend to borrow from more than one source.  Folks just found the most obvious source--the speech by a candidate's wife at a national convention. [Update: I forgot that she RickRolled].
Third, Chris Christie is willing to defend this after being humiliated not only by not being picked to be VP nominee by Trump but the leaks about his begging for it?  Ah, his journey is now complete.

This reminds me of the Iraq invasion.  I knew that Rummy and his folks would screw it up, but I could not imagine how badly they would screw it up.  I thought this convention would be a shit-show (sorry, no other word for it), but I had no idea that the first day would start with:
  • Alienating the Colorado delegates by messing up the voting procedures
  • Alienating the Utah delegation with Trump fans threatening one in a (women's) bathroom.  She wasn't even trans gender, which would have been going along with the general GOP policy guidance, I guess.
  • Alienating the Ohio delegation as Paul Manafort, the campaign "manager", spouted off about the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich.  
  • Platform gets more news than they would like as it softens language on Putin, because GOP just love Russia?
  • Donald Trump walking in to the music of a gay man who died of AIDS--Freddie Mercury.
  • The candidate's wife was given a speech that might have been 93% original.
  • Scott Baio.
My remaining questions are:
  • Did this set such a low bar the media can claim that the next three days are successful simply because they are better than the first day?
  • Could it possibly get any worse? (Not sure the country could handle it)
  • This convention stuff is actually supposed to be the easy part of the campaign as it can all be stage-managed.  If Trump and Manafort and the rest of his dis-organization cannot handle this, how will they handle the debates, the media as it gets more assertive, HRC and her surrogates as they ramp up their attacks, etc? 
Just don't expect anyone to take responsibility for this, as that is simply not Trump's way.  No apologies, many excuses, deflect all blame and learn precious little.

Monday, July 18, 2016

American Politics in Two Pictures

 Why do the two parties behave so differently?  Will things change much?  Well, if these two pictures represent the present and future of the two parties, then yowza.

 Nearly entirely white for the GOP, incredibly diverse for the Democrats.  Sure, Trump is a friend of white supremacists, but if that pic is a semi-accurate depiction of the GOP base, then any candidate is going to play to whites.  Indeed, all of them will, and will try to compete to be the best representative of white people--ethnic outbidding.

The Democrats did have a white set of candidates, but they tried to appeal to non-whites, and the winner of the nomination was the one who was more appealing to minorities.  In future primaries, expect to see Democratic candidates continue to say "stronger together," "build bridges" and all that.  It is not just good values (yes, racism is wrong), but good politics for the Democrats.

The GOP are caught in a trap--if they start appealing for real to non-whites, they will lose significant parts of their base.  But if they do not, then they will lose elections as the country is increasingly diverse.  How to square that circle?  Voterfraudfraud--deny the right to vote to non-whites.

My guess is that whoever HRC appoints to the Supreme Court will be less enthused about restricting the franchise.  Which will mean that the GOP will be denied its primary tool for managing to be a white party in a diverse country.

What next for the GOP?  Damned if I know.  The party elites did realize after 2008 and 2012 that the party had to broaden its appeal, and yet it is here, with a friend of white supremacists, relying heavily not on dogwhistles but air horns of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, etc.  There is a learning curve, but the party's demographics provide disincentives.  I doubt we will see much change in 2020, although the winning candidate might not be quite as clear about their racist appeals than Trump.  That would be hard to do--be more racist than Trump.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Coups Be Coups: Turkey Edition

I am not a Turkey expert, but I do teach civil-military relations and have read much on coups, so much of what happened last night, despite/because of the chaos, was very familiar.  Also, playing the game Junta can be instructive.

So, what did we see that was so familiar?
  • Most coup attempts fail.  Anyone reading the failure and thinking that a failed coup means it must have been a plot by Erdogan ignores the many, many cases where coups fail.
  • Coups are risky: those who fail face jail at the best, and death is quite likely.  So, who is going to fake-coup with the stakes that high?
  • Coups are huge gambles.  Coup plotters will not know when they start who will be with them, who will be against them, and, most critically, whether their forces and/or their opponents will be willing to shoot.  Coup plotters cannot engage in surveys to assess which elements of the military or of society will support them, as any effort to get beyond a small circle of trust risks being found out and then defeated before they even start.  This uncertainty is inherent in coups not just because plotters cannot survey, but because one never knows who is willing to kill their own citizens and brothers/sisters in arms.  In conventional war, the expectation is that units will hold together and fire their weapons, although many studies have shown that unit cohesion and firing weapons varies widely.  In coups, there is much more uncertainty because of who the targets are.
  • Surprise is, thus, a dual edged weapon.  The coup plotters need it to succeed.  Without it, they get stopped before they start as most governments, especially those where coups have happened before, are fairly vigilant.  The other edge of surprise is, again, the coup plotters are largely blind about who will support them.
  • Coups are fast or they are not coups.  The plotters must seize the commanding heights of the political system and then impose upon the forces of the status quo the hard choice of whether to shoot or not.  Most of the action is in the capital and not throughout the country--as the coup plotters seek to capture the politicians, control the media, and present an image of inevitability.  This all has to be done quickly.  If done slowly, the officials can escape and can find the parts of the security forces that are dependable to defend the key spots.
  • Coups are about perceptions and momentum.  Lots of fence sitters will try to figure out which side will win and join that side before the outcome is determined, so that they both reap any rewards for being loyal to the winning side AND avoid being punished for joining the losers.  This applies not just to those inside the country but also outsiders (did the US and others support democracy a smidge late? Hmmm).  
  • One of the primary ways that governments prevent coups and defeat them is to distribute the means of coercion among a variety of agencies.  This creates more uncertainty for potential coup plotters, which often deters coups, and means that there are likely to be forces available to defend the government from the other branches of the armed forces.  It is too soon to tell who was doing what in Turkey, but it seemed like the police were loyal to the government, that the army was split, the air force seems to have supported the government, and the navy was irrelevant (in Junta, much effort is made to make the navy relevant, but these things are settled on land).
  • What about outsiders?  Mostly irrelevant as things happened pretty quickly with the locals responding to domestic incentives/risks.  NATO does not intervene in civil-military crises in members--there have been more than a handful over the years.  In countries with smaller militaries and with colonial histories, the old colonial power (we will call it France) can swiftly move in and be a force one way or the other.  But in this case, there was no one that could intervene.  Oh, and the nuclear weapons that may be stored in Turkey were never at risk despite the best efforts of those online to create some fear about them.
  • People power can matter.  It does seem to be the case that the coup plotters were somewhat stymied by crowds of citizens.  But calling the people out to confront the coup plotters is a desperate and problematic move.  The people can stop a coup in its tracks if the shooting hasn't started yet, if that critical barrier has not been bridged.  Once the firing starts, the citizens are very likely to be harmed as the shooters may not stop shooting.  But coup outcomes do not depend on whether the public loves the coup or not, but whether the coup plotters have enough support throughout the military and other security forces.
  • Coups are not progressive--coups and coup attempts do not lead to more democracy, less corruption and more economic growth.  The coup plotters claim such stuff, but the track record of military governments is not a good one.  The best one can say is that human rights may not suffer after coup failure.
  • The dynamics of coups are a smidge different in the age of social media, as the coup plotters seized TV stations but could not stop the president from facetiming a message to the public and to outsiders.  Not sure it was critical since the actual effort seemed to suggest weakness and not strength.  It did indicate that Erdogan was still alive and uncaptured, and that was significant.