The Boston Massacre.

In 1768, the British government sent army troops to Boston, Massachusetts, to support the civil authorities in enforcing unpopular new laws.  The troops were equally unpopular as the laws.  On 5 March 1770, a crowd harassed a lone British sentry posted in the street before Boston’s Old State House.  An officer brought other soldiers to his support.  The crowd grew in size and emotional mobilization.  Long story short: the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five.  We remember this tragedy as “The Boston Massacre.”

The bloody events came at a moment of intense political polarization in Massachusetts.  The political middle ground had disappeared as the people of Massachusetts divided into a large majority opposed to the policies of the Crown and a minority who supported those policies.  By the end of March, the British soldiers and four civilian employees of the Customs House—who were alleged to have fired into the crowd from the windows of the building—were indicted for murder.

A pamphlet campaign—part of the larger pamphlet war that preceded the American Revolution—told strikingly different stories about the Boston Massacre.  That media war was full of curiosities.  For example, one of the most inflammatory—and untrue—portrayals of the events came in an illustration by Henry Pelham.  The illustration showed the British officer ordering his men to fire into the crowd and a musket fired from a window.  Paul Revere copied that illustration and presented it as his own.  Pelham himself turned into a Loyalist who left Boston with the British troops and the other Loyalists in March 1776.

John Adams, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence and future President of the United States, defended the British soldiers when they were tried for murder.  Adams argued that the soldiers had the right to fight to defend themselves against the mob.  If any of the soldiers were provoked but not actually in danger, then they were guilty of manslaughter.  His argument persuaded the jury.  The officer commanding and six of his men were acquitted; two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter.  They escaped the death penalty by pleading “benefit of clergy” (i.e. they could read and write, which was enough to escape the gallows in literate-deficient colonial America.)  Instead, they were branded.  On the thumb.

The four civilians who were alleged to have fired from within the building were tried later.  All were acquitted and the man who had testified against them was later convicted of perjury.

In retrospect, Adams concluded that “The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers[1] or Witches[2] anciently.”

I butcher History in this fashion because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently analogized his handling of the Trump-Russia investigation to John Adams’ defending the British soldiers.[3]    The related analogies will suggest themselves.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

[3] Katie Benner, “Rosenstein Answers Critics In an Impassioned Speech,” NYT, 27 April 2019.

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My Weekly Reader 6 May 2019.

Surveying the current “winter of our discontent,” one cannot but wonder what turned political differences into polarization.[1]  If we take the Sixties as the starting point, then the story might run something like the following.  John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1960 by a razor thin majority.  However, the Kennedy Administration pursued no divisive polices.  Abroad it remained within the mainstream of Cold War foreign policy.  At home, it kept the Civil Rights movement at arm’s length and could not muster legislative support for any other major initiatives.

The assassination of Kennedy brought Lyndon Johnson to the White House.  Johnson seized the opportunity to shift government policy at home and abroad.  Formed by his youthful encounter with poverty and injustice, and a determined supporter of the New Deal, Johnson sought to “complete” the New Deal to address the needs of a different time.  Johnson won passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), then crushed his Republican rival in the 1964 election.  Secure in victory and backed by a powerful shift to the left in Congress, Johnson’s legislative program created the “Great Society” structures.  Many of these are with us still.[2]

Catastrophically, however, to win election, Johnson had closed off Republican charges that Democrats were soft on Communism by using the Tonkin Gulf incident (or non-cident) to begin committing American ground troops to combat roles in South Vietnam.

Furthermore, no one in Washington foresaw the huge social upheaval when the “Baby Boom” passed through the Sixties.  “Sex and drugs and rock-and-roll,” demonstrations in the streets and on campuses, and the further development of the Civil Rights movement demanded a response.  Many Democrats embraced these causes, while many Republicans reacted against them.  (In California, the backlash made Ronald Reagan—a former Goldwater supporter—governor and a polarizing national political figure.)  The Vietnam War poured fuel on the fire.  Then the Pentagon Papers (1971) and Watergate (1972-1974) created a distrust of Washington.  That distrust fed a longing for “outsiders”: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Obama, Trump.

These events set the pattern as policy issues have divided Americans.  Abortion, gun control, gay rights and marriage equality, forced busing for school integration and affirmative action, drug policy, taxation, and welfare all became embattled.[3]  There is something to be said on both sides of most of these issues, but now no one is listening to the other side.

What made each of these issues so bitterly divisive has been the conflict between federal and state power.  Most of the Bill of Rights was “incorporated” during the Sixties, while the Warren Court delivered a series of other decisions that rocked state preferences.  Republicans have opposed this universalizing of rights on the grounds that it amounts to an imposition of Democratic beliefs on Republicans by court decisions and executive actions.  The courts themselves are as embattled as the rest of us.  Except those who have checked out in disgust.

[1] For a contrary view to what follows, see: Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer, Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 (2019).

[2] Julian Zelizer, “The Fierce Urgency of Now”: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society (2015).  Marvelous book.  Excellent scholarship, but written for the “intelligent general public.”

[3] The case of Roy Moore in Alabama is illustrative.  Allegations of sexual misconduct dogged Moore and caused many Republicans to sit out the election, but many other Republicans voted for Moore because his opponent supported “choice”—which is, in their minds, “baby murder.”

Migrants 1.

Social scientists posit that people experiencing disturbing social change can seize on particularist identities like ethnicity or nationality.  Demographic change and economic change and shifting social values all can trigger such a response.  On the other hand, cultural and economic elites in Western countries celebrate the free flow of goods and labor.  They also have developed more cosmopolitan views than have many fellow citizens.[1]

Illegal immigration provides a good example of the particularist-cosmopolitan tension.  In recent times, illegal migration has become easier than ever before in history.  In both Europe and America bitter quarrels over immigration rack politics.[2]  These controversies arise not from heavy current immigration, but from heavy prior immigration.  More importantly, the general backlash against elites–who led us to war in Iraq and then into the financial crisis—has ensnared migrants.

Illegal migration to the United States dropped sharply during the Great Recession.  It hasn’t picked up immensely in the past year.  However, that still leaves 10-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  Human symbols of elite failure.  Liberals insisting on calling them “undocumented immigrants”—as if there is just some bureaucratic foul-up in Washington—adds fuel to the fire.  President Obama’s skirting of the law angered many people.  Illegal immigration in the European Union is more recent.  There the flood of migrants from various failed states mixes with refugees from war-torn Muslim states.

People leave their “shithole” countries for good reasons and not just on a whim.  Until conditions in those countries improve, there is not likely to be a significant drop in attempts at illegal immigration.  To complicate matters further, while many of the migrants are economic migrants, the law allows them to request asylum as victims of persecution.  This clogs the immigration system and delays repatriation.

In light of this reality, attention has turned to deterring them from reaching American or European soil in the first place.  Europeans have negotiated with pathway countries—Libya, Sudan, and Turkey—to stem the departures for Europe.  The implementation of those agreements involves a good deal of brutality that is much worse than anything suffered by Central American migrants to the United States.  Mexico is unwilling to play that sort of role for the United States.  The “zero tolerance” policy attempted by a Trump administration grown tired of waiting for Congressional approval of a border wall offers another form of deterrence.

Cosmopolitans sometimes phrase the choice in a misleading way: “What sort of society do they wish to be?  Do they wish to be immigrant nations with continual demographic and cultural change?”  First, both the European Union and the United States have long had substantial legal immigration.  Second, it is legitimate to debate what kinds of immigrants best serve the interests of the community.

[1] Benjamin Barber, Jihad and McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Shaping World Society (1996).  Barber’s analysis remains engaging, but it wasn’t new.  Late-Nineteenth Century sociologists had identified the problem of anomie.  For that matter, historians long ago diagnosed the rise of “mystery” religions as a response to the cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

[2] Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, “In U.S. and Europe, Conflict Over Migration Points to Political Problems,” NYT, 30 June 2018.

The Deep State.

Anyone who paid attention to the Egyptian coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, or to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s battering of the Turkish military, civil bureaucracy, and intellectuals after a failed coup will have encountered the term “deep state.”  It refers to networks of officers, bureaucrats, journalists, and businessmen who actually control government by concerted actions behind the scenes.[1]  The “deep state” endures across generations, rather than being a momentary conspiracy; it recruits its members by invitation, rather than by public competition; and it is inherently un-democratic, both in its means of operation and its ability to manipulate the course of elected governments.  However, Middle Eastern societies seem particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Now the term has surfaced in American politics.   Breitbart News, other right-wing web-sites, and the social media feeds of many Trump supporters have been using the term for a while now.  When President Trump’s supposed “grey eminence,” Steve Bannon, used the term “administrative state” in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the New York Times construed his words to refer to the “deep state.”[2]  Newt Gingrich seemed to be playing Charlie McCarthy to Bannon’s Edgar Bergen when he said that “We’re up against a permanent bureaucratic structure defending itself and quite willing to break the law to do so.”  Their aim is to undermine the Trump presidency.   Some even see this conspiracy as being directed by former President Barack Obama, who announced his willingness to break the traditional silence of former presidents when the new administration threatened “our core values.”[3]  (This view ignores the roll-out of HealthCare.gov.)

Former Obama administration government officials rushed to denounce the charge, albeit in circumspect language.  One said that “deep state” is “a phrase we’ve used for Turkey and other countries like that, but not for the American republic.”[4]  Another expressed surprise that a president would suggest that civil servants would try to undermine the government.  So, that’s settled.[5]   The NYT sought to normalize this as habitual Republican back-biting.

What gets lost in this unseemly mud-slinging is the pedigree of the issue.  In his 1959 farewell address Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “military-industrial complex.”  In the 1960s and again in the last few years, well-informed people have analyzed the power of the national security bureaucracy.  Sandwiched in between these Jeremiads, the journalist-turned-open-novelist Fletcher Knebel hit the best-seller lists with “Seven Days in May” (1962), about a military coup, and “The Night of Camp David” (1965), about a crazy president.  More recently, Chalmers Johnson published three books on the costs of “empire.”  Democracy was chief among them.[6]  Well-informed people haven’t taken the issue as a joke.  Even if everyone else does.

Is there a “deep state” in America?  Of course not.  What seems more likely, and disturbing, is that there is a momentary open quarrel between a president and the national security professionals.   Would such a quarrel precipitate the formation of a “deep state”?

[1] If this is true, then the common public discourse and action beloved of academics has little real meaning.  Instead, the books on the shelves of junior army officers and school principals, and conferences on the middle floors of government ministries or dinner meetings in private homes hold the key to understanding events.

[2] Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “’Deep State’?  Until Now It Was a Foreign Concept,” NYT, 7 March 2017.

[3] It is worth comparing these remarks with the boom in sales of dystopian novels to alarmed Democrats.

[4] OK, so what’s the American term?  The NYT reporter did not ask.

[5] Although it doesn’t seem to have been the Russkies who leaked to the press news compromising National Security Adviser-for-a-Day Michael Flynn.

[6] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/13/cinay-sayers/;and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalmers_Johnson

Pret-a-penser.

“Americans’ deep bias against the political party they oppose is so strong that it acts as a kind of partisan prism for facts.”  It “now operates more like racism than mere political disagreement,…”[1]  The deepening antipathy to the opposition party seems to have begun in the 1980s.[2]

That is, disputes over policy issues now seem to entail a positive or negative judgment of the person making the argument.[3]  One researcher suggests that “we [now] hold party identity as something akin to gender, ethnicity, or race—the core traits that we use to describe ourselves to others.”[4]  Just as exogamous marriage (across racial or social class divides) is much less common than endogamous marriage, politically exogamous marriage is rare.  One survey found only 9 percent of marriages were between a Republican and a Democrat.

Apparently, neither Republican nor Democratic voters adopt a critical stance when evaluating information.  Instead, they tend to rely on the endorsement of that information by someone or some organization that they already trust.  Given the increasingly cloistered political communities in which they dwell, the people to whom others look for endorsement tend to be people with essentially the same beliefs.[5]  Deeply partisanized voters seek out or respond to negative stories about the opposition party and politicians.  The endless liking/sharing of political posts on Facebook publically affirms membership in the group.[6]  There is a greater danger than thrown drinks or thrown punches among individuals.[7]  Politicians have already cleared out the middle ground in most legislatures.  What if they are driven to adopt ever-more extreme positions to keep up with their bases?

Something similar happened in Europe between the two World Wars.  Pre-First World War politics had pitted conservatives against liberals, with rapidly growing socialist parties marginalized to the extreme left.  The war changed all this in many places.  Wartime grievances among workers at first enlarged the socialist parties.[8]  However, the Russian Revolution created the Communists as an entirely new and more radical party on the left.  At about the same time, a radical new party emerged on Europe’s right, the Italian Fascists.  Early in the Thirties, the Great Depression sent voters in many places streaming toward other parties of the radical right, like the Nazi Party in Germany and the various “ligues” in France.  The effect of the radical movements on the extremes came in the democratic Socialists having to talk more like the Communists and the conservatives having to talk more like the fascists.  The middle ground in politics, where compromise traditionally had taken place, began to clear out.  Democratic systems on the Continent became paralyzed as the need for action became dire.

Then came running and screaming.

[1] Amanda Taub, “Partisanship Is the Real Story Behind Fake News,” NYT, 12 January 2017.

[2] That would trace the roots to the period of the Reagan Administration, followed—eventually—by the Clinton Administration.

[3] This may include supposedly dispassionate researchers investigating the phenomenon.  One quoted in Amanda Taub’s story says “If I’m a rabid Trump voter and I don’t know much about public affairs,…”

[4] Can Republican and Democratic bathrooms be far behind?

[5] Thus, many Republicans would lap up news from Fox, while many Democrats would look to MoveOn.org for all their meme needs.

[6] We’ve got the “Australian ballot.”  Maybe we could use the “Australian opinion”?

[7] This link shows one example.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8HGTmANHyU  However, two cousins (Democrats) returning from the Midwest just after the Republican convention said that they felt threatened by the pro-Trump people on the plane.

[8] In the case of Britain, the Labour Party soon eclipsed the Liberal Party.

It ain’t necessarily so 1.

In 2002, a campaign finance law outlawed political spending by either unions or corporations during the last sixty days before an election.[1]  In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned this law in its “Citizens United” decision.  This led to widespread outrage among Democrats, who portrayed the decision as allowing millionaires and billionaires to buy all the political power they wanted.  Certainly, it looked like the Koch Brothers wanted to buy the 2016 election if it was for sale: they announced plans to spend almost $900 million in support of favored candidates.   That is as much as either of the two major parties.

Recent presidential elections haven’t done much to support this theory.  In the 2012 election Mitt Romney got beat by Barack Obama.  So far in the 2016 presidential primaries, Jeb Bush piled up a war-chest of $100 million, then got run off the road.  Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton have raised $362 million; the last six Republican candidates raised $286 million.  Sanders, with $182 million, and Clinton, with $180 million, far out stripped Ted Cruz, with $78.2 million.  As for Donald Trump, he has raised about $50 million.[2]  Current guestimations are that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and the White House.

Democrats fume that the rich still control everything because of their influence behind the scenes and because their ads resonate with idiots.  Even if the Democrats do win the White House on occasion, they can’t get anything done because of the obstruction by the Congressional toadies of the rich.   Journalist Jane Mayer has done much to highlight the influence—real or imagined–of the Koch brothers.[3]  It’s difficult to know exactly how much influence the Kochs have had.  Much of their money has gone to shaping the intellectual debate on the role of government.  Thus, they have donated to libertarian-leaning think-tanks and universities.[4]  A lot of it has gone to support right-wing challengers to mainstream Republicans in primaries.  This, it is said, compels mainstream Republicans to veer right to fend off challengers.

This argument works on the unspoken assumption that Republican voters themselves have moved farther right even as mainstream Republican politicians remained more centrist until challenged in a primary election.  Why might Republican voters have come to believe in a smaller government?  At the risk of forcing square pegs into round holes, consider a couple of statistics.  First, 22.4 percent of workers now need a government license to get and keep their jobs.  Nearly 20 percent of those in non-medical fields needed such a license.[5]  Second, on average, people spend 35 hours a year filling out government forms of one kind or another.[6]  However, adults fill out forms for their children and often for their own elderly parents.  For these people—who are of voting age—the real amount of time spent filling out forms might be double or triple the average.  So, a work-week or two out of their lives each year.  Perhaps this is part of what has shifted some voters to the right?

[1] “Citizens United: Has big money lost its power?” The Week, 29 January 2016, p. 17.

[2] http://elections.uscommonsense.org/

[3] Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (New York: Doubleday, 2016).

[4] Recently, the editorial pages of the New York Times have witnessed much hand-wringing over the absence of conservative voices in academia.  This is attributed to an apparent liberal bias in hiring.  The effect, however, is to provide the Democratic Party with an army of spokesmen for the pro-government argument.  On the other hand, much of the funding for these spokesmen is traceable.  Much of it comes from taxes and tuition paid by people who are not on the left.

[5] “The bottom line,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 36.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 16.

In re: Donald Trump as crazy person.

Three months ago, Paul Krugman pointed out that Donald Trump is the only Republican candidates who is willing to raise taxes on the rich and who has something to say in favor of universal health care.[1] While Krugman goes on to denounce Trump for “his implicit racism” what is really interesting about Krugman’s analysis comes later in the column. Krugman argues that, when it comes to economics, Trump is voicing what a lot of the Republican base actually believes. However, their views have never been articulated in recent years because the Republican Party’s elected representatives are chained to a demonstrably failed economic ideology. The chains are campaign donations from wealthy donors.[2] The Republican politicians have been living in a fool’s paradise. Trump is rich enough in his own right to run for president while speaking his own mind. Even if Trump doesn’t capture (Please, oh please) the Republican nomination, his campaign is likely to shift the terms of debate inside the party, and not necessarily in the way that Democratic pundits have been predicting.

What if Donald Trump is also articulating what a lot of Americans think on other issues?

Opinion polls in October 2015 revealed that almost half of Americans (46 percent) supported building a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico.[3] A slightly larger share (48 percent) opposes building a wall. Six percent aren’t sure. While the core of the base for building is Republican (73 percent of them approve it), there are also a good number of Democrats (perhaps a third) and fewer than half (less than 48 percent) of Independents. Nothing in the polling reveals how much voters assign primacy to this issue in comparison to other issues.

In 2011, 47 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values. By November 2015, 56 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values.[4] In late November 2015, 56 percent of Americans were against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States. In contrast, 41 percent favored accepting Syrian refugees.[5] That leaves only 3 percent who “aren’t sure.” In sum, on these issues at least, America is divided into two big and solid blocks. To my mind, President Obama is right in his belief that Muslims and America are compatible and in his willingness to accept Syrian refugees. However, right at the moment, he isn’t with the country on these issues.

Well, he doesn’t have to be. He’s a lame-duck president facing a Republicans opposition in control of both houses of Congress. He isn’t going to get any legislation passed unless it’s in line with what Republicans want. He is likely to rely on executive orders and regulatory changes that get tied up in the courts, and on public excoriation of the voters for not “getting it.”

What if the Republican Party isn’t the only party whose leaders are tied to an ideology that its voters really don’t accept? What if, just for the sake of speculation, there are a bunch of Democrats who are social progressives, but economic moderates? Bernie Sanders appeals to social and economic “progressives.” In November 2016 that seems likely to be a small slice of the pie. It’s easy and comforting to think that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. Can she?

[1] Paul Krugman, “Trump Is Right on Economics,” NYT, 7 September 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/07/opinion/paul-krugman-trump-is-right-on-economics.html?_r=0

[2] This suggests that Republican voters have supported people who don’t share their economic beliefs because the alternative would be to vote for Democrats who might share some of their economic beliefs, but whose views on social issues they reject. So much for Marxism.

[3] This is a separate question from who should pay for such a wall.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 17.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 4 December 2015, p. 19.