- Ipsos/Reuters Poll on Trump’s Executive Order on Immigrant Ban
These are some terrifying opinion poll numbers about Trump’s immigration ban: 48% of the population, including 82% of Republicans and 44% of Independents, agree with it, while only 41% oppose it. So while it’s fair to call it a controversial policy, it’s also wrong to call it unpopular. (Support/opposition depends a bit on the wording, but the general tendency is clear.)
If you’re like me, then probably all your friends are horrified by Trump’s executive order. But on the basis of these numbers, don’t be too surprised if Trump’s popularity doesn’t take a long-term hit over it. You should also not expect people like Paul Ryan to speak out: Republican representatives might commit electoral suicide if they opposed the ban too loudly, given these numbers.
That’s the (pessimistic) message. Tribalism/nationalism is simply that powerful, and this is easy to underestimate if you come from the liberal-cosmopolitan bubble.
Wilkinson looks at some of the data of who voted for Trump, and he tries to locate this in a wider sociological narrative about cultural change, and a growing economic and cultural divide between American cities and the American countryside. Even if you distrust the broad-brush cultural labels Wilkinson uses to classify different value schemes, he manages to tell a worrying story about the growing divide. Wilkinson’s piece is also full of useful nuggets of information, like this one:
The growing gap in economic output between big cities and the rest of America implies that Republican-leaning counties account for a dwindling share of the national product. According to Muro and Lui, in the 2000 election, which also featured a split in the popular and electoral votes, Bush won 2397 counties, accounting for 46% of GDP, while Gore won 659 counties accounting for 54% of GDP. In the 2016 election, the general pattern repeats: the Republican candidate wins many many more counties responsible for a smaller share of American economic output, but the asymmetry has become even crazier. Clinton took just 472 counties, which account for 64% of GDP, while Trump took 2584, which account for just 36% of GDP. That’s amazing.
- Steve Horwitz, “Liberalism in the Balance”
A short piece in which Horwitz suggests that libertarians should pay more attention to the badness of Trump, and the structural damage he is likely to cause to the American constitutional system.
- David Frum, “How to Build an Autocracy”
Frum’s argument is long and full of insights, so I won’t summarise it. But here’s one particularly challenging passage:
Whatever else happens, Americans are not going to assemble in parade-ground formations, any more than they will crank a gramophone or dance the turkey trot. In a society where few people walk to work, why mobilize young men in matching shirts to command the streets? If you’re seeking to domineer and bully, you want your storm troopers to go online, where the more important traffic is. Demagogues need no longer stand erect for hours orating into a radio microphone. Tweet lies from a smartphone instead.
“Populist-fueled democratic backsliding is difficult to counter,” wrote the political scientists Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz late last year. “Because it is subtle and incremental, there is no single moment that triggers widespread resistance or creates a focal point around which an opposition can coalesce … Piecemeal democratic erosion, therefore, typically provokes only fragmented resistance.” Their observation was rooted in the experiences of countries ranging from the Philippines to Hungary. It could apply here too.
Frum suggests that gradually “backsliding democracies” like Hungary and Venezuela provide a good comparative model to predict a possible American future (rather than somewhat hyperbolic comparisons with fascism). On this scenario, we won’t see the outright abandonment of the American institutional system—e.g., separation of powers, a free press—but rather a successive hollowing-out of the conventions that underlie the system. If this is true, then some of the main damage Trump could do might have already occurred, by crossing many of the invisible conventions that buttress a healthy democracy—e.g., transparency in one’s financial dealings, a broad commitment to the truth, and openness to media criticism. Highly recommended reading.
- Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews, “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model”
A no-nonsense summary of how Russian propaganda works, supported by observations from psychology of common weaknesses in information processing. The application to Trump-style “alternative facts” propaganda isn’t raised in the piece, but should be obvious. Paul and Matthews explain many less obvious characteristics of propaganda—e.g., that propagandists don’t seem to care about contradicting themselves, and why propaganda emphasises quantity and repetition.