All posts filed under: US Election

Sanders’ Indifferent City on a Hill

In the months since the outbreak of a deadly global pandemic, Americans have rediscovered the world outside. None of the contenders vying for the presidency in 2020 has articulated a particularly coherent or ambitious global role for America. But the only candidate who seems to understand at least that foreign policy is not a dispensable part of American politics is Joe Biden. It is possible that the appearance of a lethal virus incubated in the wet markets of Wuhan has persuaded voters in the Democratic primaries that Biden is the only viable option in a world of such bleak possibilities. The current incumbent, of course, is wedded to an “America-First” program—in truth, little more than an irritable mental gesture, to borrow Lionel Trilling’s gruff description of conservatism—that is plainly ill-suited to a superpower in an interconnected world. Trump’s brash pursuit of transactional dealing and short-term self-interest is also incompatible with the design of American power in a democratic order. Meanwhile, the Democratic field, evincing a deep-seated provincialism, has not inspired confidence about its willingness to …

Democratic Road Trip: Who Will Save U.S. Workers from the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’

There is a certain kind of dedicated American political journalist who spends primary season traveling from state to state, reporting for the likes of CNN or Politico. They congregate in the media section at the back of every state-college auditorium rally, sometimes taking small pains to disguise their boredom. They often end up watching variations of the same stump speech many times over. Understandably, they spend a lot of time gossiping with one another, or scrolling through news on their phones, grazing tidbits from other parts of the country. They know that their editors are going to expect them to fit their reporting into the larger narrative that’s being crowdsourced, in real time, on social media and cable news. As a Canadian journalist, my own approach this election season has been, by necessity, completely different, as no one pays me to fly around from the United States. Over the years, I’ve done most of my U.S. political reporting in that postage stamp of America that exists within a half day’s drive of Toronto, mostly consisting …

Bereft of Impartial Arbiters

The proximate cause of the US House of Representatives’ decision to invoke articles of impeachment is the president’s decision to make Congressionally authorized military aid for Ukraine conditional on a commitment from Kyiv to pursue investigations into his chief political rival. Trump, in short, has sought (unsuccessfully, thanks to the efforts of a whistleblower) to grossly abuse his office for personal political gain. Nothing that has yet come to light contradicts this pregnant allegation. On the available evidence, there is presently no reasonable doubt that Trump was engaged in the extortion of a foreign head of state—and the betrayal of the national-security interests of the United States—to smear a political opponent. Trump’s defenders contend that presidents often use leverage to induce foreign leaders to act in ways they might prefer not to, but such inducements are legitimate only in service of the national interest, which Trump’s patently were not. As the impeachment process unfolds, it is becoming apparent that few American politicians today understand that democratic republics need to be bastions of moral order if …

Andrew Yang—Technocratic Populist

Andrew Yang is a peculiar candidate for the presidency; not only has he no previous political experience, but he has also placed great emphasis on issues that have been on the fringes of mainstream media political discourse usually examined by academics or YouTube personalities. It is a credit to him that topics like automation, the meaning and value of work, the concentration of elite talent in to narrow career paths, and of course, UBI, have had a chance to be touched upon during this campaign cycle. Nonetheless, the most provocative aspect of the Yang campaign, and of the man himself, is the unusual tension between a technocratic emphasis on expertise and efficiency, and the populist rhetoric he uses to denounce remote elite enclaves, and to call for a revolution that, in the words of Bismarck, we undertake rather than undergo.1 Yang views himself—or at least projects himself as—the people’s technocrat. An expert that the average Joe can trust. Yang as Technocrat Technocracy is government by experts. The term is Greek in origin, fusing tekhne (describing …

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 …