All posts filed under: US Election

We Are Living in Parallel Societies

Yesterday’s Italian election saw mainstream parties rejected, and anti-establishment parties such as the 5 Star Movement and anti-immigration League make big gains. Even Silvio Berlusconi did well relative to the centre-Left’s humiliating defeat. The map of election results shows a deeply divided country. As we have seen since 2016, such divisions are becoming the norm around the world. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re university-educated, agnostic or atheist, no longer live in your hometown, have traveled to different countries, are relaxed about cultural and demographic changes, binge-watch drama series on Netflix, speak a second language and perhaps even supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now imagine a person who is opposite in every one of those ways — and you have your typical Donald Trump supporter. “Identity politics” is becoming a pleonasm. Identity is politics and politics is identity. In the United States, Republicans have become the party of the left behind: predominantly white voters who sense the country is changing in ways that deprive them of power and status. Democrats, a coalition of minorities, millennials and …

A Government of One

One year on from the beginning of the Trump presidency and unsurprisingly we’re starting to see plenty of the ‘look in the mirror’ articles and books. There seems to be a great deal of introspection in America right now, which is rather a unique occurrence. For the first time, in my recollection, Americans are genuinely starting to ask themselves how they feel things are going in their country. In some ways, things are going rather well actually. The stock market is hitting record highs every week and unemployment continues to decline. With a bullish economy, a lot of things are looking up for average Americans and the White House continues to trot out that very line every single day. Of course, this strong economic environment is being overshadowed by the behavior that we’re regularly seeing from the White House. When the President of the United States isn’t making racially charged statements, he’s taking to Twitter to complain about ‘fake news’ or derailing his own party’s spending plans. This behavior and the way in which President …

Immanuel Kant Against Elitism

Now a year has passed since Kelly Anne Conway coined the term ‘alternative facts,’ everyone is familiar with the ‘post-truth era.’ But pinning down exactly what this means is difficult. There is consensus that facts (particularly statistics) now have less influence on public debates. Most agree that social media is a key factor. Everyone accepts that fake news is real and litters the internet, though the question of who the litterbugs are is highly contentious. It has recently been argued that the supposed epistemic crisis is of such severity that even if it is proved that Russia used fake news to get Donald Trump into the White House, it might not make any difference. We are now so far beyond truth that even incontrovertible evidence has lost its power. Most of those grieving for the pre-2016 era claim that post-truth means emotive reactions supplanting rational argumentation. The Oxford definition points to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion.” Helen Pluckrose, the co-author of ‘A Manifesto Against the …

Serwer Error: Misunderstanding Trump Voters

A little over a month ago, the Atlantic published a long article by senior editor Adam Serwer entitled “The Nationalist’s Delusion.” The essay provoked considerable discussion and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell described it as “mandatory reading.” Serwer challenges the narrative that Trump’s unlikely electoral triumph was propelled by the economic estrangement of white working- and middle-class voters. Rejecting this account, Serwer instead holds pervasive and deep-seated – if implicit – animosity towards non-white minorities primarily responsible for Trump’s election. To borrow a neologism from MSNBC’s Van Jones, the 2016 election outcome was just a case of ‘whitelash.’ Concerns over lax immigration policies, the flight of blue-collar jobs, Islamic terrorism (and the political obscurantism surrounding the subject), and a stifling culture of political correctness were all simply a pretext for the maintenance of white supremacy and racial inequality. A key data point Serwer draws on to support this claim is Trump’s s ‘sweeping victory’ across all income categories of white voters (emphasis added): Trump defeated Clinton among white voters in every income category, winning by a margin of 57 to 34 among …

Were Trump Voters Irrational?

In September 2016, in collaboration with my colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak, I published a book titled The Rationality Quotient. In it, we described our attempt to create the first comprehensive test of rational thinking. The book is very much an academic volume, full of statistics and technical details. We had expected our academic peers to engage with the statistics and technical details, and they did begin to do just that after its publication. But then the November 8, 2016 United States presidential election intervened. The nature of my email suddenly changed. I began to receive many communications containing gallows humor, like “Wow, you’ll sure have a lot to study now” or “We sure need your test now, don’t we?” Many of these emails had the implication that I now had the perfect group to study—Trump voters—who were obviously irrational in the eyes of my email correspondents. Subsequent to the election, I also received many invitations to speak. Several of these invitations came with the subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) implication that I surely would …

The Runaway Executive

When I was a pupil barrister in Rockhampton, the Director of Public Prosecutions had their offices in the courthouse, and my pupil master didn’t like it. ‘It looks bad,’ he said, ‘to have the executive sharing an address with the judiciary’. The DPP could see judges in chambers and file documents by the simple expedient of climbing a flight of stairs. They even drew on the same resources. From time-to-time I’d run into one at the photocopiers thereabouts. ‘Everyone else has to march up East Street in the heat,’ he’d go on, ‘or make arrangements with my pupil’ (that pupil was me). ‘Why shouldn’t they?’ Although – like all young lawyers – I’d studied the separation of powers at university, my pupil-master’s disquiet was an early lesson in its practical application. Giving the State any sort of leg-up in a fight against the People – even if only a sweaty walk up a long street – doesn’t just look bad. It is bad. It’s bad because we tend to forget – in the peaceful and …

Reassessing Cultural Divisions in the United States

If there was any doubt before, this election cycle brought home how divided the U.S. is on issues of national identity. It also brought political and cultural tensions to the surface, displayed in acts of outrage and the strident expressions of the partisans of different views. Old ways of dividing the social landscape no longer apply, and some of the events of the last few years are so bizarre it is difficult to believe, had they been scripted as a movie, the plot could have been pitched as anything other than satire even five years ago. Yet this is the world we wake up to every day. Consider arch-progressive Michael Moore’s resounding expression of the popular sentiment in support of Trump, or the fact that we now have a president-elect that was once used as a throw-away joke on the Simpsons in 2000, someone who retweets his fans’ remarks, and who campaigned in large part on his business acumen while his business life reads like the scandalous decline of a B-grade Hollywood starlet. This is …

The BuzzFeed Fiasco Shows Us Why Trust in Institutions Is Dying

Editor’s note: this is an unfolding story based on information that the author and editor are not privy to. As such, this essay is not an analysis of the alleged incidents reported in the dossier released by Buzzfeed, but a comment on the prudence of releasing such unverified information to the public, which is not heretofore a standard media practice.    I was almost planning to turn my laptop off on a freezing English winter night, when the C4 hit my phone. A colleague texted me asking if I was checking Twitter at that moment. BuzzFeed apparently did some clickbait, and dumped raw, uncorroborated, third hand HUMINT (human intelligence) data with a nudge nudge wink wink “see what you make of it” type caveat, about Donald Trump. This material included a lurid tryst with a bevy of Moscow maidens apparently recorded by secret devices. BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith spouted some neuron altering, circuit frying justification on why he chose to go ahead in publishing this “dossier”, because apparently Americans “should decide for themselves.” (Although, the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part III

I published an article on Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. I attempted to demonstrate this yesterday with a concrete example. Today, as the final part in the series, I suggest some methodological changes. First, let me briefly restate what I consider the core problem: prevalent use of morally charged terminology in the social sciences that serves to enforce an underlying ideology. Examples include terms like progressive, xenophobia, and authoritarian. Why does this terminology exist? The answer, I suggest, is that throughout Western society over the past couple of centuries, values have consistently shifted in a particular direction, and this has led social scientists to consider the trend universal. This leads to a conception of values as having a temporal direction. Some values are of the past, and some are of the future, and the more one travels in either direction the more pronounced this becomes. Which is reflected in the use of morally charged terminology. Values that are considered of the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part II

I published an article Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. In this article, I cover a concrete example that is relatively recent and available online, a paper titled Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. Published in August 2016, the paper’s authors are Ronald F. Inglehart of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arber and Pippa Norris, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. It’s part of the Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Harvard is one of the world’s most prestigious public policy universities, and Norris is one of the world’s most cited political scientists. The paper’s objective is to identify the main cause of the rise in support for ‘populist’ parties that have disrupted politics in many Western societies. Two causes are considered: economic disaffection and cultural disaffection. The paper examines each cause by connecting them to different demographics through hypothesis …