Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Election postmortems and reading the tea leaves on the Trump Administration

Serena Kutchinsky does an interview with the former Greek Finance Minister and one of the leaders of the DiEM, the left pro-EU activist gorup, Yanis Varoufakis: After Donald Trump’s awful victory, the left must be more ambitious New Statesman 11/13/2016

Varoufakis doesn't seem to be experiencing any trouble navigating the class vs. race/gender/identity dichotomy that is so vexing the left and center-left in the US in looking at what can be learned from the Trump election.

The narrative is already becoming that Trump managed to exploit a feeling of resentment among white working class men, to fuel his victory. Is this “whitelash” comparable to the anti-immigrant sentiment that helped swing the Brexit vote?

This is a prime example of how the left tends to over rationalise its defeats. Trump did mobilise blue collar voters but that was not enough on its own. What I am astounded by is the number of Latinos who voted for him, and the people who switched their political religion from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Anyone who voted for Obama last time can't be easily dismissed as a racist. The political scene is being shaken to its foundations in a way the world has not experienced since the Thirties.

Comparisons have been drawn between Trump and the fascist leaders of the Thirties such as Hitler. Is he a neo fascist?

Hitler was not a fascist, he was a Nazi. The best comparison with Trump, for me, is the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943. Mussolini and Trump have stylistic similarities in terms of their image and choice of rhetoric, but the connection between them runs much deeper. Mussolini was the man who introduced social security to Italy. He implemented welfare reforms that directly benefited the working class to harness their support to a divisive and ultra nationalist movement. There is nothing comforting about the thought of living under a new Mussolini, but we need to keep our historical comparisons as close to the truth as possible.

The comment, "Hitler was not a fascist, he was a Nazi," refers to the long-running analytic discussion about whether Hitler's regime and movement represented a form of fascism or whether it was different variety of dictatorship. Varoufakis obviously takes the latter view. (I should note that Varoufakis is taking at face value Trump's claims that he opposed the Iraq War, which he did not, at least not initially.)

Robert Kuttner, The Vulnerability of Trump’s Fake Populism The American Prospect 11/15/2016 makes a point that is relevant to early economic policies of the NSDAP (Nazi) regime in Germany:

... Trump could well produce an economic boom in the near term. The stock market certainly seems to think so.

He is very likely to cut a three-part deal with House Speaker Paul Ryan and company: Massive tax cuts. Reductions in social spending, perhaps by block granting food stamps and Medicaid. And increases in infrastructure spending. As guys like me have been writing for a long time, this is precisely the moment to increase outlays for deficit-financed infrastructure because interest rates are low and there is no sign of inflation.

His tax reductions will be advertised as supply-side cuts, but in reality their impact will be Keynesian. Larger deficits will stimulate demand, as will infrastructure spending.

Republican control of the Congressional Budget Office means that the deficit impact of tax cuts can be disguised with an old trick known as dynamic scoring. Supposedly, the cuts will produce so much growth that the revenue loss will be made up.

The deficit hawks will be thrown under the bus, but so what? A year from now, the unemployment rate could well be lower. This is a case of Trump selectively stealing the clothes of progressives on selected economic issues and it could work, at least for a year or two.

Laurie Penny punctures one of the favorite media and liberal-concern-troll narratives about the election (On the election of Donald J Trump New Statesman 11/09/2016):

When they told liberals and journalists and policymakers and anyone with the cheek to suggest that maybe immigrants weren’t the problem that we weren’t listening to “ordinary people”, they meant we weren’t listening to white people. When they told us we didn’t pay enough attention to “real Americans”, they meant to white Americans. When they told us that we didn’t take their concerns seriously, they meant that we didn’t agree with them. “White working class” voters have been given plenty of airtime in this election, just as they were in the EU Referendum, including in the mainstream press that they claim to despise, because sober facts don’t sell adverts like a mean-drunk playing with matches next to an arsenal of incoherent rage.

John Judis has paid close attention to the history of populism. He gives his take on the election in Why Trump Won - And Clinton Lost - And What It Could Mean for the Country and the Parties TPM 11/11/2016. "There is rarely one single reason why a presidential candidate wins an election. The results are 'overdetermined,' as Freud used to say of the content of dreams," he writes.

That's more than a rhetorical flourish. There are many elements that go into a Presidential vote. And there are several necessary perspectives to take into account in looking at such an event: the issues, the demographics, the messaging, the targeting of advertisements and get-out-the-vote operations, the performance of the news media.

Judis calls attention to this important aspect:

Presidential candidates from a party that has held the White House for the prior two terms have an uphill battle winning the White House. That was true of Richard Nixon in 1960, Al Gore in 2000, and John McCain in 2008. And that’s the case even when the incumbent president remains popular, as Eisenhower was in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 2000. The reason is that the candidate is burdened by many grievances against the regime in power that have accumulated over the last eight years and that allow the opposition candidate to run as the agent of change. Even though most Americans now recognize the Eisenhower years as a blessing, John Kennedy could still win on a promise to “get the country moving again.”

Trump was able to exploit that vulnerability with his promise to “make America great again.” And it showed up in the polls in the electorate’s desire for change. Nationally, 39 percent of the electorate –the first choice among four options – said “can bring change” was the quality that mattered most, and they went for Trump by 83 to 14 percent.

Clinton was hobbled by the third term curse. If she sought to distinguish herself clearly from President Obama by promising change, she risked aliening his followers; but if she didn’t distinguish herself from his administration, she appeared merely to offer “more of the same.”

Masha Gessen has a grim initial evaluation, its general perspective represented in the title, Autocracy: Rules for Survival NYR Daily 11/10/2016.

Mike Lux tries to separate out some of the factors in the overdetermined election result, The Years of Living Dangerously Huffington Post 11/14/2016. This is also a very important caution for his fellow Democrats, "I fear that the conventional wisdom gurus in our party think we will be able to just keep doing business as usual, never changing their tactics in the face of a radically dangerous president and Republican party." And also this: "We have to accept the fact as a party that the partisanship in this country has become so deeply ingrained that no matter how horrible the Republican candidate is, we are just never going to pick up very many Republican votes. "

Josh Marshall reminds us of how much Trump Administration will enthusiastically embrace the concept Jamie Galbraith describes as the Predator State. Including old-fashioned graft, legal and possibly otherwise, The Corruption Will Be Endless TPM 11/13/2016.

In a related point, Trump biographer David Cay Johnston in this October interview talks about Trump's shady connections to organized crime figures, Getting to Grips with the Trump Phenomenon New Economic Thinking 10/04/2016:

R.W. Johnson reflects a bit on the demographics and sociology of the Trump voters, Trump: Some Numbers London Review of Books Online 11/14/2016.

The process of staffing the Trump Administration is understandably attracting a great deal of attention and speculation. David Dayen analyzes what a scary picture that presents, Donald Trump Dredged Up His Cabinet From the Bottom of the Conservative Swamp The Nation 11/14/2016.

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