American Opinion in June 2019.

According to a recent poll, ten percent of Americans believe that Donald Trump is the best president of their lifetime.[1]  Trump’s support was concentrated among older, white, men.  In particular, according to a Pew Trust analysis, “49 percent of those aged 30‒49 feel warmly toward him, 60 percent of those aged 50‒64 do, as did 56 percent of those over 65 years of age.”[2]  So, the enthusiastic ten percent may come from older voters.

In contrast to most voters, both Trump supporters and Trump opponents have some historical basis for judging “best” and “worst” presidents.  If someone was 50 in 2016, then they were born in 1966; if someone was 60 in 2016, then they were born in 1956; if someone was 70 in 2016, then they were born in 1946.  If we postulate that people start to become politically aware at age 20, then 2016 Trump voters became politically aware between 1966 and 1986.

What do they have to work with in terms of historical experience of the presidency?  They have late-stage Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam, the social turmoil associated with the “Great Society”); Richard Nixon (Vietnam, Watergate); Gerald Ford (the first “oil shock” and inflation); Jimmy Carter (second “oil shock,” inflation, Iran hostage crisis); Ronald Reagan (Paul Volker wringing out inflation, defeat of the “evil empire,” Iran-Contra); George H. W. Bush (Preppy in the White House, first Iraq War, “read my hips”); Bill Clinton (Eddie Haskell in the White House); George W. Bush (Frat Boy in the White House, 9/11, the flunked war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina); Barack Obama (Affordable Care Act, but also the Stimulus bill, rule by decree).

Experienced voters might be forgiven (although they will not be forgiven) for thinking that in their lifetime American government has run amuck and that the quality of presidents has deteriorated.  This ignores the reality that we have lived through very turbulent times that demanded government responses.  Many of these problems found no easy solution.  Still, is it possible that the typical voter follows the meta-narrative, rather than the micro-narrative?

Polls also showed that Trump appealed most to those with only a high-school education, but least to those with a college BA or more.  Well, auto-workers and steel-workers and a bunch of other workers used to be able to earn a middle-class income walking off the graduation stage and into an industrial job.  These people used to be a) Democratic voters, and b) the salt of the earth in Democratic discourse.[3]  Why did they stray, assuming it was the voters, rather than the party, that strayed?  Then, how does the educational profile of Trump voters compare with the educational profile of African-Americans?  Data suggest that educational attainment among African-Americans, measured in terms of BAs, is about two-thirds that of whites.[4]  How different is this from the educational profile of Trump voters?

The Pew poll also showed that core Trump voters believed—correctly—that free trade had harmed their own interests.  They believed that he would address illegal immigration, which they regarded as a serious problem.  They thought he was an awful person who might get things done.  “Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 June 2019, p. 17.

[2] See: https://www.thoughtco.com/meet-the-people-behind-donald-trumps-popularity-4068073

[3] See: Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech.”  https://www.periodpaper.com/products/1945-print-norman-rockwell-vermont-man-freedom-of-speech-open-forum-oil-painting-126405-xaa5-061

[4] See graph: https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal

Public Opinion 19 May 2019.

Voting in elections has a somewhat troubled history.  Even before the Russkies and a bunch of other countries started messing with the elections in other places.

Problem: back in the 1800s, when elections were a new thing, how could you tell that the government in power hadn’t rigged the election by stuffing the ballot boxes?

Solution: have everyone place their ballot into the box of an openly identified party or candidate in a hall open to the public.  Observers could count the votes cast.  They could estimate a rough “real” return, then protest apparent fraud.

Problem: If everyone could see how you voted, then so could your land-lord, employer, creditor, and the guy at the local tavern who either extended or did not extend you credit when you didn’t want to tell the Missus you’d wasted your pay.  Public voting meant that voters could be pressured.

Solution: The “Australian” ballot.  Go into a little booth with a curtain, cast your vote in secret, and go tell they guy who paid you to vote one way that you did vote that way.  Then, go get some drinks.

Problem: In a sexist society, women are dominated by the men upon whom they are economically dependent.  Also, according to the accepted thought of the time, women are flighty and emotional.

Solution: Deny women the vote.

Problem: Democracy is political corruption—on the part of the individual voter—writ large.  All men (and women) are corruptible.  That is, they will do what is economically favorable to them.  Tax/Spend/Elect v. Tax-cut/Spend/Elect.  Thus, the economic situation or prospects of the individual citizen will determine their vote.[1]  So, what economic or financial considerations weigh upon them?  That is, may we know their biases when they vote?

Solution: Make public the tax returns (which reveal the financial data and pension assets/claims) and the votes of all citizens, whether they voted or not.  This will help reveal the extent to which Americans are being “corrupted” by their financial interests.  A computer analysis can reveal patterns.

Should the tax returns of President Donald Trump be made public?[2]  No law requires it, but a now-entrenched tradition does require it.

Should YOUR tax returns be available to the public?  So they can tell if you are the pawn of a corporate interest?  One man-one vote, n’est-ce pas?  The same rules for everyone.

Should we apportion voting according to a “corruption index” arrived at by a non-partisan board of academic assessors?  (The NYT has reported that the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, NJ, had developed a system for scoring the “adversity” experienced by college applicants independent of their academic performance.  So, in theory, a “corruption index” could be done.)

[1] OK, sometimes they get distracted by “cultural” issues like race, gender, sexual-orientation, age-cohort, and the general sexiness of the candidate (Go AOC!)

[2] In late April 2019, 56 percent of people polled wanted President Trump’s tax returns released to the public; only 27 percent did not want them released.  That leaves 17 percent Not Sure.  “Poll Watch,” The Week, 26 April 2019, p. 17.

Roe versus Ferguson 19 May 2019.

Almost a third (32 percent) of Americans want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, while almost two-thirds don’t want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Seems clear enough as a democratic policy preference.[1]

However, there are intricacies.

First, does life begin at the moment of conception?  If it does, then do those lives deserve legal protection from harm?  If it, doesn’t, then why do women want abortions?  Is there some definable moment when not-life turns to life?  When it gets its own insurance and phone plan?

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was “stare decisis” (settled law—just to show I’ve been reading the newspapers, if not law books).  All the same, the Supreme Court overturned this settled law in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  In the common understanding (which is different from a lawyer’s explanation), the Supreme Court overturned Plessy on the grounds that it did a moral wrong.

If life does begin at the moment of conception, then abortion is a moral wrong disguised as an elective medical procedure.  The Supreme Court could overturn Roe on the same moral grounds that it overturned Plessy.  (Yes, a bunch of judges appointed by Republican presidents would be accused of having wormed and slimed their ways through Senate confirmation votes in order to achieve this end.  Many reasonable people will find that accusation credible.)

Second, what exactly would the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade mean for the law?  Would it return abortion to the pre-Roe status where it was regulated by the states?  Or would it replace the nation-wide right to “choice” with a nation-wide ban on abortions?  If a Supreme Court decision led to a nation-wide ban on abortion, then would the best analogy be to “Scott v. Sandford” (1857)?  That decision held two things.  First, that African-Americans could not be citizens.  Second, that the division of the country into “slave” and “free” areas was unconstitutional.[2]  Slave-holders could go anywhere they wanted, establish their “peculiar institution” anywhere they wanted.  Majority opinion in a democracy (by the standards of that time, not ours) be damned.

Third, ignorance of facts plays a role in current discussions.  Half (50 percent) of Americans are open to curtailing abortion rights to some degree, while 44 percent support at least an integral defense of Roe as it now stands.  “Right to life” advocates appear to have played upon this willingness to curtail, rather than ban, abortions.  The state of Alabama has recently passed a law banning abortions once a heartbeat is detected in a fetus.  Nationally, 50 percent support such a ban.  However, that support dropped to 38 percent when the people being polled are told that physicians’ modern technology can detect a heartbeat at six weeks.  That 12 percent change undoubtedly comes from men who aren’t too familiar with the menstrual cycle and its vagaries or with the psychology of women facing the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy.[3]  When they figure out they’ve been played, they shift position.

A Supreme Court decision endorsed by only one-third of the people and opposed by two-thirds of the people is going to be a problem.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 24 May 2019, p. 17.

[2] This referred to the “Missouri Compromise” (1821).

[3] Me neither, but I recognize that I’m not.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 8 May 2019.

Can President Donald Trump be re-elected in 2020?

Well, according to a recent poll, 55 percent of voters claim that they will not vote for Trump.[1]  So, no, Trump can’t be re-elected.      Democracy may do what the Democrats could not: force Donald Trump out of the White House.  Still, count no man happy until he is dead.

There are “Never Trump” Republicans.  A recent poll reported that 15 percent of self-identified Republicans claim that they won’t vote for Trump in 2020.  These dissident Republicans can’t turn a Senate election, but “en masse” they might help to provide a margin of victory in a presidential election.  Arguably, the Democrats will need to mobilize every anti-Trump vote to win back the White House.  What if these Republican dissidents sit-out the election in disgust?  Many Republicans did just that in the special election held to replace Senator Jeff Sessions (R—Alabama).  A Democrat won.  Where is that sweet spot between winning some Republican votes and not driving many of them off the sidelines into the arms of Trump as the least-worst alternative?  Right hard to say at this moment.

One issue might be health-care.  About 160 million Americans have private health insurance.  According to one poll, a substantial majority of them (58 percent) oppose eliminating private health insurance in favor of Senator Bernie Sanders’ “VA for All” campaign platform.[2]  However, leaving aside my cheap shot at Sanders, the problem may be with the messaging.  Sanders needs to explain that co-pays and deductibles will disappear in return for tax increases.  He needs to explain that a national health insurance system will be able to drive down costs by bargaining with pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and—most of all—doctors.  IF voters can be persuaded that government control will lead to better outcomes at lower cost, then they might well go for it.  IF government can stick with its plan, then voters might well stick with it.

Another might be the economy.[3]  One poll reported that better than to-thirds (71 percent) of people “rate the nation’s economic conditions favorably.”  In Spring 2019, it is booming.  Both inflation and unemployment are low, wages are finally rising, the trade deficit has narrowed, and productivity has started to increase.  In some minds, this promises rising living standards and low inflation.  The stock market is one, not very reliable, measure of economic conditions.  It has been rising.  Obviously, many facts and statistics can be interpreted in different ways.  Thus, the rise in housing prices is bad for buyers, especially first-time buyers, but it’s good for sellers.  Many of those sellers will be older Americans looking to down-size while realizing their capital gains.  These are the very people most likely to be put off by the leftward shift among some Democrats.

Divisions within the Democratic Party have opened between its “progressive” wing and its mainstream.  Which group better represents the mass of Democrats and is most likely to pull independent voters in a general election?  Joe Biden, but he has to get through the primaries.  By then his own positions may have become explicitly “progressive” as the price of admission.[4]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 17.

[2] Richard North Patterson, “Single-payer could doom Democrats,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 12.

[3] “Economy: A business boom defies the forecasts,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 34.

[4] “Biden: Democrats’ best hope to beat Trump?,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 6.

Curmudgeon Me.

Il y a etait un fois, America had the best democratic public school system in the world, AND the greatest college and university system in the world.  More Americans went farther in education than did people in any other country.  In percentage terms, America had more and better “human capital” than did any other country in the world.  “We cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA&t=16s

Then, standardized tests revealed a terrifying decline in American educational attainment.  The generally-accepted, state-mandated, and Federally-funded response took the form of more standardized testing, accountability through assessment, the standardization of delivery models, and the proliferation of rubrics.

Here’s the thing.  When American education led the world, nobody did much standardized testing, nobody did much formal assessment[1], nobody insisted on standardized delivery, and no truly-educated person knew what the word “rubric” meant.  Schools and teachers didn’t do ANY of the things that now are supposed to cure “the prince of our disorders.”  This suggests that the origin of American educational problems lies elsewhere than in the educational system itself.

This applies to the American education reform experience of the last several decades.  Has anyone—other than me—ever been lost in the woods?  The hard-won lessons of millennia in this matter counsel certain behaviors.  First, Stop where you are!  Do not keep going forward!  Do not turn aside to the left hand or to the right to go bush-whacking through the brush!  You will fall over the edge of a cliff, bust your leg, and end up being mauled by some aggrieved Momma-bear.  Second, turn around and head back down the trail that you came up.  Eventually, you will come upon the place where you last knew where you were.  Third, stop in that place, consult your map and compass, and discern where you went wrong.  Fourth, get back on the trail you were supposed to be on before you missed the way-mark because you were looking down at your boots, trying not to trip over roots, when you should have been looking up to notice the white-painted blaze in a tree.

Thus, we need to stop bush-whacking through the educational underbrush.  We need to stop, turn around, and go back to whatever it is we were doing right before the wheels came off.

What was it we used to do when “once we were warrior kings”?  Historians have begun to explore what went wrong since the 1970s.  The early evidence suggests that complex social, economic, and cultural forces combined to wreck the foundations of American educational achievement.  The oil shocks of the 1970s put an end to an already troubled economic boom.  Families stopped valuing education as the pathway to success and stopped supporting the teachers who provided it.  Women’s Liberation took a lot of smart women out of career ghettos in teaching school (and nursing and bank-tellers and secetaries in offices), then replaced them with inferior substitutes.  They stopped buying encyclopedias and stopped subscribing to newspapers and magazines, and stopped taking their children to public libraries.  (Which have now become “social centers” with Ute and yentas grumbling at the top of their lungs.)  Divorces and re-marriages multiplied even though that meant that children had fewer resources and less family-support structures in challenging circumstances.  Trust in any and all institutions (understandably) declined.  (Hard to appreciate where those idiot anti-vaxxers come from otherwise.)  In short, the bourgeois social norms that had raised up individual “achievement” and collective “civilization” (along with its many injustices) went into a death spiral.

It would be un-fair to ask college administrators and faculty leaders at any one college or university to have the testicular fortitude to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  So, I’m doing it.

That’s my straw-man.  Knock it to bits.

[1] Although teachers and professors wrote a good deal of commentary in the margins of blue-books and essays.  Less common now because many people just score a rubric.  Leave the student to figure it out on their own.

Public Opinion on Donald Trump.

It has been a good six months for President Donald Trump.  He has transitioned from an insurgent Republican to the un-contested face of the party.  Public opinion polls suggests that his base represents about a third of the electorate.  Thus, a little over a quarter (27 percent) of Americans are proud to have Trump as president and think (29 percent) that Trump is “a good role model for children.”[1]  Just under a third (31 percent) approve his handling of the Russia investigation.[2]  Almost a third (32 percent) found Trump more credible than James Comey on Comey’s allegations.[3]  More than a third (36 percent) of all voters would vote for Trump over a Democrat.[4]  More than a third (37 percent) of Americans think that Trump is a better president than was Barack Obama.[5]  More than a third (37 percent) believe that Trump is competent to deal with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in a summit meeting.[6]  Half of Republicans don’t want another Republican candidate to stage a primary challenge to President Donald Trump in 2020.[7]  Two thirds (67 percent) of Republicans approve his handling of the Russia investigation.  Almost all (86 percent) Republicans approve his performance as president.[8]  It looks like Trump has a lock on re-nomination.

But could he be re-elected?  At least for the moment, Trump’s potential for re-election extends well beyond his narrow base.  Americans are pretty evenly divided—and on partisan lines–on some of Trump’s policies.  On policy toward Israel: 41 percent approve and 43 percent disapprove.  Some 80 percent of Republicans approve, while 72 percent of Democrats disapprove.[9]  On his suggestion to arm teachers: 44 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove.  Some 68 percent of Republicans approve and 74 percent of Democrats disapprove.[10]

Two thirds of Americans approved his decision to meet Kim Jong Un, despite misgivings about his abilities as a diplomat.[11]  Over half (52 percent) approve his management of the economy.[12]  Well over half (57 percent) of Americans believe that the country is on the right track.[13]  That is the highest figure since 2007.  In all these cases, his appeal extends beyond his core base and wins over some Democrats.  Whether that is true in a general election might well depend upon which Democrat gets the nomination.  No Hillary or Obama look-alike?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 February 2018, p. 17.  Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of Republicans think him a good role model.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 March 2018, p. 17.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 April 2018, p. 17.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 8 June 2018, p. 17.

[5] In a different poll, 21 percent ranked Obama as the worst president to serve since 1945.  “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 March 2018, p. 17.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 May 2018, p. 17.

[7] On the other hand, 38 percent of Republicans do want someone to challenge Trump, which means that 12 percent aren’t sure.  There remains a hard core of “Never Trump” Republicans who remain unpersuaded as well as a good number of doubters.  John McCain will not run against Trump in a primary, but Jeff Flake might well run.

[8] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 April 2018, p. 17.

[9] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 25 May 2018, p. 17.  So 28 percent of Democrats either approve or aren’t sure.

[10] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 March 2018, p. 17.  So, 26 percent of Democrats either approve or aren’t sure.

[11] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 May 2018, p. 17.

[12] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 18 May 2018, p. 17.  A halt to new regulations and a big tax cut for those who shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden, especially business.

[13] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 18 May 2018, p. 17.

Public Opinion in the Addams Administration 1.

It has become an age of bitter political polarization.  Everyone says so.  To take one small example, in January 2017, 16 percent of Democrats believed that Donald Trump was following ethics laws; 79 percent of Republican believed that Trump was complying with the laws.[1]  A month later, almost half (46 percent) of Americans wanted Donald Trump impeached.[2]

If the conventional wisdom is true, what is to be made of the areas of broad consensus in the American public?  Take four examples: allegations about the election of November 2016; climate change; health care, and abortion.

Almost three-quarters (70 percent) believe that President Barack Obama did not have Donald Trump’s communications tapped.  Fewer than one in five (19 percent) of Americans believe that President Obama had intelligence agencies wire-tap Trump.[3]  That leaves 11 percent “not sure.”  Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans saw Russia’s intervention in the presidential election as a “serious” issue.  Well over half (58 percent) of Americans believed that the allegations should be investigated by an independent prosecutor, while more than a third (35 percent) opposed an independent investigation.[4]

In 2015, only 27 percent of Americans described themselves as “believers” in climate change.  By early 2017, 50 percent described themselves as “believers.”  Another 31 percent believe in climate change, but think that it has been exaggerated by environmentalists and the media.[5]  Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans support the development of alternative energy sources, while just over a quarter (27 percent) support the development of fossil fuels.[6]

In 2016, 51 percent of Americans believed that the government should ensure that all Americans have health-care.  By early 2017, 60 percent believed this, while 38 percent believed that it is not the government’s job.[7]  As the Republican “repeal and replace” of Obamacare got moving, virtually all (96 percent) of Americans believed that it was either “somewhat” or “very” important that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance.  This included virtually all (91 percent) Republicans.  Almost as large numbers (84 percent) believed that the Affordable Care Act should not be repealed until a suitable replacement was ready.[8]

Finally, over half (54 percent) of Americans want the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, while less than a third (30 percent) want it overturned.[9]

So, if you leave it to ordinary Americans, women would retain their right to choose whether to bring a child into the world.  If you leave it to the Supreme Court, that may not be the case.  Of course, the Court might take the position that it does respect for the law in general no good if the courts drive huge numbers of people into disobeying a particular law.

The ground has shifted under the feet of the Trump administration (and the Republican Party) on climate change and health-care.  Their best course may be to pursue market-based policies to address both issues.  That is, declare “victory” and get out.

Democrats and Independents, if not every Republican, can smell a rat.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 January 2017, p. 17.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 17.  They probably expected him to be replaced by Hillary Clinton.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 7 April 2017, p. 17.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 17 March 2017, p. 17.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 7 April 2017, p. 17.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 17.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 January 2017, p. 17.

[8] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 10 February 2017, p. 17.

[9] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 17 February 2017, p. 17.