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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Are We Facing an Undemocratic Future?

What do you think when Trump appoints so many retired generals to cabinet-level posts in his administration? The positive side of the argument is that these are talented, well-educated individuals who bring a worldview and experience on the global stage that Trump himself lacks.

The other side of the argument is that the authoritarian president Trump risks making his government much more authoritarian than it needs to be. This from Roger Cohen in the NYT:

A quarter-century after the post-Cold War zenith of liberal democracies and neoliberal economics, illiberalism and authoritarianism are on the march. It’s open season for anyone’s inner bigot. Violence is in the air, awaiting a spark. The winning political card today, as Mr. Trump has shown…is to lead “the people” against a “rigged system,”…The postwar order — its military alliances, trade pacts, political integration and legal framework — feels flimsy, and the nature of the American power undergirding it all is suddenly unclear.

We sound like a nation that is ripe for political upheaval. Citizens are not only more critical of their political leaders, they have become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives.

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard, has spent the past few years challenging one of the bedrock assumptions of Western politics: That once a country becomes a liberal democracy, it will stay that way. That bedrock assumption is called “democratic consolidation” in political science, but Mounk’s research suggests that isn’t correct anymore.

In fact, he suggests that liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline. Data from Freedom House, an organization that measures democracy and freedom around the world, showed that the number of countries classified as “free” rose steadily from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.

But since 2005, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. According to Mounk and his research partner Roberto Foa, who reviewed the data, early signs of democratic destabilization exist in the US and in other Western liberal democracies. They found that the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations. The survey was based on 2014 data. Here is a graph from the Mounk-Foa study:

percent-who-say-democracy-is-essential-us

The graph shows responses by age cohort. Younger Americans have substantially less need to live in a democratic society than do older individuals. (The grey shaded part of graph is the 95% confidence limit for the responses to the survey). Remarkably, the trend toward acceptance of nondemocratic alternatives is especially strong among citizens who are both young and rich.

Mounk and Foa found that support for autocratic alternatives is also rising. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, they found that the share of Americans who say that authoritarianism would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen from 18% in 1995 to 35% of rich Americans:

support-for-authoritianism-by-income-us

While citizen support for authoritarian rule remains in the minority, it can no longer be dismissed as a fringe group. They support “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament and elections” and they want “experts” rather than the government to “take decisions” for the country. (In the study, “Upper income” is defined as the top 20% of income. “Lower Income” was defined as the bottom 50% of income.)

Overall, the rich are also now more likely than lower income citizens to express approval for “having the army rule.” While 43% of older Americans, including those born between the world wars and their baby-boomer children, do not believe that it is legitimate in a democracy for the military to take over when the government is incompetent or failing to do its job, the figure among millennials is much lower at 19%. In the US, only 5% of upper-income citizens thought that army rule was a “good” or “very good” idea in 1995. That figure has since risen to 16%, so the young rich are much more autocratic than their rich elders.

The clear message is that our democracy is now vulnerable. What was once unthinkable should no longer be considered outside the realm of possibility. This is partially the result of an educational system that does not teach even basic civics, much less the meaning of the Constitution.

Generations have grown up believing that they can casually read the document and understand what constitutional law is. Young Americans have never known the threat of an undemocratic system, so their fear of autocracy is far less than it is in the minds of their elders.

Trump is the prime example of this. And according to Mounk’s findings, he has a receptive audience in the young and the wealthy.

Would that be enough to undermine democracy in the US?

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Weekend Links to Help Improve Voting

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you read the Wrongologist, the chances are excellent that you will be voting, or, have already voted in the local, state and presidential elections that will culminate with some kind of decision next Tuesday.

However, you have an additional job this weekend, and that is to reach out to friends or family that may be hoping to skate by the big decision altogether. We need to help them screw up their courage for the task of voting, and to help you with shaming or compelling them to vote, here are a few electoral links for your weekend reading. Grab a hot cup of “Wake the Fuck Up” coffee and check these out:

Trump fans try to fool Clinton faithful into voting via text: The ads, in English and Spanish, encourage Clinton voters to text “Hillary” to a 5-digit number to cast their votes and avoid the long lines at the polls. Twitter user Robert McNees said he flagged the tweets. Then, he said Twitter told him the tweets didn’t violate their terms of service. They eventually took them down. Sorry folks, politics isn’t American Idol.

It’s unnecessarily hard to vote in America: US voter registration numbers are abysmal. According to Pew Research, only 71% of voting-age citizens were registered to vote in the 2012 presidential election. That’s compared to 99% in Japan, 96% in Sweden, and 91% in Canada. Why? In a Brennen Center study of democracies across the world, the US was one of only four countries that didn’t proactively solicit or initiate voter registration. We also struggle to get our voters to the polls. Again according to Pew Research, in 2012 the US ranked 31st out of the 35 developed countries in the OECD. Only 55% of eligible voters cast a vote on Election Day, compared to 87% in Belgium and 83% in Sweden.

Gaps in voter turnout are an important factor in the growing misalignment of public policy with the concerns and needs of working-class and low-income people: The linked study by Demos shows that our democracy mainly serves a single dominant class of affluent white voters, largely due to poor turnout by millions of Americans who would vote for progressive ideas.

A Guide to selfies that won’t get you arrested when you vote. Selfies taken inside the voting booth are illegal. Justin Timberlake took one that could land him behind bars. Don’t be like Justin. However, there is research that suggests people are more likely to vote if they see their friends talking about actually voting on social media. So, voting selfies may be useful on Election Day. Post a pic of you and your “I Voted” sticker after you leave the polling place.

The music video service Vevo, is encouraging its users to vote in the upcoming elections by launching an original series call “Why I Vote”, featuring pop stars talking about the reasons why they are going to the polls this year. The purpose is to galvanize first-time voters interested in shaping their own future.

Here is American Authors , two of the band members have brothers who have served time for shooting someone. They examine the circumstances and explain their opinions on the need for comprehensive gun reform:

If you read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

Or you might like this “Why I Vote” Vevo by musician/actress Becky G., who, since it is her first opportunity to vote, and given her Mexican heritage, talks about immigration:

If you read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

Voting for Democrats risks eternal damnation, says San Diego Catholic Church bulletin: An insert to San Diego CA’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church’s weekly bulletin on Oct. 16, told parishioners that “it is a mortal sin to vote Democrat.” That’s not all. An article in the Oct. 30 bulletin compared a statement by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to Satan. The San Diego Diocese disavowed the messages, and say they have no idea how this happened. Get James Comey on the phone!

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RIP Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden died on Monday. Like Bob Dylan, Nixon, Robert Kennedy, MLK and many others, Hayden was a part of inventing the 1960s as we remember them. He was best known as an anti-Vietnam War activist, but he was active in the Civil Rights movement and in other social causes.

In 1961, he joined the Freedom Riders, challenging Southern authorities who refused to enforce the Supreme Court’s rulings banning segregation on public buses. He was beaten for his efforts in Mississippi and then jailed in Georgia. Hayden was the first president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a university-based student activist movement, started in 1962.

In 1968, Hayden helped plan the antiwar protests in Chicago that targeted the Democratic National Convention. Police officers clashed with thousands of demonstrators, injuring hundreds in a televised spectacle that a national commission later called a police riot. Yet, Hayden and others were charged by federal officials with inciting riot and conspiracy.

The resulting Chicago Seven trial was a classic confrontation between Abbie Hoffman and the other defendants and Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation), marked by insults, outbursts and contempt citations. The demonstration that led to the Chicago Police riot and the trial, is remembered for Mayor Richard Daly saying these infamous words:

Gentlemen, let’s get this straight. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.

In 1973, Hayden married Jane Fonda, went to Hanoi and escorted a few American prisoners of war home from Vietnam. Later, he won a seat in the California Legislature in Sacramento in 1982, and served as an assemblyman and as a state senator, for a total of 18 years.

Last April, he explained why he was switching his vote from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton in the California Democratic primary:

There are two Hillary Clintons. First, the early feminist, champion of children’s rights, and chair of the Children’s Defense Fund; and second, the Hillary who has grown more hawkish and prone to seeking “win-win” solutions with corporate America…

Hayden went on to say:

I wish our primary could focus more on ending wars and ending regime change too, issues where Bernie is more dovish and Hillary still harbors an inner hawk. Both Bernie and Hillary call for “destroying” ISIS, whatever that might mean—but it certainly means we are moving into yet another “war presidency”…

Hayden closed with this point: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

So here we are, at the end of one generation on the left and the rise of another…We still need the organizing of a united front of equals to prevail against the Republicans….It’s up to all of us.

Hayden was a member of the Silent Generation, yet he willingly passed the activist torch to the current progressive political movement headed by Millennials, based less in marching and demonstrating, and more in social media, as the means of organizing support and expressing their activism. We saw this clearly with the Bernie campaign, where most of Bernie’s communication took place via social media.

We saw it in the aborted Occupy movement as well.

Trump has used social media to build a huge following. Now he is running a nightly newscast on Facebook. The first “broadcast” looked like a live TV newscast. There was a news scroll at the bottom of the screen, and there was also a button for donating to Trump’s campaign.

And this isn’t only an American process. In Hong Kong one year ago, as protesters fought against a proposed electoral rule change by Beijing, social media, and technology more broadly, were key to spreading the message that was heard not just by protesters, but around the world. Even those not attending were involved, showing solidarity with the protest was as simple as sharing an image of a yellow umbrella on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Back to Hayden: Our society hasn’t paid much attention to the political activists of the 1960s in a long time. Groups like the Moral Monday movement are using a hybrid of the old civil rights strategy with large demonstrations in cities, backed by social media to organize public opinion, and drive turnout at their events.

Many in Hayden’s generation of civil rights and anti-war activists took on issues that divided America. The new progressive movement is now taking on those same issues all over again in a still-divided America.

The world of the 1960s and 1970s is far enough in the past that these activists who were young adults then, are now dying. But, our 2016 political landscape shows that we have yet to come to terms with that period in our culture.

The same problems exist. Let’s hope that this new generation of activists will be more effective in solving them.

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Can a Main Stream Party Win Millennial Voters?

Millennials seem to be on the fringe of the political action in 2016. A new survey “The Millennial Economy” by Ernst & Young (E&Y) shows that they are also on the fringe economically, and that they distrust many American institutions.

That may explain why they are disaffected with the current Presidential race. A mid-June survey of 1,200 18-34 year olds was conducted online and via cell phone buy E&Y. It has a margin of error of ± 2.83%. E&Y found that coming of age during an historic economic downturn has severely impacted Millennials:

  • 30% of respondents live with their parents, and it’s 40% if they are still single.
  • Nearly one­-third believe their local community is still in a recession.

Millennial stress levels are high:

  • 78% of Millennials are worried about having good-­paying job opportunities.
  • 74% are worried they won’t be able to pay their healthcare bills if they get sick.
  • 79% are worried they will not have enough money to live on when they retire.

Millennials are the most educated generation in US history, but they are not convinced of the cost/benefit of higher education. Instead of education opening doors, many Millennials feel that student debt has boxed them in. The WSJ reported that among college-educated Millennials, 81% had at least one source of long-term debt, while The Atlantic reports that real wages have fallen for Millennials (and only Millennials) in the past five years, even as education costs have skyrocketed.

E&Y surveyed Millennials’ views of the establishment. They find that Millennials have very little confidence in many of our established institutions, but they are patriotic and supportive of a leading role for the US in the world. This chart is from the study:

millennial-view-of-institutions-png

Millennial men have greater confidence in US institutions than women, with 34% of men expressing confidence in the institutions polled compared to only 25% of women. Overall, Millennials:

  • Had the least confidence in the News Media (73%) closely followed by the Federal Government, Governors, and Corporate America (72%).
  • Had the most confidence in the Military (55%), followed by Colleges and Universities (51%) and Professional Sports (32%).

Millennial men remain more optimistic than Millennial women, although the clear majority of both genders think the country is headed in the wrong direction:

  • Men are nearly twice as likely to believe that the country is headed in the right direction (33%) as women (17%).
  • Hispanic men and black women are the most optimistic group within each gender, with 41% of the former and 27% of the latter believing the country is headed in the right direction.

So the $64 question is: How to win the vote of Millennials? E&Y says that economic uncertainty greatly influences Millennials’ political priorities. They found that Millennials are looking to politicians to alleviate their financial insecurity:

  • 64% of Millennials believe public education should be a top priority for federal tax dollars, a consensus that crosses party lines.
  • Social Security and Medicare were their second priority (46%), while National Security was third at 45%.
  • 47% of Millennials identify as independents.

Finally, as a crib sheet for debate prep, E&Y have this checklist for Millennial hot-button issues:

millennial-vote-checklist

Politicians always play to a checklist. Trump mentioned every battle ground state in the last debate, but fell in the polls. And playing generational politics can result in the candidate seeming completely inauthentic. That has been Hillary Clinton’s problem with Millennials. Al Gore tried it with Social Security in 2000 vs. GW Bush, and it did not work.

Polls show Clinton running far behind where she would hope to be with Millennials. She is winning just under half of Millennial votes, while Obama got over 60% in both of his campaigns.

As we have said, Hillary is not Bernie, and doesn’t stand for what Bernie stood for. So while millennials loved him for it, Hillary will not do as well with them.

Wrongo is concerned about how many young people are considering voting for Gary Johnson. Johnson’s libertarian views are far worse for their interests than anything Hillary stands for.

Johnson certainly would never support the government doing anything with student debt. Yet apparently, many young people will be voting for him, with no apparent concern about how it might help elect Donald Trump.

Perhaps Millennials and the rest of us need to have a busload of faith to get by between here and Election Day in order to survive. Here is Lou Reed live on Letterman in 1989 with “Busload of Faith”:

True to Lou, he sang about a busload of faith, minus the bus, and minus the faith.

Those who view the Wrongologist in email can see the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

You can’t depend on your family
you can’t depend on your friends
You can’t depend on a beginning
you can’t depend on an end

You can’t depend on intelligence
ooohhh, you can’t depend on God
You can only depend on one thing
you need a busload of faith to get by

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