Democracy Must Be Resistant to the Coronavirus

Washington DC
The skyline of Washington DC at dawn (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)

In a crisis, calls to do something, quickly, can be hard to resist. Politicians must still try.

On both sides of the Atlantic, governments are planning some of the largest peacetime interventions in the private economy to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus disease.

  • Familiar battle lines have been drawn in Europe, where conservative northern countries, led by Germany and the Netherlands, hesitate to free up EU funds for the crisis.
  • The roles are reversed in America, where once fiscally prudent Republicans are trying to rush through a stimulus twice the size of Barack Obama’s, and Democrats, who traditionally support a larger role for government, are stepping on the brakes.

The stallers are not unreasonable. We can take a few days to debate how to spend trillions of euros and dollars. Read more “Democracy Must Be Resistant to the Coronavirus”

Sanders Claims He Can Raise Turnout. He Hasn’t So Far

Bernie Sanders
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders makes a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, October 30, 2015 (Michael Vadon)

Bernie Sanders argues he can defeat Donald Trump by convincing more Americans to vote. A self-declared socialist may lose some swing voters by campaigning on nationalizing health insurance and raising middle-class taxes, but he can make up for it, Sanders argues, by mobilizing young and working voters.

It’s always seemed unwise to me to bet on potential voters rather than actual voters. Now that skepticism has been substantiated. Read more “Sanders Claims He Can Raise Turnout. He Hasn’t So Far”

Democrats Don’t Have to Take Sanders’ Delegate Complaints Seriously

Democratic National Convention
Delegates listen to a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016 (DNCC/Chris Frommann)

The New York Times asked 93 of the 771 Democratic Party officials who will be automatically seated at the convention in July — the so-called “superdelegates” — if they would vote for Bernie Sanders if the socialist emerged with a plurality, but not a majority, of the pledged delegates.

Only nine said they would.

Sanders’ supporters are predictably up in arms, arguing the party “establishment” is conspiring to overturn “the will of the people”.

Some are threatening to sit out the election in November if their man doesn’t prevail.

Imagine being so safe and comfortable that you could stomach another four years of children being separated from their parents at the border and killed in detention, American citizens of color being harassed by immigration authorities, institutions being demolished, the rule of law turned into a dead letter and the liberal world order torn to shreds in the service of Vladimir Putin if the only alternative is voting for your second-best candidate. I’m not terribly well-versed in the rhetoric of the social-justice left, but I believe this is what they call “privilege”? Read more “Democrats Don’t Have to Take Sanders’ Delegate Complaints Seriously”

What Is a Brokered Convention? Could It Happen?

Republican National Convention
The Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012 (Think Out Loud)

It’s every political junkie’s dream: a contested convention. When no American presidential candidate wins a majority of the delegates in state-by-state contests before the party’s convention in the summer, the assembly — normally stage-managed for television — will have to go through as many voting rounds as it takes to elect a nominee. Imagine the theater!

It hasn’t happened in almost seventy years, and for good reason.

The last time Democrats needed to “broker” their convention was in 1952. The last time Republicans had one was in 1948. At both times, the parties went on to lose the general election. The spectacle of a party struggling to find a presidential candidate doesn’t inspire much confidence in voters that they’ve made the right choice.

Could the same happen to Democrats this year? Read more “What Is a Brokered Convention? Could It Happen?”

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis cover
Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis (2019)

Jared Diamond’s latest book, Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis (2019), is clearly written for a lay audience.

I took only introductory courses in Australian and Japanese history in university, but I learned almost nothing new from Diamond’s respective chapters on those countries. The chapters on postwar Germany and the 1973 coup in Chile taught me nothing I hadn’t picked in high school or from watching documentaries. The remaining chapters on Finland’s Winter War with the Soviet Union and Indonesia’s dictatorship were more informative, but only because I never investigated either.

Even by the standard of an undergraduate textbook, Upheaval falls short. Footnotes, endnotes and references are completely lacking. Anecdotes abound. If it wasn’t for a list of further reading at the back — which contains barely more than a dozen titles per country — one could be forgiven for thinking Diamond relied entirely on personal experience and the opinions of a handful of international acquaintances to arrive at his conclusions. Read more “Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis”

Why Democratic Party Officials Are Reluctant to Take Sides

Hillary Clinton Andrew Cuomo
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York attend a political event in New York City, April 4, 2016 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

You may remember that in 2016, we interpreted both the Democratic and Republican primaries in the United States through the prism of “the party decides” theory, which argues that party elites — including elected and party officials, interest group leaders and other partisan figures — coordinate before presidential nominating contests in order to help their preferred candidate win.

Or, as The Economist pithily summarized the argument: parties tell the electorate how to vote, rather than voters telling the party whom to support.

That obviously didn’t happen in the Republican Party, where elites failed to stop Donald Trump.

Democratic elites (everyone from the chair of the Democratic National Committee to local union bosses) did coalesce around Hillary Clinton, but many voters didn’t listen: 43 percent backed Bernie Sanders.

This year, public endorsements from Democratic Party figures are slower than usual, suggesting that — like Republicans four years ago — “the” party is reluctant to decide. Read more “Why Democratic Party Officials Are Reluctant to Take Sides”

It’s Too Hard to Remove an American President

Donald Trump James Mattis
American president Donald Trump and his defense secretary, James Mattis, arrive for a NATO summit in Brussels, July 12, 2018 (NATO)

If Donald Trump’s allies in the Senate vote to acquit him next week, they will prove it has become too hard to remove a president in the United States.

Trump withheld congressionally mandated aid from Ukraine to coerce the country into investigating the son of his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden. Trump broke the law and abused his power to help his reelection.

Yet not a single Republican member of Congress voted to impeach him. Not a single Republican senator is expected to vote to remove him from office. Read more “It’s Too Hard to Remove an American President”

Why Trumpists Demand Complete Loyalty

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

Jonah Goldberg wonders in his newsletter why it’s not enough for conservatives like him to accept Donald Trump’s impeachment is an overreach while recognizing that the president did something wrong.

Trump’s supporters demand complete loyalty to an ever-shifting party line — or they’ll accuse you of suffering from “Trump derangement syndrome”.

I suspect the answer depends on whether you’re talking to cowards or fanatics. Read more “Why Trumpists Demand Complete Loyalty”

Don’t Try to Take Politics Out of Important Decisions

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017 (Ted Eytan)

When politics becomes dysfunctional, there will be a temptation to remove it from important decisions.

This only makes the dysfunction worse.

Politics is what we call decision-making in a democratic society. Taking politics out of some decisions falsely suggests there is a consensus for a certain policy or delegates the decision to technocrats. Either is undemocratic. Read more “Don’t Try to Take Politics Out of Important Decisions”

America’s Rigid Two-Party System Is What Its Founders Feared

Washington DC
The sun sets on Washington DC (Shutterstock)

Lee Drutman, a political scientist, argues in The Atlantic that America has become the rigid two-party system its founders feared.

The authors of America’s Constitution wanted to make it impossible for a partisan majority to ever unite and take control of the government, which it could then use to oppress the minority.

The fragile consent of the governed would break down, and violence and authoritarianism would follow. This was how previous republics had fallen into civil wars and the Framers were intent on learning from history, not repeating its mistakes.

They separated powers across competing institutions to prevent any one faction from dominating others. But they did not plan for the emergence of political parties, let alone just two parties. Read more “America’s Rigid Two-Party System Is What Its Founders Feared”