Saturday, December 31, 2016

Out of Control Executives and Filibusters

Look, I don't doubt that many Republicans and conservatives are sincere when they fulminate against an out-of-control executive and vow to stand forever in favor of legislative supremacy.

But they have extremely short memories.  They have forgotten when Reagan and Bush I controlled the White House and Democrats controlled Congress.  Back then Republicans favored executive power.  Or maybe they are not old enough to remember Reagan and Bush I.  But most of them are certainly old enough to remember when Bush II was in power and they held to his theory that the President could do anything, so long as he used the magic words "national security" first.

Well, Republicans may say, we still believe that.  We favor almost unlimited power for the President in foreign policy.  But in domestic policy Congress should be supreme.  Well, not exactly.  Diplomacy and treaty making is part of foreign policy, after all.  But Congress had no qualms about making diplomacy as difficult as possible for President Obama.  And internal surveillance is part of domestic policy.  But Congress seems quite willing to give the President unlimited leeway on that.

Once again, Republicans may respond that making treaties is really part of domestic policy because treaties have the force of law and are binding on internal U.S. matters.  And internal surveillance is really part of our war making power because we are at war with Islamic terrorists, so where ever Islamic terrorists are is a battlefield where the President's powers are unlimited.

Alternately, I might conclude that Republicans want the President to have unlimited power in exercising the government's daddy functions because they favor all daddy functions, but want Congress to be supreme on mommy functions in hopes that it will obstruct things so far as to make mommy functions impossible.

This is much closer to the truth, but I suspect that it wills soon transpire that Republicans like executive power a lot more even in domestic matters than they thought.  The reason, of course is the filibuster.

The way our government operates now, in order for a party to pass legislation it must control not only the White House and both houses of Congress, but also a super-majority of 60 in the Senate.  This was not always so.  There was a time when the filibuster was only rarely invoked, and only for very controversial measures.  There was a time when passing legislation by a simple majority of the Senate was not considered radical and dangerous.  Clarence Thomas, to take an obvious example, was confirmed by a vote of 52-48, an unimaginable thing today.  When Bush II took power in 2001, the Senate was split 50-50.  That meant the Vice President would vote to break a partisan tie.  But no one thought legislation was impossible as a result.

But today, with the nation split deeply divided by ideology and party and about half the country in each camp, the 60-vote threshold means that meaningful legislation will be impossible most of the time.  Because that would be catastrophic if passing a budget were impossible most of the time, the Senate has made an exception to allow budgetary matters to pass by a simple majority.  But regulatory legislation is impossible most of the time.  Republicans may be able to defund Obamacare, but Democrats will block any attempt at repealing any major regulatory legislation passed in the first two years of the Obama Administration.

So with Republicans desiring major regulatory rollbacks and Democrats able to block them (at least for now), what will they do?  It seems a safe assumption that the Trump Administration will set out to achieve its goals by administrative regulations and selective non-enforcement.  Exactly the way the Obama Administration did when regulatory legislation became impossible for it.  And doubtless there will be plenty of procedural hypocrisy on both sides.

All the King's Horse and All the King's Men Couldn't Put Humpty Together Again

Back in Obama's heyday, his opponents had an angry accusation they made about him.  They said that he and other Democrats were wild-eyed radicals who didn't care what electoral price they paid for it, they just wanted to "fundamentally transform" the country away from what conservatives loved.

And let's face it.  They were right.  Sure, initially they didn't recognize just how fierce the opposition to Obamacare would be.  And once that became clear, they trusted that when it started covering people, it would become popular.  And when even that didn't happen, they took comfort in the thought that no matter what electoral price the Democrats paid, it would be worth it for bringing health insurance to so many people.  Because Republicans wouldn't actually strip 20 million people of their health insurance.  Would they?

My guess is that when Republicans set out to destroy Obamacare, and maybe more, they may be making the same calculation.  One saw it already in their attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.  In many poor and rural communities, Planned Parenthood was the only provider of women's healthcare. And no, many of them didn't provide abortions (although they did make referrals), but provided birth control, STD treatment, Pap smears and the like.  A defunding threatened to shut down healthcare networks that took decades to build.  Which means that if Republicans did manage to defund Planned Parenthood, the communities that lost their women's health clinics wouldn't be getting them back again, even if Democrats later restored funding.  Victory!

Now imagine if Republicans start out by defunding Planned Parenthood and bringing down access to women's healthcare all across the country.  They then repeal Obamacare, promising to replace, but dithering and never reaching an alternative and the system crashes.  Some 20 million people will lose their health insurance.  Victory again!  Even if the resulting outrage means that Democrats take the House, Senate and White House in 2020, they will have only two years to clean up the mess before the midterm elections.  Then, at the midterms, Republicans can run against Democratic ineptitude in failing to clean up their mess in two years, retake at least one house, and block any future action.  Even further victory!

Many people have warned that if Republicans repeal the financial aspects of Obamacare without undoing its regulations, the result will be that private insurers have to cover sick people for the same price as well people and the whole individual health insurance market will be destroyed, on or off the exchanges, and some 30 million people will lose their health insurance.  I am confident that Republicans genuinely do not want this result.  The individual health insurance market, after all, was, until Obamacare, essentially unregulated and therefore, in libertarian eyes good, indeed, ideal.  But nonetheless, Republicans may find crashing the individual market an acceptable piece of collateral damage if it creates an even bigger mess and makes it even harder for Democrats to clean it up.

Add to that Republicans turning Medicaid into a block grant to states and gradually defunding it, and privatizing the VA just as the private healthcare market is crashing with unknown results on the healthcare industry in general,  Plans to turn Medicare into a voucher system will have an interval (ten years, in most versions) before taking force.  If Democrats win in 2020, they should be able to save Medicare at least, but as for the rest, all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.

I am not suggesting that Republicans actually want to strip millions of their health insurance and destroy the current system of paying for healthcare.  The would assure me, no doubt sincerely, that all they want is to get government out of the healthcare business.  Stripping millions of their health insurance is purely an accidental and unwanted side effect of reducing the size and scope of government.  And no doubt they trust that once you take government out of the picture, the magic of the free market will cause a better system to spring up in the long run.

But still, it remains true that it is easier to destroy than to build, whether government or private actors do the building.  And even making the most optimistic assumptions about the long run, in the long run, after all, we are all dead.  And if you strip millions of their health insurance, with who-knows-what effect on the healthcare delivery system as well, the long run could arrive a lot sooner for a lot of people than it otherwise would.

But to Continue

But to continue, the real question is how much power Trump tweets will have among his opponents. In some ways, they have the exact opposite effect.  When Trump denounced Hamilton, ticket sales surged.  When he criticizes the Washington Post or Vanity Fair, both experienced a sudden increase in subscriptions.  Certainly, there is no shortage of people and organizations who will regard hostile Trump tweets as a badge of honor.  Why who knows, he may be able to build careers by hostile tweets as well as destroy them.  Democratic primaries may be contests to see who can accumulate the most hostile Trump tweets.  (And, needless to say, if Trump is smart, he will be able to game the system by making the most hostile tweets against the Democrats he wants to see win the primary).

On the other hand, hostile Trump tweets may have some power to intimidate even opponents by unleashing the Twitter mob.  They are notorious for bombarding anyone on the wrong side of a Trump tweet with hostile tweets, phone calls, e-mails, Facebook comments, etc. with the vilest of insults and threats.

There is no evidence that Donald Trump is intentionally unleashing his Twitter mob on the targets of his tweets.  He doesn't know who the members of this mob are and has no control over what they do. But neither has he ever condemned the mob either.  And at some point he must have become aware of the consequences of targeting people with his Twitter comments.  Megan Kelly has dropped hints that Trump is well aware of what happens when he makes a hostile tweet about someone who has offended him.

It can take strong nerves to withstand the Twitter mob.  Of course, having a thick hide goes with the territory for politicians and journalists.  For regular citizens, it may not be as easy.  The good news is that, at least so far, the Twitter mob remains a virtual mob, that its threats and insults do have not translated into actual action.  That being the case, one has the option of not reading texts, tweets, or emails, of deleting unheard any phone messages from an unknown number, or of changing one's contacts.  Most members of the Twitter mob are too far away to pose any physical danger.  Some are not real people at all, but Russian programs.

The bad news is that there is one piece of real harm that the Twitter mob does -- it hacks into people's systems and publishes their private information online.  And the worse news is that sooner or later when it publishes someone's address, some crazy will take it as an invitation.

Let's see what happens.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Donald Trump and Other Forms of Party Discipline

While it seems a near-certainty that the Trump Administration will be extraordinarily corrupt and incompetent, and while Trump himself give all evidence of being undisciplined, impulsive and capricious, utterly uninterested in the responsibilities of power and the tedious details inherent in the presidency, he will doubtless be a strong leader in at least one regard -- maintaining party discipline.

Traditionally, European political parties have been ideological parties, with strong party discipline, while American party have been diffuse coalitions and rather loosely bound.  European politics has taken place almost entirely through parties, to the extent that disagreement with one's party means the end of a political career.  Party discipline in U.S. politics has been more difficult to maintain -- at least during the 20th century.

Parties were stronger in the 19th century, though not always better-smelling.  It may seem almost blasphemous to compare Donald Trump to Thomas Jefferson, but as party-men there are actually parallels.  As President, Jefferson's legal powers were strictly limited.  Congress could pass unfriendly legislation and override his veto, the federal courts could declare his actions unconstitutional, states could decline to enforce federal actions and pass unfriendly legislation of their own,* and private citizens could mock him.  He had no authority to command any of these, only to make suggestions that they were free to disregard.  He could only issue orders and count on having them obeyed within the executive branch of the Federal Government, which was much smaller than than it is now, and even within the executive branch, his powers were limited to what laws passed by Congress authorized him to do.  (Except in foreign policy, where he had greater leeway).

Yet if his legal authority as President was strictly limited, his moral authority as leader of his party was immense.  Jefferson had no authority to command Congress, or state governments, yet as leader of the Republican Party,** any suggestion he made would be instantly followed by Republicans everywhere.  He had no legal authority to compel such obedience; his authority rested entirely on Republicans' confidence in him, his wisdom, and his ideological purity.  This authority existed entirely within the confines of the Republican Party.  He had no influence whatever with Federalists; if anything, the mere thought that Jefferson was in favor of something was enough to convince Federalists to reject it.

When Jefferson stepped down, no other leader emerged with his moral authority.  Instead, parties enforced discipline by patronage.  Presidents had immense authority appoint federal officials and could staff the federal bureaucracy almost from top to bottom.  Of course, they could not possibly know who was the best choice for postmaster for every post office across the country and the like.  So it was the clear understanding that the President would follow the advice of every  member of the President's party in the President's good graces.  And since their ability to dispense patronage and federal jobs was a major source of Congressmen's power, this gave them a strong incentive to stay in the President's good graces.  If they quarreled with the President on a matter of legislation, the President was apt to stop listening to their advice on matters of patronage.  If the rebellion was serious, the President might even start taking advice from a political rival instead to build up a rival faction to displace the rebel.  (This was what James Buchanan did when Stephen Douglas rebelled against him in the matter of admitting Kansas as a slave state against the wishes of the inhabitants.  It didn't work).

Not, however, that, as with Jefferson's moral authority, patronage applied only to member's of one's own party.  Members of the party opposing the President were shut out of the spoils altogether.  They expected nothing of the President and received nothing.  Their hope lay, instead, in having one of their own elected President and getting patronage from him instead.  The movie Lincoln is instructive. When Lincoln uses patronage to bribe Democrats into voting for the Thirteenth Amendment, what is scandalous is not that he is corralling votes by patronage, but that he seeking votes from and extending patronage to the opposing party.  That, and not the use of semi-bribes, was what would have shocked his contemporaries. 

The movie also shows the power of moral authority within a party.  Preston Blair holds no office whatever, has nothing to promise and no credible threats. Yet all the conservative wing of the Republican Party vote yes or no on the Thirteenth Amendment based on a mere hand gesture from him.  (Thaddeus Stevens holds similar authority with the Radical caucus, although, of course, the Radicals need much less persuading).

With the end of the Spoils System, enforcing party discipline became increasingly difficulty until relatively recently, when a new method was discovered -- the primary challenge.  This one actually appears to have started with the Democrats, when they primaried Joe Lieberman for supporting the Iraq War.  But, of course, the Republicans are the ones who have perfected it.  Every Republican now lives in terror of being found ideologically impure and defeated by a primary challenge.  But who determines who is and is not ideologically pure?  Until recently the answer was a little unclear.  Was it Fox News?  The most ideological Republicans in office?  Or was the entire party inherently impure because they could neither oust Obama nor sufficiently humiliate him?

But now that there is a Republican President, we have an arbiter of ideological purity.  Still, up till now Presidents have been reluctant to proclaim members of their party impure and unleash a primary challenge on then.  But in Donald Trump, we have a leader who has no such qualms.  And he maintains party discipline with a whole new method never imagined before -- his Twitter account. With a single tweet he can tank stocks and reduce defiant Republicans to submission.  Kevin Drum  mocked timid Republicans for being frightened into submission by the "nasty phone calls, letters and tweets" that follow a hostile Trump comment and called on politicians to have thicker skins.  But the comments section responded by pointing out what is really intimidating them -- a hostile tweet is a call for a primary challenge.  We haven't reached primary season yet, but when it arrives presumably Trump will raise a primary challenge to any Republican by a single tweet, and pick winners and losers in the primary the same way.

And outrageous as it may seem to compare Donald Trump to Thomas Jefferson, who controlled his party by pure moral authority, the fact is that Trump tweets have such power because he has real moral authority among Republican primary voters, who hang on his every word as arbiter of the true party line.  So long as he retains such powerful authority over the minds of the Republican base, it appears that Trump can control the Republican Party with tweets alone.

*The Constitution is clear that in case of a conflict between federal and state law, the federal law will prevail.  However, if the federal government attempts to commandeer states to enforce its laws, states are free to decline, and if a state passes legislation that the President considers unconstitutional, his only recourse is to direct the Attorney General to bring a suit to have it declared unconstitutional and allow it to play its way out through the federal courts.
**This was not the modern-day Republican Party.  It  was the ancestor of the Democratic Party.  In Jackson's time the Republican Party split into the National Republicans, which later changed their name to Whigs, and the Democratic Republicans, which later changed their name to Democrats.  The Whig Party eventually fell apart over the issue of Slavery and a new Republican Party, named after Jefferson's party, was formed.  Needless to say, it was limited to free states and had no presence in the South.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Varieties of Populism

I think I will now slightly modify what I said before, that populism is any political movement that flatters the common people for their superior virtue and/or wisdom and especially for their authenticity.  I reached this conclusion because of another political movement, predating the American Populist Party that is sometimes translated as Populist -- the Russian Narodniks, narod  meaning "the people" in the populist sense.

The two movements were similar in that both praised and flattered the common tillers of the soil for their superior virtue and authenticity.  Otherwise they were not alike.  Russian Narodnichestvo was a movement of middle class urban intellectuals trying to awaken a politically detached and passive peasantry into assuming the revolutionary role that the Narodniks had envisioned for them.  It never gained any significant following among the Russian peasants, who continued to be politically passive and not the least revolutionary.  American Populism was a grassroots, bottom-up movement among politically active and engaged farmers, accustomed to participating in democratic politics and angry that their voices were not being heard and their concerns addressed.  It was not a revolutionary movement, but one that sought to achieve its goals within the existing electoral framework.

Populism from above versus populism from below

So I would say that a populist movement is not merely one that praises the common people for their superior virtue and authenticity, but one that has a significant popular following.  "Significant popular following" need not mean the whole people, or the whole lower classes.  It need not even mean a majority of either group; a significant minority is sufficient.  But it has to have a large enough following to be an actual popular mass movement and not merely a leadership vainly looking for followers.

This raises at least one distinction between forms of populism.  A populist movement can be an emanation from below that only later finds its leadership, or inspiration from above, that finds a receptive audience.  A populist movement that springs from below could be called organic populism or grass roots populism.  A populism initiated above but inspiring a strong following might be called top-down populism, leader-oriented populism or (by its enemies) demagogic populism.  To be truly effective, a populist movement must have both effective leadership (including access to the corridors of power) and strong popular support.  Leadership without followers will go nowhere, like the Narodniks, while a grassroots movement without leadership will lack direction and quickly burn out.*

Revolutionary versus electoral populism

Comparing the Narodniks to the Populists also raises that least the suggestion that a populist movement must arise from a politically active and engaged public, accustomed to participating in democratic politics and angry that their voices were not being heard or their concerns addressed.  If this is true, populist movements can only take place in the context of democratic politics, by people who feel left out and regard inclusion as their right.**  I don't agree though, that populism is necessarily a movement that (a) seeks power through electoral democracy rather than revolution and (b) undermines and subverts democracy upon achieving power.  For instant, the fascist movements are generally considered populist, but they fully intended the revolutionary overthrow of democratic government and merely treated electoral politics as a means to this end.  On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that every movement in democratic politics that flatters the common people and appeals to people who feel left out necessarily endangers democratic pluralism.  One can imagine a President Williams Jennings Bryan continuing to respect the democratic process.  So too, the Brexit has been called a populist upsurge, yet it took place under the Conservatives, whose commitment to democratic pluralism is not in doubt.  And the UK Independence Party has condemned many of the excesses of the French National Front.

That raises another distinction between forms of populism.  There are populist movement that seek to overthrow democratic politics altogether, even if they may they compete in elections as a temporary expedient.  This might be called revolutionary populism.  (Fascism is a form of revolutionary populism).  And there are populist movements that do not seek to overturn elective government but only to advance their interests within an electoral framework.  These may be called electoral populists.

Selective versus pluralistic populism

Just because a populist movement does not intend to overthrow elective government does not negate its danger to democracy, however.  There are populist movements that do not mean to end electoral politics, but are profoundly subversive of democracy because they read anyone who disagrees with them out of "the people."  I will follow Umberto Eco in calling that selective populism.  And there is populism that flatters the virtues of the common people, but also recognizes disagreement as legitimate.  That might be called pluralist populism.  Note, too, that there can be a populist movement among a specific interest or identity group -- anti-elitist posturing, flattering the group for its authenticity and virtue, and building a strong popular following based on the sense that the group has been denied its right of inclusion -- that simply seeks a seat at the table, or a larger share of political power.  There is much to criticize in identity or interest group politics, but at least it has the virtue of being able to resist the lure of selective populism or of considering itself a Volkspartei and writing dissenters out of "we, the people" altogether.***

Hope, fear, or resentment

There are other differences as well.  Any political movement that seeks to appeal to the common people will appeal to emotions and not be wonky.  But which emotions?  It can appeal to aspirations and be a hope-based or aspiration-based populism.  It can appeal to resentments and be a resentment-based populism. Or it can fear-monger and be a fear-based populism.

Left-wing versus right-wing populism

Populism necessarily proclaims the moral superiority of the common people to oppressive elites.  It does not (normally) champion minority identity groups and sometimes treats them as scapegoats.  It generally leans left on economic issues and right on social issues.  It can be left-wing or right-wing depending on which it emphasizes more, economic or social issues; punching up or kicking down.


So, I would identify populism as a movement within democratic electoral politics that appeals to people who feel shut out or excluded; treats this exclusion as a violation of a democratic rights; flatters their superior virtue, wisdom or authenticity; and has a significant popular following.  It often addresses genuine and legitimate grievances.  To the extent that it demands a voice for those who have been denied one, it can serve a valuable role.  But flattery and resentment (and how can anyone not resent being denied a voice, or having legitimate grievances ignored?) are dangerous.  And populist movements tend to be inherently politiphobic, i.e., impatient with the sort of political maneuvering at the top that is inevitable and essential to getting things done.  As such, there is probably in inevitable authoritarian streak in populism.  But it is not necessarily dominant.

Populist movements can be top-down or bottom-up, although it can be extremely difficult to tell the difference.  They can be revolutionary, or respect electoral politics.  Populists who respect electoral politics can be selective populists (reading dissenters out of "the people") or pluralistic.  Populism can appeal to hope and aspiration, to fear, or to resentment.  (Usually some combination).  It can be of the right or the left.

So, in the future, when writing about populism, I should pay attention to these distinctions.

So far, the only populist I have encountered so far in my history of failures of democracy has been Pesistratus of Athens.****  Our records on him are a bit sketchy, but he appears to have been a demagogic, revolutionary, aspiration-based, left-wing populist. That is to say, he appears to have organized and inspired a previously passive poor majority that was being left out and resented it.  He sought to overthrow the democracy and establish himself as dictator.  He appears to have appealed more to people's hopes and aspirations than their fears, and to have punched up rather than kicking down.  And, surprisingly enough, he also seems to have been a first-rate ruler.  Others in his place have not done so well.

I expect to encounter many more populists, although by no means all failures of democracy have been at their hands.  When I do, I will make the attempt to classify them by the categories set forth here.

*The Tea Party is an interesting example.  It has both a strong grassroots organization and a strong leadership, but (at least until Trump came along), the leaders and the followers pursued different agendas.  The leaders were hardcore libertarians, seeking (ultimately) to roll back the New Deal, while followers were not opposed to government spending in general, but to spending on people seen as unworthy, and to illegal immigration.
**Thus also the populist movements in Classical times, from Pesistratus of Athens (and perhaps Cleon as well) to the Gracchi, Marius, and Caesar in Rome.  All competed in the arena of electoral politics, but they had very different ideas about the long-term future of electoral government.
***Although it might be troubled by what could be called selective identity group populism, i.e., the believe that any member of its sub-group is not an "authentic" or "real" member.  Thus the anger of many black conservatives at being treated as not "authentically" or "really" black. 
****Proof, incidentally, that populism is by no means the only threat to democracy.  The threat can come from people who are openly opposed to democracy, favoring oligarchy or dictatorship instead.  The only reason populism seems like the greatest threat to democracy today is that open anti-democrats have become so rare.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What is Populism?

We are hearing a great deal about "populism" these days.  Invariably the term is used as a pejorative -- a movement that claims to be the voice of the people, but is really a threat -- some would say THE threat -- to democracy.  Indeed, virtually every illiberal and anti-democratic movement competing in elections in both Europe and the U.S. is invariably referred to as "populist," and "populism" is treated essentially as synonymous with illiberalism.  So what is this "populism" we keep hearing about?

I was inspired to write this post by an Amazon page on the subject, a book by German author Jan Warner Muller entitled (in English), What is Populism? The author defines populism as "the conjunction of anti-elitism with an exclusionary notion of who 'we the people' are."  In other words, "the people" are not only the common people as opposed to the elite, but also a specific sub-category of the population, the "real people," meaning the ones who agree with the populist leader.  Anyone who disagrees is, by definition, not truly part of "the people."  Clearly anyone who would read large portions of the population, and particularly all dissent, out of "the people" is a serious threat to democratic pluralism.

Populism in the American context:

Maybe so, but I have some misgivings.  For one thing, "populism" is an English word.*  In fact, the original the original German title  is Was ist Populismus.  Clearly, then, the author was using an English word for which German had no exact equivalent.  (We will get into possible German equivalents later).  Furthermore, the word "populism" may specifically be American in origin.  At least, my Webster's New World Dictionary  identifies "Populism" with a capital-P as an American coinage, although it does not specify for small-p populism.  The Populist Party or People's Party was a farmer's party in the late 19th Century U.S., opposed to banks, railroads, and the gold standard, all of which they saw as exploiting regular folks.  The best known of the Populist leaders was William Jennings Bryan.

Nor am I alone in these misgivings.  One irate viewer complained:
It seems to me that it is now simply convenient to redefine >populism<, which has always been identified with the left. The original populists were the People's party, established in 1891 to advocate government ownership of the railroads, limitation of private land ownership and an increase of the money supply. . . . Movements of the right which condemn socialism (and of course communism) and which emphasize nationalism, suspicion against minorities and foreigners, and which advocate law-and-order have traditionally been called >fascist<. . . . Without exception, the points you raise about the "real people" and the "real voice of the people" are typical of fascism.
This was, of course, also the point Jonah Goldberg tries to make from the opposite side of the aisle, arguing that fascism was left-wing because it was populist and populism is always left-wing.**  Muller acknowledges as much (in the part of the book made available online), "In the United States, the word populism remains mostly associated with the idea of a genuine egalitarian left-wing politics."

Defining populism is a bit like defining fascism.  Any definition of fascism that begins with Hitler starts out wrong.  Fascism, with a capital F was a movement that originated with Mussolini.  Fascism with a small f refers to the various imitators it spawned, including Hitler and the Nazis.  Any reasonable definition of fascism has to be broad enough to include Fascism.  Likewise, and reasonable definition of populism has to be broad enough to encompass Populism.  The Populists celebrated the virtues of the common man and fulminated against elites.  Did they also read dissenters out of the "real people"?  Their record appears to be mixed.  Some populists believed that only farmers could be "real Americans," while others sought alliance with the urban working class.  Some Southern Populists attempted a class-based alliance between poor black and white people, while others were rabid racists.  My conclusion from this would be that celebration of the virtues of the common people and fulmination against oppressive elites is inherent to Populism (and thus populism) while writing anyone outside of the movement out of the "real people" is optional.

Selective Populism:

I prefer Umberto Eco's comments on "Ur-Fascism":
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.
In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view -- one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction.  
Bingo!  We can reserve for a later day whether this is "Ur-Fascism."  Excluding dissenters from the "real people" is not inherent to populism.  Rather, it is the defining trait of the sub-category of "selective populism."  Muller and his reviewers appear to view Bernie Sanders as an anti-elitist but not a populist because he admits room for dissent, and Donald Trump as a true populist because he excludes both elites and dissenters from "real Americans."  Alternately, one might see Sanders a pluralist populist and Trump as a selective populist.

Populism and Politiphobia:

At the same time, I don't think that the danger of populism lies only in defining dissenters out of the "real people."  Consider the danger raised by Jonathan Chait:
Populism can also be defined as a certain kind of political style. Populists believe the government has been captured by evil and/or corrupt interests, and that it can be recaptured by a unified effort by the people (or, at least, their people). They express contempt for elites in business, government, and academia. Populists make their case in plain terms, and often argue that the problems themselves are simple, which explains why only corruption has prevented their easy resolution.  
Then consider this definition of politiphobia:
[B]etween 25 and 40 percent of Americans (depending on how one measures) have a severely distorted view of how government and politics are supposed to work. I think of these people as “politiphobes,” because they see the contentious give-and-take of politics as unnecessary and distasteful. Specifically, they believe that obvious, commonsense solutions to the country’s problems are out there for the plucking. The reason these obvious solutions are not enacted is that politicians are corrupt, or self-interested, or addicted to unnecessary partisan feuding. Not surprisingly, politiphobes think the obvious, commonsense solutions are the sorts of solutions that they themselves prefer. But the more important point is that they do not acknowledge that meaningful policy disagreement even exists. From that premise, they conclude that all the arguing and partisanship and horse-trading that go on in American politics are entirely unnecessary. Politicians could easily solve all our problems if they would only set aside their craven personal agendas.
This sort of attitude is incompatible with democratic politics, and inherently longs for a strongman to overcome squalid democratic politics and impose the "obvious, commonsense solutions" the politicians are blocking.  Of course, it is incompatible with the sort of politics that exist in any society, including the politics of jockeying for a strongman's favor.  But strongmen are usually able to keep he sordid details of politics around them quiet, while democratic politics in all its ugliness takes place in the full view of all.  And it does seem fair to say that pluralist populism, though it may accept contested elections between broad-based popular parties, will necessarily see the sort of political maneuvering that invariably takes place at the top as distasteful.***

Certainly, I believe that politiphobia is is one of the greatest dangers to democracy.  I have theorized  that understanding the need for political parties and a loyal opposition is essential to the success of democracy.  This I based partly on the early part of U.S. history, when the system nearly broke down over the unexpected development of political parties, and partly on Weimar.

Populism in English versus German Volk

It was a most inauspicious opening for the Weimar Republic almost all parties of the right were Volksparteien.  This term is often translated as People's Party, but the translation is misleading.  People's Party in English implies a party of the people against elites, i.e., perhaps populist party, or more like, a radical left or Communist party.  But the German concept of a Volkspartei is quite different from an English People's Party.  It means that the people form a single Volk with a single will, and with unity, rather than conflict, among the classes.****  Clearly, then, the Volkspartei is a politiphobic concept.  One might almost think that when Muller writes about a populist party, he actually means a Volkspartei, except for one thing.  Although politiphobic, the Volksparteien of the German Right were not populist.  They did not see themselves as champions of the "real people" against an oppressive elite, Nor did they like the rough-and-rowdy style of the left-wing, working class parties with their outdoor rallies and other forms of (dare I say it?) populist expression.  Unity of the Volk meant the common people knowing their place and showing proper deference to elites, and it meant the maintenance of traditional notions of decorum.

Interestingly enough, one right-wing political party in Weimar that did not call itself a Volkspartei  was the Nazi Party, which instead called itself and Arbeiterpartei, or Worker's Party, traditionally a left-wing name.  But although the Nazi Party was not a Volkspartei, it was a volkisch party.  The volkisch movement originated in the 19th Century as a sort of romantic nationalism, based on romanticizing the nation and its Volk, with its unique and traditional folk-culture.  Over time, it evolved more into a blood-and-soil nationalism and, in the 1920's, coalesced in a group of extreme and violent nationalist parties in Bavaria, of which the Nazis were originally just one.  The Nazis went on to swallow up, first the volkisch parties, then the German Right in general, and finally the German State.  The shared the nationalism and politiphobia of the Volksparteien, but none of their sense of social order or decorum.  Instead, the Nazis fulminated against oppressive elites, especially Jewish bankers and the traitors who signed the Treaty of Versailles, they staged massive outdoor rallies, and they went far beyond rough and rowdy.

So I have to wonder whether Muller, himself a German, uses the English term "populist" to mean something closer to the German concept of "volkisch."  Certainly the Wikipedia article on the volkisch movement translates the term roughly as "populist."

So, what is populism:

In short, as an American, I am not prepared to give up on the positive side of populism.  Yet at the same time, it has disturbing traits even at its best.  There is much talk on my side these days about the Founding Fathers wanting to curb the will of the people out of fear of demagogues.  I would prefer to say, they believed that just as absolute monarchs were often misled by flatterers, so to the people, if given unrestrained power, were also vulnerable to flatterers.  Populism can be right-wing or left-wing, punch up or kick down; it can appeal to fears or aspirations or resentment; it can be selective or pluralist, more or less politiphobic; it can spring up from below (at the original Populist Party did), or center around a charismatic leader above.  But in all cases, populism flatters the common people and proclaims their superior virtue (including when it consists of the common people flattering themselves).  In that sense, perhaps, all democratic politics is populist to some degree.  But it also shows why greater degrees of populism, even in its more benign form, carry a danger -- the danger that goes with flattery of all kinds.

*In fact, in a fascinating digress, the English word "people," the word comes from the Latin "populus," which is apparently an Etruscan borrowing of non-Indo-European origin.  Thus of all Indo-European languages, only the Romance languages (including, in this case, English) would use any variety of "populus," at least in ordinary speech.  The German equivalent is "Volk," which, of course, is the same as the English word "folk."
**Not clear: How Goldberg accounts for Rush Limbaugh, Bill Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the countless other right-wing populist pundits of his own day.
***Note, for instance, Bernie Sanders, who kept insisting that he would implement a program vastly more ambitious than the one that led Republicans to declare all-out war when Obama attempted it.
****By contrast, the two parties that were the staunchest defenders of German democracy, the Social Democrats and the Catholic Center, were parties that had no illusions that they represented all Germans.  Rather, they represent a sub-category of Germans (the unionized working class, and political Catholics, respectively) and sought only to contest their interests in the arena of democratic politics, not to compel anyone to agree with them.  The third member of the Weimar Coalition, the German Democratic Party quickly faded and proved useless because it was, in the end, a Volkspartei at heart, favoring democracy as the best way of achieving national unity, and turning against democracy when it turned out not to be so.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Far Will the Plutocrats Go?

That being said, I do believe that most Americans have a great deal to lose by giving plutocracy a chance.  Most notably, their health insurance, and possibly their retirement.  I think that most Americans consciously chose to give plutocracy a chance and will support the Republicans' attempts to cut taxes at the top and gut regulations in hopes of supercharging the economy, and that there will not be any widespread opposition to attempts to do just that.  I also think that Trump's attempts to crack down on illegal immigration and pursue get-tough-on-crime policies in our inner cities will be widely popular with white voters.  And I shudder to even imagine what sort of violations of basic liberty the public will support if there is another Islamic terrorist attack.  An international crisis will benefit Trump with a rally-round-the-chief effect, even if he needlessly precipitates it, or makes it much worse than necessary by mishandling.

But any serious attempt to undo the New Deal and subsequent government programs will be another matter altogether.

Right now, Republicans have made it perfectly clear that their top priority will be to repeal Obamacare.  The effect will be to strip 20 million people of their health insurance.  Indeed, many fear that taking away the subsidies and individual mandate while leaving in the requirement that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions could bring down the individual market which covers another 10 million.  I don't think Republicans particularly mind stripping 20 million people of their health insurance, so long as they can pin the blame on Democrats.  I am confident they do not want to undermine the individual market, which (pre-Obamacare, at least) was almost entirely unregulated and therefore Good.  But the probably see it as a small price to pay for killing Obamacare.

Ordinary Americans are beginning to be alarmed at the prospect, but Republicans have made clear that nothing will sway them.  Having devoted the last six years to repealing Obamacare, Republicans would incur an intolerable loss of face if they allowed it to stand, which is presumably their primary motive.  But there may be another, hidden motive at stake.  See Obamacare is financed mostly by taxes on the top income rates.  The Republican plan will immediately repeal those taxes.  And as everyone knows, cutting taxes at the top is the absolute top Republican priority.  Republicans have agreed to delay the repeal taking effect for two or three years to give the the chance to come up with a repeal.  But thus far they don't have the slightest idea what they will do.  And the prospect of a loss of funding could bring the whole program down by the beginning of next year, if not sooner.

And it gets worse.  Since, as we all know, Republicans believe that no tax increase can ever be justified, they will have to build their replacement with the greatly reduced revenue.  That means it will be much less funded, with fewer people covered and less paid for than before, but we all knew that.  It gets worse still.  The budget will have about a third of the former revenue.  Thus Republicans will have to finance the new program with cuts elsewhere, probably in Medicare and Medicaid.  My first reaction to this was, why finance the new program at all, since it is well established that deficits only matter when there is a Democrat in the White House.  But apparently there are house rules that everything has to be paid for, or at least that no measure that permanently increases the deficit can pass the Senate by reconciliation, i.e., without the filibuster.

Of course, Republicans may try to get around this by budgetary gimmicks.  They are also trying to bring on enough Democrats to defeat a filibuster in the Senate.  Currently Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate.  They will need 8 Democrats to defect to defeat the filibuster.  Minority Leader Charles Schumer vows that no Democrats will vote for a skimpier replacement.  That doesn't make a great deal of sense to me.  If the alternative is 20 million people losing their health insurance, or threats to Medicaid and Medicare, I see no choice but to acquiesce in an inadequate replacement and hope to bulk it up next time Democrats are in power.  There seems to me to be an obvious third option.  Although the filibuster has become a routine way of doing business these days, so far as I know there is no rule requiring the minority party to invoke it.  Why not just decline to invoke the filibuster and allow the legislation to pass with only Republican votes?

In the meantime, House Republicans, Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services and his OMB Director all favor major assaults on Medicaid and Medicare.  Republican Senators think this is going too far.  And a few Republicans are even talking about cutting Social Security.  Where Trump weighs in on any of this is anyone's guess.  On the one hand, he did appoint the HHS and OMB directors who favor attacks on Medicare.  On the other hand, he made a campaign promise not to touch either program.  Most likely he hasn't made up his mind yet.

I think a lot of Republican conservatives really believe that most Americans want these changes. See for instance this National Review article, looking forward to the new conservative renaissance, but fearful that Trump may beguile the GOP from true conservatism.  Money quote:

Before he was a conservative darling with unflinching budget proposals, Ryan was a rank-and-file House Republican who voted for No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and the bank bailouts. Many conservatives — including Vice President–elect Mike Pence — believe it was these betrayals of principle, as much as the Affordable Cart Act or anything Obama pursued, that inspired the Tea Party’s ascent in 2010.
To which I can only say that maybe the Tea Party was founded because of anger over Medicare Part D as much as Obamacare, but if rank-and-file members are motivated by outrage over Medicare Part D, they certainly aren't showing it.  And if the Tea Party really believes that their movement is driven by anger over Medicare Part D, why aren't they campaigning to repeal it?

I realize that the Republican donor class regards the New Deal as constitutionally and morally illegitimate and wants to roll it back as far as is politically feasible.  Yet they have had 80 years to do it and still not gotten anywhere.  And who knows, having the triple crown, maybe Republicans will actually push it through.  Maybe they will be able to cause enough damage to all government financed social insurance that all the king's horses and all the king's men cannot put Humpty together again.  Maybe they will consider the political price they pay for it well worth the cost.

But if they think they have a popular mandate for any of these, they are out of their minds.

Give Plutocracy a Chance

So, the big question is obviously going to be, how successful a President will Donald Trump be.  And how well will his brand of populism sell.  Paul Krugman has offered one possible reason why it might not.  He cites an article on Poland where right wing populists under the Law and Justice Party have been in power for one year.  Its strongest hallmark is extreme social conservatism.  The Law and Justice Party has proposed textbooks that downplay evolution and global warming and push an anti-contraceptive view of sex education.  They have also banned abortion, defunded in vitro fertilization and challenged an international convention to ban violence against women as a threat to traditional gender roles.*  It is showing signs of clamping down on dissent.  But it has also lowered the retirement age and given cash bonuses to families with children - the more the better.  The National Front in France wants to raise the minimum wage and lower the retirement age.  Indeed, it has been described as an amalgam of two parties -- one right-wing and one left-wing.

The US is different in a number of ways.  For one, many European countries have a large state-run media presence, which is easily manipulated by new appointments.  In the US, media are independent.  Granted, a large portion of the population simply disbelieve anything reported in any mainstream source, but the mainstream remains and will be a lot harder to subdue.

Another difference is the uniquely binary nature of U.S. politics.  Poland's Law and Justice Party rides high with the support of 36% of the population, more than twice the leading contender.  France's Marine LePen will be running against two rival parties.  Italy's Silvio Berlusconi held power so long because his opposition fragmented.  In US politics, by contrast, even an insurgent candidate has to choose between one of the two established parties.  Trump's brand of xenophobia did not sell among Democrats.  So he chose Republicans.  Republicans are the longstanding plutocratic party.  They believe that if they haven't been able to win full power up till now, it is because they haven't been plutocratic enough.  There is every reason to believe that Trump fully agrees and intends to be just as much of a plutocrat as Republicans in general.  Or rather, his proposals are more like plutocracy-plus- protectionism.

And, in all fairness, I think the American people are at least somewhat aware of this and have voted to give plutocracy a chance.  Our economy as a whole has made a slow but decent recovery from the 2008 crash and is nearing full employment.  But the benefits have accrued overwhelmingly to the top and wages lag far behind where they once were.  Working class Americans have their jobs back, but at lower pay than before.  The Republican argument (not counting Trump) is that the reason the economy took so long to recover and that wages are stagnant is that our job creators are being strangled to death by high taxes and stifling regulations, and that if we would just cut taxes at the top and gut regulations, it would turbocharge the economy and wages would soar.  Certainly that is the account I get from Trump voters that I hear from.  They would no doubt prefer Generic Republican to Trump, but so long as he cuts taxes and guts regulations all will be well.  Trump takes the same basic story and adds unfair competition from immigrants and imports.

There are some things to criticized here.  As mentioned before, the much-beleaguered one percent have nonetheless somehow managed to capture most of the benefits of the recovery.  To say that really, they will share the benefits if you will just give them unfettered power to dictate policy sounds self-serving to say the least.  But I think it fair to say that most Americans, having seen all this talk of recovery while their paychecks stagnate, have decided to give the 1% at least the chance to set policy and see if they do, indeed shower benefits on the rest of us.  After all, what is there to lose?

*Could this also be part of the reason right-wing populism has not taken hold in Ireland.  Ireland had deeply pro-religious, sexually conservative policies for a long time, only to find that they had been used to cover widespread sexual abuse and exploitation.   

Monday, December 19, 2016

Donald Trump's Russia Policy

So, let me be a little charitable to Donald Trump for a change.  I don't know whether his pro-Russia policy will be successful.  I don't know whether Rex Tillerson will be any good as Secretary of State. But I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I do not think we are altogether innocent in our deteriorated relations with Russia, and I do think a reset is in order.

For anyone who thinks Russia is an expansionist power on the march, keep some things in mind. Back during the Cold War, Russia ruled an empire known as the Soviet Union.  It was the hegemon over a large chunk of Europe, extending as far west as East Germany.  In 1989, Eastern Europe revolted, and the Russians did nothing to stop them.  Before long, all the former Warsaw Pact countries had joined the anti-Russian NATO alliance.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the states of Russia's old empire declared independence.  Three of them (Latvia, Estonia and Lithunia) actually joined NATO as well.  Now there has even been serious talk of Georgia and the Ukraine joining, bringing a hostile alliance all the way to Russia's borders.  This is not an aggressive power on the march; it is a country in retreat wanting to stop and shore up its position.  This is not unreasonable.

It is a most annoying tendency of our foreign policy establishment to assume that global hegemony is our god-given right and that any country that opposes it is simply being unreasonable.  Russia has reasonable reasons not to want a hostile alliance on its borders, in lands that it once ruled and now wants at least to dominate.

But these countries don't want to be dominated by Russia, some may object.  If they want alliance with us, why should be give Russia a veto?  Quite simply, because this is how international politics works.  When a country has nuclear weapons, it has a way on insisting that its wishes be taken into account.  To anyone who complains about our "passivity" in the face of Russian invasions of Georgia and the Ukraine, I would ask, are you prepared to go to war with a nuclear power over the desire to extent a hostile alliance all the way to its borders?  All right, then, let's start considering realistic alternatives.

During the Cold War, Finland was right along the Soviet border.  Yet it managed to preserve its domestic freedom and democracy by agreeing to submission in matters of foreign policy. "Finlandization" was widely derived as cowardice, but given the circumstances, it was the best that Finland could realistically hope for.  Sweden and Austria, though less in the Soviet line of fire, felt the need to maintain neutrality in order to protect their own domestic liberty.

Within the Warsaw Pact, Findlandization was not a realistic option.  When the people of Hungary in 1956 revolted, overthrew Communism, and attempted to leave (while agreeing to remain neutral and not joint NATO), Russia sent in tanks and crushed the rebellion by brute force.  Yet they had allowed the overthrow of one Communist government and its replacement with a milder one in Poland earlier in the same year.  And they allowed the new Hungarian government to institute reforms softening its severity.  When Poland experienced a great wave of strikes and established an independent union in 1980, the Soviets allowed considerable expansion of freedom, and required the government to declare martial law only when the people started calling for free elections which would, of course, have meant the end of Communism.  The lesson was clear.  Once a country became Communist and was taken into the Warsaw Pact, Findlanization was not an option.  Neither the overthrow of Communism nor withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact would be tolerated.  But the Soviets would allow some relaxation of the severity of Communism and limited freedom within their rigid framework.*

The case of Hungary was particularly tragic.  Naive Hungarians looked to us to rescue them, never understanding that rescue was out of the question, given that the Russians had nukes.  When John Foster Dulles declared that we were exchanging a policy of containment for one of "liberation," many Hungarians were foolish enough to take him at his word.  They revolted in the belief that we would come to their rescue and were savagely crushed because such a rescue was never in the cards. Certainly we were right not to intervene.  Horrible as the invasion was, Hungary would hardly have been better off as a mushroom cloud.  But it was a mistake to encourage the Hungarians to think that we would ever come to their rescue.  They would have been much better off understanding that they were stuck in the Soviet orbit for the foreseeable future and that their best option was too see how much autonomy they could negotiate with the Soviets.  But wouldn't it have been foolish to come right out and publicly proclaim that we were going to leave the Hungarians to their fate?  Maybe so. But there are quiet diplomatic channels for conveying the same information to would-be anti-Communist leaders.

Likewise, if we can't say so publicly, we should be privately making very clear to the political class in Georgia and the Ukraine that Russia has nukes, and that we will make our policy taking this fact into account.  We do these countries no favor by encouraging them to confront the Russians counting on our support that we are not going to give.  Nor do we do them any favor by putting them at risk of ending up as a mushroom cloud -- or even a battlefield between the great powers.  Findlandization is the best that any country on the Russian border can hope for, and the sooner they understand that and make the best bargain they can, the better.

*Although the Soviets did send in their army to suppress a milder form of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Donald Trump's Flying Circus, 12/19/16

So, basically, everyone agrees that the Russians were behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee server.  All 17 of our intelligence agencies agree.  At least two private security firms agree.  They have released enough information to the public to make their reasoning understandable. Hell, even Donald Trump's surrogates appear to agree.  There is room for disagreement on Russian motives, but not on who is behind the hack.  Yet Donald Trump refuses to recognize it.

I see two possibilities.  One:  He can't accept it.  He simply rejects all evidence contrary to his preconceptions.  Needless to say, this is an extremely dangerous trait in a President.  Bush and Cheney were notoriously determined to have Saddam Hussein involved in 9-11 to give us an excuse to invade Iraq.  They spent a lot of time trying to chase down a non-existent meeting between Al-Qaeda and Iraqi operatives in Prague.  But in the end, unable to find the evidence they wanted, they limited themselves to insinuating at such a link and giving speeches that implied it without quite saying so.  This allowed them to deny making such a link when called on it.  It never occurred to Bush or Cheney just to send out a non-stop stream of blatant lies saying that there was such a link in the absence of all evidence.  This degree of reality denial is unpresidented unprecedented.  (I expect to be using that/those word(s) a lot).

The other alternative is that he knows perfectly well that the Russians are behind the hack.  He is just lying through his teeth about it.  Let's hope that he is knowingly lying.  At least we can hope then that he can at least tell reality from delusion and won't act on delusion.

In further news, Trump's sons are auctioning off visits to our new President or hunting trips with his sons for million dollar donations to their foundation.  Newt Gingrich is proposing that he deal with any conflicts of interest by preemptively pardoning any offenders.  The Kuwaiti government has been pressured to send its delegates to the Trump Hotel instead of the Four Seasons.  And he will have his own Praetorian Guard of private bodyguards in addition to the Secret Service.

But let's focus on what is important.  At least he never sent State Department e-mails on a private server.  (I am going to have to end every Flying Circus post with that).

PS:  I love this post by David Frum in which he explains why so many Jews (and non-Jews) disliked Sarah Palin.  In particular:
Jews do think that knowledge is important to a president. They do think a president should be able to think clearly and to distinguish between true information and wishful delusions. I feel sure most Americans of all faiths would agree. Does Jennifer Rubin seriously suggest that this opinion is mistaken?
If the Trump election has made anything clear, it is that large numbers of people are opposed to thinking clearly and distinguishing between true information and wishful delusions.  Thinking clearly and distinguishing between true information and wishful delusions are the marks of elitism.  We want a President who refrains from any thought at all and ignores information in favor of wishful delusions.

Richard II, Donald Trump, and the Electoral College

Richard II
Shakespeare's play Richard II is about what in Shakespeare's day would have been an impossible dilemma -- what if the lawful and legitimate king is utterly unfit for the job?  No one doubts that Richard II is the lawful king.  Yet he had bankrupted England with his extravagance, connived in the murder of his uncle, seized another uncle's estate to enrich himself, and banished his cousin to prevent him from challenging this action.  I belong to a Shakespeare discussion group in which it was explained why seizing the uncle's estate was a very serious matter.  It means that property is merely held at the king's whim instead of by law.  All the great lords turn against the king for fear of being next in line.  And it is not just the great lords who are affected.  Medieval society was based on a whole series of oaths of fealty between superior and inferior.  In seizing his uncle's estate, Richard has foisted a new lord on all his subordinates and thrown all their orderly ties, rights, and obligations into upheaval.  In short, he is abandoning the rule of law for the rule of caprice.

I first saw the play as a teen when the BBC was putting on a whole series of Shakespeare plays.  It was revealing to me in showing what was meant by the divine rights of kings.  Up till then, I had thought of it as the divine rights of kingship as an institution, or of a particular royal family.  But it never occurred to me that it meant the divine right of a particular individual to be king, which God would uphold against all others, even his royal cousin.  At the same time, I did not believe in the divine rights of kings, and I was young and foolish, with romantic notions that revolutions could fix everything.  The dilemma was not one that I could relate to.

I belong to a Shakespeare reading and discussion group that read Richard II last year in the spring, and this time I looked for a way to relate to the message.  And what I came up with was this.  Having the king's oldest son always succeed him is not a very good system.*  But it was the best system anyone had come up with in Shakespeare's day.  One need only compare England, where the king was always succeeded by his oldest son, the ruler had undisputed legitimacy, and succession was orderly and uncontested, with Turkey, where there was no established rule.  When the Sultan died, his successor was whichever son killed all of his brothers.  If the country was lucky, one of them would move fast and the carnage would be limited to the palace, while everyone else could carry on about their lives.  If the country was unlucky, no one would be fast enough, in which case all the rivals would raise their own armies and civil war would ensue.  To overthrow a legitimate king, no matter how bad, was to overthrow the system of orderly succession, undermine legitimate rule, throw the door open to future usurpation, and invite the Turkish system of succession by war and murder.  In short, it becomes an impossible dilemma when the king is undermining the rule of law, yet to overthrow him is to overthrow the rule of law in the form of orderly succession.

I laid this out on Facebook, and my sister commented:
We don't believe in the divine right but we face similar problems, such as "what if those who choose to run for elected office are selected for by their ability to gather funds or to rile up groups, rather than for their sound beliefs and ability to get them done". There is still no very satisfactory answer.
Well, now we are reading Richard II again (in more detail) and it resonates as never before.  The US has elected a man who I consider a real danger to the rule of law, who lost the popular vote, and who appears to have gotten an assist from an unfriendly foreign power (though without direct complicity on his part).  Yet under the rules of the Electoral College, there is no doubt that his election is lawful. Now there are people attempting to manipulate electors into denying in what is his right by law, though not the will of the people.  Republican Electors have been bombarded with hate mail, harassing phone calls, and even death threats.

Look, I stand second to none in my hatred of Trump.  But these attempts to deny the results of the election, though technically legal (except for the harassment, threats, etc, of course) are out of bounds for a loyal opposition.  Loyal opposition means "acceptance of electoral outcomes in exchange for a chance to regularly compete for political office within formally defined timeframes and under universally competitive rules and conditions."  Trying to persuade the electors to go against their lawful roles and to deliver the election to someone other than the lawful victor is just that.  Yes, I agree that a Trump Presidency threatens to be disastrous.  Yes, I agree, the system is flawed if it allows a candidate to win a comfortable margin in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by about 2%.  Yes, I agree, it is hypocritical of Trump supporters to be so outraged that Clinton supporters are questioning the outcome of the election when they so often threatened to do just that if Trump lost.  Yes, I agree that Russian meddling in the election is troubling and our allowing Russian meddling is a good deal worse.  But Trump is still the winner by all accepted laws and norms.  To attempt to deny him victory would set off an unprecedented constitutional crisis.  A Trump presidency is merely a probable disaster; to seek to overturn the election is a certain disaster.

And yes, I also agree that the Republicans have spent eight years trying to delegitimize the Obama presidency, just as they tried to delegitimize the Bill Clinton presidency before, and promised to delegitimize the Hillary Clinton presidency if she had won.  And yes, Republicans have violated norm after norm, from abuse of impeachment proceedings, to making the filibuster a routine instrument of legislation, to refusing to confirm any Supreme Court Justice appointed by a Democrat to threatening to default on the national debt unless their program, rejected by voters at the polls, is enacted.  But they have never gone so far as to openly seek to overturn the result of a lawful election for President.

And please consider, anyone who wants to break this norm, what sort of precedent it would set for Republicans the next time they lose.

*We got a look at just how bad a system it can be in Henry VI, when the king died young and his only son was a nine-month-old baby.  Needless to say, having a baby for king caused serious problems.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Electoral College

With the Electoral College vote coming up, there has been a lot of debate about why we have an Electoral College instead of direct popular election.  Some say it is because the Founding Fathers distrusted the common people and wanted to put a buffer between them and election of the President. Others say it was to prevent the rise of populist demagogues, or to protect slave states.  My history of law professor saw it as something far more innocent -- the unfamiliarity of the whole practice of tabulating votes over a wide area.

Yet reading over James Madison's Notes on the Constitutional Convention, it becomes clear that none of these are the true reason.  Rather, no one anticipated that there would be nation-wide political parties to choose rival candidates.  Indeed, political parties were seen as corrupt at best, and sinister conspiracies at worst.  Instead, it was assumed that after George Washington, there would not be any candidates of national prominence.  Instead, the voters of each state (whether by electoral or popular vote) would choose the most eminent person from their own state.

The alternative was general seen as election by Congress. This was generally feared because Congress was a standing body, known in advance, and meeting in a single place.  All these things were seen as carrying the risk of conspiracy, intrigue, corruption, and foreign meddling.  It also destroyed the independence of the executive and made him subordinate to the legislature.
The system set forth originally was intended to cope with these anticipated problems:
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote.
The Electoral College allowed each state to make its choice clear -- clearer than an attempt to aggregate all the votes from all the states. By having the Electors chosen solely to choose a President and meet separately each in their own state, the system reduced the likelihood of conspiracy or corruption. Requiring each Elector to choose a second candidate from outside of the state, they gave an opportunity for a candidate of national prominence to win. Having Congress choose from among the top five candidates rested on the assumption that each state would have a different winner. Congress would choose the winner from the five largest states.  Having the House, rather than the Senate, vote if there was no majority removed objections to the "aristocratic" nature of the Senate, yet having it vote by states gave small states the same weight they would have in the Senate.  

And, it should be noted, this system was not controversial at the time. Indeed, in Federalist Paper No. 68, Hamilton commented:
THE mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded. 
Yet it became apparent as soon as the very first election that the system for dealing with a deadlock in the Electoral College was seriously flawed. As originally written, whoever each elector was required to vote for two candidates, at least one of whom was not from his own state. Whoever won the most votes would be the President and the runner-up would become Vice President. It became clear with the very first election,even though everyone knew that George Washington would be unanimously elected, that if the Electors all voted for the same candidate for Vice-President, there would be no legal distinction as to which was which. By the time John Adams ran for President, candidates were beginning to run in pairs, with one as candidate for President and one for Vice President. But electors often split their tickets, with the result that Adams was elected President and his rival, Jefferson, became Vice President. Adams' administration was continually hampered by having his leading rival as embedded in his government and impossible to remove.

In turn, when Jefferson was elected, there was no ticket splitting, and the team of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr won. But there was no official rule as to which of them was President and which was Vice President. Even though everyone knew Jefferson was supposed to be President and Burr Vice President, officially they were declared a tie and the House went until February, with 36 ballots and all manner of intrigue before finally voting in favor of Jefferson. After this the Twelfth Amendment was enacted, arranging for the President and Vice President to run as a pair, with clear rules as to which was which. The House continued to vote by states.

This procedure has been used only once since, in the 1824 election, when the Electoral College split among four candidates. Although Andrew Jackson won the most electoral and popular votes, Henry Clay (then Speaker of the House) swung the House in favor of John Quincy Adams in exchange for being appointed his Secretary of State. Jackson and his followers were understandably outraged and went on to win the following election.  The system of breaking Electoral College deadlocks by the House of Representatives, voting by states, has proven a very bad one in the few cases that it has been used. Many believe that the Supreme Court's ruling in Bush v. Gore was made out of fear that the Florida recount would continue past the deadline for the Electors to meet, with the result that the election would be thrown into the House (as it is called).  The Supreme Court acted to prevent a return of the system that had worked so badly every time before.

For further dull details, see this post on my other blog.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trump's Flying Circus, 12/15/16

So, Vanity Fair ran a snobbish article dissing Trump Grill(e) and Trump retaliated by tweeting, "Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!"  Really, it is time to stop trying to figure out whether Trump's tweets are an attempt to distract from more serious stories or simply reflect a lack of self-discipline. Given that stories Trump would rather see buried and wild undisciplined tweets are both becoming routine occurrences, the distinction is fast becoming one without a difference.

The bad news is that my assumption that the Republican donor class would stand up to Trump over two things, being a Russian agent or infringing on the interests of big business.  Alas, publicly traded corporations appear to be the ultimate pushovers.  Trump can tank their stock with a single tweet and reduce them to submission.  (Privately held corporations, including the Koch Brothers, will presumably be made of sterner stuff).  And the whole Republican Party seems to be willing to get in bed with the Russians if it will advance their partisan interests.

The good new is that the Trump Administration does appear to be subject to pressure by people outside the Republican Establishment.  When a gunman threatened Comet Ping Pong pizzeria over a fabricated story that it was running a child trafficking operation,  Michael Flynn, Jr., son and chief of staff to paranoid National Security Michael Flynn, Sr., posted a tweet defending the story.  He was  forced out by widespread outcry.  When the incoming team running the Department of Energy called for the names of all employees working on global warming, the Department refused and the transition team backed down.  Now granted, these may be mere cosmetic changes, masking deeper activities, but in the end, it shows that Trump is not invulnerable.  This will be important to keep in mind.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Donald Trump's Flying Circus, 12/12/16

OK, let's face it.  It will probably be a rare day that Donald Trump's flying circus doesn't give me something this is hard to resist posting about.  These will be brief comments on the new normal.

Alex Jones of Infowars, who never saw a conspiracy he didn't like, has decided to make an exception when confronted with evidence of an actual conspiracy by Russian intelligence to promote Donald Trump.  Actually, Trump is going to be a problem for Alex Jones over the long run.  Alex Jones' schtick is to blame absolutely everything on the Global Conspiracy by the Illuminati, New World Order, or whatever.  Mass shootings, terrorist attacks, contagious diseases, natural disasters, eccentric weather -- all those thing we used to put down in the category of shit happens -- are now all false flags and sinister conspiracy by the New World Order.  All politicians, media outlets and other authorities could simply be dismissed as part of the conspiracy.  But in Trump, Jones now has a President who at least pretends to give his loopy conspiracy theories credence.  At last, one who is not part of the New World Order, but is prepared to fight it!

Yet, funny thing, even assuming the Trump Presidency does not lead to disaster, the usual shit will continue to happen.  There will still be mass shootings, terrorist attacks, contagious diseases, natural disasters, eccentric weather, etc.  A President prepared to fight the New World Order won't be able to stop them.  What Jones will make of that remains to be seen.  Alternately, for a paranoid look at paranoia, see here for the proposal that Alex Jones and all the rest are really just a Russian conspiracy.

In other news today, I am really starting to like Rand Paul.  He has vowed to do everything in his power to block crazed warmonger John Bolton from being Deputy Secretary of State on the grounds that he is a crazed warmonger.  “He should get nowhere close to the State Department if anybody with a sane worldview is in charge,” Paul said.  You tell 'em!

Has Jonah Goldberg Rethought "Liberal Fascism"?

Let me start with a clear statement.  Donald Trump is not a fascist.  Neither are the various right-wing populist parties arising all across Europe.  Both Trump and his European counterparts accept contested elections at the only source of government legitimacy.  They do not glorify violence for its own sake or have paramilitaries.  Their goal is not to overthrow democracy, but to make it narrower and less inclusive.  I hereby apologize for my earlier post, written at a time when Trump seemed headed for defeat and was sounding increasingly paranoic, relying more and more on his Alt Right followers.  I wondered then if he might lead the Alt Right into a fascistic third party.  That was Trump on the run and facing defeat.  Trump triumphant is promising to govern much like a conventional Republican, only anti-trade and pro-Russia.

Watching the rise in Europe of parties that resist austerity and scapegoat immigrants, I began to  reconsider my rejection of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.  And not, I certainly did not agree that fascism is left-wing or liberal.  I accepted from the start that fascism was not libertarian in its economics.  But that by itself did not make it left-wing.  What was driven home more clearly for me was that fascism was Keyesian, and the right-wing populist movements in Europe today are Keyesian, or at least anti-austerity.  In a U.S. context, that makes them center-left, just as the center-left government of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barrack Obama responded to an economic downturn -- however imperfectly -- with a Keyesian stimulus.  But it isn't so simple in Europe.  In Europe, in the 1930's and today, the center-left has lined up behind anti-Keyesian calls for austerity, while right-wing populists have rejected such calls in favor of a semi-Keyesian stimulus.  Yet these European parties are seen by all, including themselves, as right-wing, as is Trump in the U.S. and his semi-fascist followers on the Alt Right.

Jonah Goldberg generally responded to Trump with entirely  appropriate horror.  But has any of this led him to question his view that fascism was a left-wing movement?  The answer appears to be no. Goldberg's basic reason for condemning Trump is that he is a closet liberal:
Trump is not a conservative. He has some instincts that overlap with conservatism — the importance of law and order, the value of military strength etc. — but these instincts are not derived from any serious attachment to ideas or arguments. They stem from his lizard-brain machismo and his authoritarian streak. He never talks about liberty or limited government unless someone shoves it into his teleprompter. His ideas about economics and public policy are shot-through with dirigisme. 
He laments that conservatives seem eager to abandon libertarianism for whatever Trump says.  But does it never occur to him that maybe there just aren't all that many libertarians out there, and that the Republican Party's appeal for a long time has been to "lizard brain machismo" and an "authoritarian streak"?  Indeed, has it never occurred to him that when he and other libertarians endorsed the policies of George W. Bush -- basically, that we have the right to invade any country we feel like and that the President can do whatever he wants (indefinite detention, "enhanced interrogation," surveillance without oversight, etc) so long as he uses the words "national security" first -- that these libertarians themselves were succumbing to "lizard brain machismo" and an "authoritarian streak" and abandoning their basic distrust of the state?

And when asked about the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it never seemed to occur to him that Trump's enthusiasm for torture was any worse than Clinton's wish to increase economic regulations.  Indeed, he considered Clinton more dangerous in the short run.  Trump he considered more dangerous in the long run, not because of any disaster that might happen, but the Republican Party ceasing to be conservative (i.e., libertarian) and instead being "protectionist, pro-authoritarian, and dirigiste" and perhaps even embracing identity politics, i.e., white identity politics, while Democrats are the party of minority identity politics.

Several things are wrong here.

For one, Goldberg seems to assume that all identity politics is the same, and that it is the sole preserve of the left.  He is wrong on both counts.  The first is particularly offensive.  In saying that the Nazis resembled today's liberals because both practiced identity politics is saying that the identity politics of affirmative action and the identity politics that leads to gas chambers are really not so different. My first impulse is to say that there is an identity politics of inclusion and an identity politics of exclusion, but Goldberg would said that that is a distinction without a difference.  He would say that any affirmative action admissions policy to include more blacks and Hispanics is simply a policy to exclude whites and Asians.  There is an identity politics of dividing up the goods by identity group instead of on individual merit, and there is an identity politics of shutting some groups out altogether.

Or in more concrete terms, consider US politics, North and South, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Both practiced identity politics.  In the North, identity politics was a spoils and patronage system.  Different groups of immigrants and ethnicities voted for politicians of their ethnic group, who brought them home a share of government jobs, services etc.  In the South, ethnic politics meant white people shutting black people out of the system altogether and denying them the right to vote, or to receive any share in government and its spoils.   Goldberg would doubtless find both systems repugnant.* But they are not morally equivalent.  One is merely a form of corruption; the other is outright oppression and denial of rights.  Today's liberal forms of identity politics are closer to the ethnic spoils system that existed among big city patronage machines than the total exclusion that prevailed in the South.  And Hitler -- well, he began with total exclusion and went WAY beyond it.

For another thing, Goldberg is quite wrong in thinking that identity politics is the exclusive preserve of the left, or that white identity politics is anything new.  Nationalism, after all, is a form of identity politics, and very much a thing of the right.  But maybe Goldberg means identity politics within domestic politics.  Well, this whole business of red state versus blue state, the Heartland versus the coastal elites, rural versus urban, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, Real America versus -- well, that is never quite said, is itself a form of identity politics. And if Goldberg responds that this is a less harmful form because it is not ethnic identity politics, I would say that a lot of it, but especially fulminations against "political correctness" is simply white identity politics in disguise.

And perhaps most significantly, Goldberg never seems to consider just how dangerous "lizard brain machismo" and appeals to it are.  Goldberg makes the tired old "frog in the pot" argument, that Clinton will incrementally turn up the heat, while Trump will start it at boiling.  The "frog in the pot" argument is patently false.  If the water heats up gradually the frog will, in fact, notice when it starts to get uncomfortable and jump out.  But a frog thrown in boiling water is unlikely to survive long enough to jump out.  And that is not so bad a metaphor.  If taxation and regulation reach the point where people feel them as oppressive, they can be rolled back through the democratic and lawful process.  Granted, it is not always easy to do.  But, after all, this country once regulated routes and fares for every truck, train and plane.  We don't do that anymore.  Left to the democratic process, we would probably have less regulation than we have now, but more than Goldberg and fellow libertarians consider appropriate.  And we most certainly would not get rid of New Deal and Great Society programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, deposit insurance etc, distasteful as these things may be to libertarians.

"Lizard brain machismo" on the other hand, is the stuff of lynch mobs, of pitchforks and torches, the sort of thing that can short-circuit democratic process and the rule of law in a big hurry.  Goldberg seriously misjudges how little of the Republican Party's appeal is based on actual libertarianism and how much has been based on covert appeals to "lizard brain machismo."  Trump simply took what was covert and made it overt.  Crowds ate it up.

When Goldberg wrote Liberal Fascism, he defined fascism broadly enough to mean essentially any  expansion of government beyond what he saw as its proper bounds.  He argued that conservatives (defined as "classical liberals," i.e., libertarians) could not possibly be fascists because they wanted to keep government to a minimum, while modern liberals favored government and were therefore fascists.  He also acknowledged that the book was largely an to angry response to liberals falsely calling conservatives fascists.  And he made silly attempts to establish the defining core trait of fascism as eating organic food.  (Or maybe opposing public smoking or cruelty to animals).  There is a lot of room to argue about the core defining programmatic trait of fascism, but I think it fair to say that the core defining psychological definition of fascism is its appeal to "lizard brain machismo."  And I think it not too much a stretch define the psychology of liberalism (classical or modern) as "unswayed by appeals to lizard brain machismo."  And a psychological definition of conservatism might be "conscious of the appeal of lizard brain machismo but strongly resolved to resist it, either in oneself or others."  Of course, I would also consider "lizard brain machismo" a reasonable definition of authoritarianism in general, and fascism a mere sub-category of authoritarianism.

I don't defend liberals' abuse of the term "fascist" to accuse conservatives of being fascists.  But this abuse of the term can be explained without defending it.  Liberals understand that the psychology underlying fascism is lizard brain machismo.  They recognize that some aspects of conservatism do, indeed, appeal to lizard brain machismo.  And they see that a good many members of the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement are, in fact, acting more out of lizard brain machismo than ideological principles.  So they (falsely) define both conservatism and fascism as simply appeals to lizard brain machismo and lump them together.  This is wrong.  But it does contain a psychological insight that Goldberg is willfully blind to.

But even if Goldberg were to concede that "lizard brain machismo" is what lies at the core of all authoritarianism, including fascism, and that it poses a greater threat to liberty than mere over-regulation, he might then ask why I define it as right-wing.  After all, I concede that it is not conservative. Well, for starters, I certainly agree that there is an authoritarian left that appeals to "lizard brain machismo."  Communism certainly fit the bill, as did black nationalism and the like.  Black Lives Matter undoubtedly has its share of authoritarians, and there are definite signs of nastiness among Bernie Sanders' more hard core followers.  But the authoritarian left is far less influential in the US (for now) than the authoritarian right.  Next, I would point to Goldberg's own definition of conservatism as including "the importance of law and order, the value of military strength etc."  Yet he concedes that emphasizing these things can appeal to "lizard brain machismo" as well as true conservatism.  Hot news flash: if an important part of the conservative program also appeals to authoritarians, then it leaves the conservative movement vulnerable to infiltration by authoritarians. (Isn't that what William F. Buckley was all about -- keeping the authoritarians out of conservatism?  And doesn't that imply that they had an unfortunate tendency to sneak in in disguise?)

And then there is the point made (though no longer accessible) that since vote share is a zero sum game, when a new political movement gains adherents, then someone else necessarily must be losing adherents.  When the Nazi Party grew, for instance, other parties had to be shrinking.  Which parties were shrinking reveals who was switching votes to the Nazis.  And the answer is clear.

The total share of the vote going to the Left shrank.  This means that the Nazis were, indeed, winning adherents from the Left.  But although the left-wing share of the vote fell below what it won in its better years, like 1920 and 1928 (the last year before the Depression), it remained similar to its share in 1924 (the year of the hyperinflation).  In other words, the Left's share of the vote fell to the lower end of the norm, but no lower.  (Not reflected in my charts but disturbing, the moderate Social Democrats saw their share of the votes fall, while the Communist
Vote the year of the hyperinflation 
  Party saw its share of the vote rise).  The Left was losing votes to the Nazis, but that was not where the bulk of the Nazi vote was coming from.

Votes to the center diminished, and the loss is visible on the pie charts, but not all that spectacular because the center vote was not all that large to begin with.  What is significant, though not shown on the pie charts is that Catholic Center share of the vote remained almost unchanged, while the non-Catholic center vote shrank almost to zero.  The Nazis were not winning votes from political Catholics, but Protestant moderates were defecting en masse.

Finally, once the Great Depression hit, votes to traditional right-wing parties made a spectacular decline, to half their former strength in 1930, and to a mere sliver by 1932.  And the Nazi Party was gaining at almost the same rate.  The bulk of Nazi votes came from defection from right-wing parties.  The obvious conclusion is that what the Nazis were offering appealed to the right wing and to non-Catholic moderates, but much less to the Left and not at all to political Catholics.

Last vote before the Depression
The comparison to Trump is obvious.  Trump took the Republican Party by storm.  From the very start, he had strong appeal to Republican primary voters.  As his nomination became more and more inevitable, more and more conventional Republicans went over to him.  At the time of the general election, there is no doubt that he won the votes of some people who had voted for the Democrats in previous elections, especially in the Upper Midwest.  Not all of these voters were white; Trump appears to have done better with all demographics than the two prior Republican
Votes as the Nazis took over
candidates.  So clearly Trump was winning some votes from defecting Democrats.  But there is simply no doubt that the bulk of his vote came from frustrated Republican voters, and that he had the support of well-established right-wing commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter.  Trump is no conservative, but the bulk of the vote share he drew came from the right.**

And here is the really maddening thing.  Goldberg knows this.  At least, that is the take-away from the linked conversation with Hugh Hewitt about the Alt Right.  The Alt Right are some of Trump's earliest and strongest supporters.  And they are, if not fascists, at least wannabes.  They are truly deplorable.  And neither Hewitt nor Goldberg makes any attempt to deny that they really are right-wing.  Goldberg does say that he considers Trump to be "a liberal" and "a New York Democrat" and that that is why he got some of his answers wrong, from a conservative perspective, such as being reluctant to condemn David Duke or saying that women should be punished for having abortions.  In that, Goldberg compares Trump to Mitt Romney.  But he ignores something really obvious.  Romney's poor grasp of what it was to be a true conservative hurt him with Republican voters.  Trump, on the other hand, was wildly appealing, all lapses from the true faith notwithstanding.  Somehow it never occurred to either man that maybe this meant that most Republicans are not true conservatives by their lights but, well, something else.  Something that reacts favorably to appeals to "lizard brain machismo."  They both discuss how to isolate the Alt Right and distinguish them from true conservatives, with Goldberg wanting to draw a sharp line and write out people who have a foot in both camps (like Ann Coulter), and Hewitt wanting to give fence sitters the benefit of the doubt.  But Goldberg makes a very revealing comment about the Alt Right:
There are a lot of people who don’t know what the alt right is. I live in these swamps. I’ve been having these fights for 20 years. I didn’t hear the term alt right until Donald Trump came up. But I know a lot of the people behind the alt right, because I’ve been getting it, they’ve been attacking me and then saying nasty anti-Semitic stuff to me since I started working at National Review. I mean, people are like, the guys at VDARE and these other places, they’ve all coalesced around this idea of the alt right, and it is not a coalitional idea where they want to be part of the conservative movement. It’s that they want to replace the conservative movement.. . . Milo [Yiannopoulos, an Alt Right shock jock] writes grand defenses of these guys who send pictures of me in gas chambers, and of David French’s black adopted child being gassed, and sent pictures of, you know, me being hung. And Milo thinks that stuff is hilarious.
Yes, that's right.  These aren't "friendly fascists" or "smiley face fascists," they are actual defenders of classical fascism.  And Goldberg has been dealing with them for 20 years.  That means he was dealing with them the whole time he was writing Liberal Fascism and claiming that fascism is a movement of the left, and that the biggest threat to liberty these days is from public smoking bans and the like.  That means he was dealing with them when David Neiwert pointed out that there are actual fascists in the US today and Goldberg replied by dismissing them as trivial compared to the mortal peril from Hillary Clinton's latest blather.  Think of that every time Goldberg calls liberals the real fascists or dismisses real fascists as too marginalized to matter.  He was "liv[ing] in the swamps" and fighting these guys even as he said it!

And there is one more thing to add.  Goldberg really should go back and take a refresher course on how Mussolini and Hitler came to power.  They didn't come to power by violent revolution, or by winning an absolute electoral majority for their parties.  They came to power by making an alliance with conservatives.  There were plenty of countries in which the conservatives remained resolutely opposed to fascism.  In all cases, they were able to keep the fascists out of power.  (Although many of these countries became right wing dictatorships of other kinds).  Only in Italy and Germany did the conservatives ultimately decide that the fascists were the lesser evil compared to the left.***  And not just the Hard Left, or the Communists.  Conservatives developed wildly exaggerated fears about the Social Democrats, even though they regularly respected all rules of the game, and convinced themselves that the SD's were such an intolerable threat that they were prepared to make common cause with the fascists against them.  Then he should read how many fellow conservatives were prepared to make common cause with Trump, despite his Alt Right followers, because they regarded Hillary Clinton, hardly distinguishable from Obama, as so grave a threat that our form of government might not survive her election.  And he should really think about it.

*And, ironically, the harshest critic of the Northern system of ethnic patronage were the people Goldberg most despises as proto-fascists -- the Progressives.  Progressives disdained the ethnic spoils systems as corrupt and sought, instead to introduce a professional civil service that introduced to sort of technocratic, administrative government that Goldberg sees as the biggest threat to liberty today.  (Proof, once again, that politics of the past don't line up so well compared to politics today).  Presumably Goldberg would say that ethnic patronage machines and a technocratic civil service are simply different forms of the same error -- the belief that government is capable of doing good.
**And, it is fair to ask, what about European populists like Marine LePen, who are gaining vote share exactly as the center-left parties decline or even disappear.  Doesn't that make them left-wing?  And here I will have to pass it off by saying that does seem the logic of what I have said so far, but these parties are nonetheless uniformly seen as right-wing.
***Spain is something of a special case, and people are divided on whether to consider Franco a fascist.  The usual conclusion, though, is that Franco is better characterized as a reactionary who made an alliance with the fascists and then discarded them when they were no longer useful to him.