Friday, September 13, 2019

The Collapse of Trump's Republican Party in 2020

Michael Anton warned us that even if we charged the cockpit in 2016 to avoid the certain death coming from Hillary Clinton's election, we might still die by electing Donald Trump.

"You--or the leader of your party--may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane."  "A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.  With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances."

So, we might ask, now that the Republican Party has been playing Russian Roulette with Trump, how has that been working out for them?

Anton's warning about the possible death of America is actually a fear of the death of the Republican Party.  The Democratic Party represents "half the country and all our elites," Anton admits, and the surging growth in the American electorate favoring the Democratic Party has been so rapid that the Republican Party could become the permanent minority party by 2020.  To save the Republican Party from death, therefore, Trump must increase the size of the electoral coalition supporting the Republican Party.

Has he done that?  The evidence from the past two and a half years--the 2016 election, the 2018 midterm elections, the popular protests against Trump, and voter opinion surveys--all suggest the answer is no.

In 2016, Trump was running against a remarkably flawed opponent who ran a poorly designed campaign, and yet Trump still lost the popular vote by almost three million votes.

On January 20, 2017, Trump's inauguration crowd in Washington was noticeably smaller than President Obama's massive crowd eight years earlier.  So much so, that Trump fumed about the "fake news" photographs of the crowds.  The next day the Women's Marches against Trump brought out over 2 million people across the country--673 marches in all 50 states--which might have been the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history.

As I have argued in a previous post (here), in the 2018 midterm elections, Trump suffered a massive defeat in what he himself framed as a national referendum on his policies--particularly, immigration.  This was the biggest gain for the Democrats in a midterm election since 1974, in the aftermath of Watergate and Nixon's resignation.  The victory in the House would have been even greater for the Democrats were it not for the Republican gerrymandering in states like Ohio and North Carolina.  Democrats won House seats in some of the most solidly Republican districts in the country.  For example, Orange County, California, now has not a single Republican representative in the House!

Remember that in the weeks before the midterms, Trump sent military troops to the southern border to stop the "invasion" of America by a massive caravan of criminal and terrorist immigrants who were supposedly coming to kill and rape Americans.  The voters repudiated this anti-immigration rhetoric in the midterm elections, which illustrates how the electoral support for illiberal populists like Trump must decline over time, because of the enduring appeal of the libertarian values of the Liberal Enlightenment.

In an article in the New York Times, and in his new book--R.I.P. G.O.P.: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans--Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg surveys the evidence suggesting that Trump has accelerated the collapse of the Republican Party into becoming a permanent minority party.

For example, there is evidence that Trump's populist anti-immigrant rhetoric has backfired.  Since 1994, surveys have asked voters:  Do you believe that immigrants "strengthen the country with their hard work and talents"?  Or do you believe that they "burden the country by taking jobs, housing, and health care"?  In 1994, 63% answered that immigrants were a burden on the country; and only 31% answered that they strengthened the country.  In 2017, this had completely reversed: 65% said immigrants strengthened the country, while only 26% said they were a burden.  Surveys indicate that one of the prime motivations of voters in the "blue wave" 2018 midterms was rejecting Trump's crude anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Until recently, as analyzed by Greenberg, the Republican Party base has been a coalition of five voting blocks: evangelical conservatives (26%), moderates (23%), secular conservatives (18%), Tea Party conservatives (17%), and Catholic conservatives (16%).  Now, in 2019, the moderates have dropped from 23% to 16%; and the secular conservatives have dropped from 18% to 14%.

The demographic profile of the Republican Party has moved toward older, white, male, native-born, religious, less educated, and rural voters.  So the increase in younger, non-white, female, foreign-born, secular, educated, and urban voters favors the Democratic Party.

While Greenberg rightly sees all of these trends as pushing the Republican Party towards being a minority party, I agree with Eric Levitz (here) that Greenberg does not give enough weight to the structural features of American electoral politics that can allow a minority Republican Party to exert great power.  Even if the Republican Party is unpopular, it can control the Senate because the equal representation of the 50 states inflates the power of Republican voters in sparsely populated rural areas of the states in Middle America.  And as long as they control the Senate, they can control the appointment of federal judges, and the federal judiciary (including the Supreme Court) is a powerful countermajoritarian force.  Senate Republicans can refuse to confirm any judicial appointees of a Democratic President.

As I have suggested in some previous posts, there is a deeper cultural or philosophical dimension to the decline of the Republican Party that deserves more thought.  The triumph of the Liberal Enlightenment over the past two centuries favors the libertarian values of modernity embraced by the typical voting blocs of the Democratic Party.  But as the Republican Party has adopted the counter-Enlightenment values of illiberal populism, it has had to stand against liberal modernity--for example, by resisting the free global movement of ideas, trade, and people and the expansion of personal liberty in civil society (as in gay marriage, for instance).  Thirty years ago, the conservative thought of the Republican Party was based on a "fusionist" conception of liberal conservatism that combined political liberty and social virtue, which was open to liberal modernity.  But now the illiberal populism of Trumpism has rejected this liberal conservatism, and in doing so, it has doomed the Republican Party to appealing to only a minority of the voters who think (mistakenly) that the Liberal Enlightenment is an attack on their traditionalist conservative values.

I written about the fusionism of liberal conservatism here, here, here., and here.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

"Charge the Cockpit or You Die": Michael Anton's "Flight 93 Election" and the Question of Trump's Authoritarianism

                                                   Michael Anton at the White House

On September 5, 2016, the Claremont Review of Books published online Michael Anton's essay "The Flight 93 Election," which began this way:
"2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway.  You--or the leader of your party--may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane.  There are no guarantees."
"Except one: if you don't try, death is certain.  To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.  With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances" (61).
Two days later, on September 7, Rush Limbaugh began reading "The Flight 93 Election" in its entirety on the air.  The website for the Claremont Review of Books crashed from the flood of people trying to access the article.  Anton has said that many people have told him that his article persuaded them to vote for Trump.  At the very least, this signified that the Claremont Institute had decided to support Trump, and so most of the "West Coast Straussians" would be Trumpets.  Anton has served for a time as a national security official in the Trump Administration.

"Charge the cockpit or you die."  Was Anton right about that?  Is it true that the election of Hillary Clinton would have meant that "death is certain"?  Death of whom or what?  Has Donald Trump's presidency saved us or saved America from death?  If so, how so?  And if Trump has saved us from death, does that mean that we will still die if he is defeated in 2020?  If that is so, does that mean that we should hope that he will refuse to step down if he loses the next election, because if a Democrat becomes President, "death is certain"?  Or does Anton's claim that the Democratic Party poses an existential threat to America manifest a dangerously apocalyptic rhetoric that could support Trumpian demagogic authoritarianism?

The publication this year of Anton's After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote that Saved America and What We Still Have to Lose (Encounter Books) helps us to think about those questions.  This book reprints Anton's original article and some new writing defending the article.  His "Pre-Statement on Flight 93" (23-59) provides his Aristotelian philosophic account of how the "American Solution" can be rooted in both the universality of human nature and the particularity of the American nation.  Also helpful is Anton's online essay "Toward a Sensible, Coherent Trumpism," which was originally published by the online Journal of American Greatness, and his essay "Will the Real Authoritarian Please Stand Up?" published in the Claremont Review of Books (summer 2018).

A good profile of Anton was published two years ago in Vanity Fair, with the title "Machiavelli in the White House: Is This the Most Powerful Man in Trump's Administration?"  Anton became the senior communications director for Trump's National Security Council under Michael Flynn and then H. R. McMaster.  He was forced to leave in the spring of 2018 when John Bolton took McMaster's place as national security adviser.  Now Anton is based in Washington, DC, and he has an affiliation with Hillsdale College.

Death of whom or what?  I assume that Anton was not suggesting that Clinton was leading a terrorist gang trying to kill as many Americans as possible.  So what was her death threat?  Anton wrote: "The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes.  And how does one deal with a Nazi--that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction?  You don't compromise with him or leave him alone.  You crush him" (69).

Anton's claim seems to be that the two political parties are in a deadly war, because each side believes that the other side will use electoral victory to "crush" the losers.  Anton spoke of "the Left's all-consuming drive for absolute power, its hostility to all American and Western norms--constitutional, moral, prudential--and its boundless destructive enmity" (11).  Anton warned that "the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally America with every cycle" (70-71).  He observed: "This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die.  Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live.  I want my party to live.  I want my country to live.  I want my people to live.  I want to end the insanity" (72).

If Hillary wins, Anton explained, "the country will go on, but it will not be a constitutional republic.  It will be a blue state on a national scale.  Only one party will really matter.  A Republican may win now and again--once in a generation, perhaps--but only a neutered one who has 'updated' all his positions so as to be more in tune with the new electorate" (93).

On the one side of this war to the death, Trump fights for the true Americans, the middle-class Americans, who are not Third World immigrants or urban poor minorities or cosmopolitan elites, and these Trump voters support constitutional republicanism.  On the other side, Hillary and the Democrats represent "half the country and all our elites" (21), who wish to overturn the constitutional republic and replace it with one-party rule with absolute power to rule over the country.  Actually, "half the country" is a majority of the voters, because as Anton indicates, the Republicans have lost the popular vote for the presidency in every election since 1988 except for 2004; and in 2004, Bush won with only 50.7 percent (69-70).  And, of course, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary in 2016; and he lost again in the mid-term congressional elections in 2018.  Moreover, as increasing immigration from the Third World adds to the anti-American electorate for the Democratic Party, the Republican Party will almost never win the popular vote in the future.

Anton employs a populist rhetoric that presents a Manichaean war between good and evil--the virtuous People versus the evil Elites.  This becomes complicated, however, as soon as one notices that some of the People are evil, because they vote for the evil Elites, and some of the Elites are virtuous (like Trump and Anton) because they lead the virtuous People against the evil Elites.  Furthermore, the virtuous People are a minority of the voters, and so they will often lose any contest based on simple majority rule. Anton worries that the electorate for the Democrats is growing so fast that they might have an overwhelming permanent majority by 2020.

If Trump loses the election in 2020, then what?  Since Anton supports constitutional government, one might expect that he would say that the Constitution requires Trump to step down.  But if Anton is right about his claim that a government controlled by the Democrats would destroy constitutional republicanism, establish absolute one-party rule, crush all of their opponents, and set up an anti-American government, wouldn't he have to hope that Trump would declare a state of emergency in response to a "rigged election," and rule by executive decree in punishing the "enemies of the people"?  Doesn't this follow logically from Anton's argument?  If a Democrat winning the presidency means "death is certain" for Republicans and for the true America they love, shouldn't Republicans "charge the cockpit" and allow Trump to pilot the plane for life, regardless of whether he has lost an election?  This would confirm the fear felt by many of Trump's critics that he is a populist authoritarian.

The scholarly critics of Trump have argued that his populist propensity to authoritarianism confirms the fear of demagoguery expressed by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist.  "History will teach us," Hamilton warned, "that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants" (no. 1).  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (in How Democracies Die [2018]) quotes this as showing that the American founders saw the need for "gatekeepers" to filter out candidates for the presidency who could become dangerous demagogues.  Originally, the Electoral College was to perform this gatekeeping function: as Hamilton said in Federalist number 68, "the office of president will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications," because men with "talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity" would be filtered out.

The rise of the two-party system in the early 1800s changed the way the Electoral College worked, because each state legislature began to elect delegates to the Electoral College who were loyal to their party.  Thus, the parties took over the gatekeeping function.  It was then up to party leaders to choose candidates for the presidency who would be popular, while keeping out demagogues.  At first, presidential candidates were chosen by caucuses of congressmen in Washington.  Then, beginning in the 1830s, candidates were nominated in national party conventions with delegates chosen by state and local party committees.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Progressives denounced the convention system as undemocratic, and they introduced presidential primaries in some states as a more democratic way to select presidential candidates without gatekeeping by party leaders.  But many states did not have primaries, and elected delegates were not required to support the candidates who won the primaries.  So party insiders continued to act as gatekeepers who filtered out extremist demagogues.

For example, Henry Ford was one of the richest and most famous men in the world, and he used his wealth and his celebrity to advance his extremist views--such as campaigning against Jewish banking interests--and possibly running for the presidency in 1924 as a Democrat or a Republican.  In the summer of 1923, national polls conducted by Collier's showed Ford to be the most popular candidate.  But party leaders ruled him out.  Senator James Couzens said his candidacy was "most ridiculous"--"how can a man over sixty years old, who . . . has no training, no experience, aspire to such an office?"

Party gatekeeping in selecting presidential nominees continued up to 1968, when Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic Party's nomination without competing in the presidential primaries.  But the violent protests against Humphrey at the Democratic Convention in Chicago provoked a demand for a more democratic procedure for nominating presidential candidates.  Under the influence of the Democratic Party's McGovern-Fraser Commission, both parties adopted a system of binding presidential primaries beginning in 1972, which was intended to fulfill the original plan of the Progressives for primaries as a purely democratic procedure that would circumvent party gatekeepers.  Political scientists Nelson Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky warned that primaries could "lead to the appearance of extremist candidates and demagogues," who "have little to lose by stirring up mass hatreds or making absurd promises."

Some outsiders were able to run in the presidential primaries--such as Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Pat Robertson in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992, 1996, and 2000, and Steve Forbes in 1996.  But they all lost.  Winning a majority of delegates in primaries all over the country required first winning the support of party elites, which was called by Arthur Hadley in 1976 the "invisible primary," which preserved a form of gatekeeping.

In 2015 and 2016, Trump broke through the invisible primary by using his wealth, his celebrity, and his bombastic rhetoric to win primaries without the support of the party establishment.  The gatekeepers failed to stop him, and a demagogue was nominated and then elected president.

Levitsky and Ziblatt tell this story to show that the American founders were right about the need for gatekeeping to keep demagogues out of the presidency.  Oddly, in his review of their book, Anton says nothing about this ("The Real Authoritarian").  But in his support of Trump, Anton implicitly rejects the founders' position and embraces the Progressives' argument that presidential primaries and elections should allow the most popular candidate to win, because gatekeeping to filter out demagogues is undemocratic.

The problem, however, as Levitsky and Ziblatt argue, is that democratically elected demagogues can easily become authoritarian leaders who overturn democracy itself.  In recent history, Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, and Viktor Orban in Hungary have all begun as democratically elected leaders who became authoritarians suppressing democratic norms.

Levitsky and Ziblatt see four key indicators of authoritarian behavior: (1) rejection of democratic rules of the game, (2) denial of the legitimacy of political opponents, (3) toleration or encouragement of violence, and (4) readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.  They see Trump as showing all four indicators of authoritarianism.  He has questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process by claiming that millions of votes were cast illegally for Clinton in 2016.  He has denied the legitimacy of his political opponents by saying that they are criminals, unpatriotic, and anti-American.  He has tolerated or encouraged violence against those who lead protests against him.  He has threatened to curtail the civil liberties of his opponents by suggesting that libel or defamation laws should restrict criticism from his political opponents or from the news media.

Levitsky and Ziblatt concede, however, that on all four points, "the president has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not be realized," and therefore, "we did not cross the line into authoritarianism" in the first year of Trump's term (187).  But that's just the point, Anton insists: "Trump has said some ill-advised things," but "he hasn't acted on any of it" ("Real Authoritarian," 9).

And yet Anton does not respond to the point made by Levitsky and Ziblatt that some elected demagogues who became authoritarian--like Fujimori, Erdogan, and Orban--did not show their authoritarianism during the first year or two after they were elected.  They moved gradually in that direction.  So the question is whether Trump shows an authoritarian propensity that could be fully expressed over time.

As I have already indicated, we see that authoritarian propensity in Anton's arguments.  If the election of a Democratic President means "death is certain," doesn't that suggest that Trump would be justified in any authoritarian suppression of such an electoral outcome?

On the contrary, Anton contends, the real threat of authoritarianism today comes not from the Right but from the Left--from Leftist leaders like Hugo Chavez and Leftist support for the administrative state.  He accuses Levitsky and Ziblatt of showing their left-wing bias by restricting their criticism of Chavez to only four pages of their book, so that they can devote the rest of the book to attacking right-wing authoritarianism ("Real Authoritarian," 8).  But Anton does not tell his readers that Levitsky and Ziblatt actually offer extensive references to Chavez covering over 23 pages of their 231 page book.

I agree with Anton that the concentration of power in the fourth branch of government--the administrative state--is the greatest authoritarian threat to American democracy, and therefore we could see Trump as an anti-authoritarian leader if he were attacking the administrative state.  But I don't see that Trump is really working for the "deconstruction of the administrative state," as Steve Bannon called it.

Here is a video of Susan Dudley speaking on "Is the Trump Administration Deconstructing the Administrative State?"  She shows that there has been a clear reduction in the number of new major regulations.  But slowing the growth in new regulations is not the same as cutting back regulation by the administrative state.  Trump has claimed that he was going to cut back to the levels of 1960.  There is no evidence that he is trying to do that.  The deregulatory actions that his administration has taken are very small--mostly reducing paperwork but not really decreasing regulation.

Moreover, as Dudley points out, the Trump Administration has largely failed in its court cases involving its regulatory changes--losing 34 cases out of 36.

The fundamental problem here is that the Trump Administration has relied mostly on presidential decrees that can easily be rescinded by a new President.  If the Trump Administration were serious about "deconstructing the administrative state," they would do so by supporting legislation that would radically reduce the power of the administrative state by having the Congress reclaim the lawmaking powers that it has delegated to the administrative agencies.

One example of how this could be done is the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act," which has been proposed in the 115th Congress.  This would require Congressional approval of any administrative rule that would impose compliance costs of more than $100 million a year, so that if Congress failed to approve the rule in 70 days after its promulgation, it be rendered void.  If the Congress were to pass such legislation, I am not sure that Trump would sign it, because it would restrict his power working through the regulatory state in favor of congressional power.

It is also remarkable that Anton says nothing about Trump's trade war as a massive increase in the regulatory state based on arbitrary presidential decrees without any congressional authorization.  How is this not presidential authoritarianism?

Some of my previous posts on Trump's chimpanzee politics can be found hereherehereherehere, and here.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Leo Strauss's Silly Idea: "There Are No Gods But the Philosophers"

At the APSA panel on Friday morning, I made the point--but I did not stress it enough--that my fundamental disagreement with Catherine Zuckert was over her acceptance and my rejection of Strauss's claim that the philosophic life is the only naturally good life.  While Catherine thinks this is a great idea, I think it is a silly idea.

In my response to her comments, which is reproduced in my previous post, I restated some of my reasoning from my chapter on Strauss in Political Questions for why Shadia Drury was right about this and why the Zuckerts (in The Truth About Leo Strauss) did not adequately answer Drury's criticism of Strauss.

This dispute turns on how one sees the natural desires of human nature.  My argument is that the good is the desirable, and the natural good is the satisfaction of the natural desires.  The generic human good requires the satisfaction of all or most of those desires to some degree, but the ranking of those desires varies according to the natural temperament, capacities, and circumstances of individuals, and prudence is required for that individualized ranking.

I agree with Strauss that the philosophic life is best for only a few people--the "very few individuals who are by nature fit for philosophy," because they are animated by the "natural desire" to know--people like Socrates.  But I disagree with Strauss's claim that this philosophic life is the only naturally good life, and that moral lives, religious lives, and political lives are the lives of "mutilated human beings."  Most human beings are fit by nature for such lives because they are naturally fitted for ranking some natural desires--such as familial bonding, friendship, social status, and religious understanding--as higher than the natural desire for intellectual understanding.

Strauss's mistake was in his silly assertion that philosophers are god-like in their transcendence of ordinary human life: "If we understand by God the most perfect being that is a person, there are no gods but the philosophers."

Nietzsche was right in Human, All Too Human in saying that the belief that some human beings are "superhuman" (ubermenschlich) is a "religious or half-religious superstition."  In his later writings, Nietzsche affirmed a Dionysian atheistic religiosity with a vision of the superhuman artist-philosopher exercising will to power over all of humanity, and it is this later Nietzsche who has appealed to Strauss and the Straussians.

The Nietzsche of Human, All Too Human supports a Darwinian liberalism, because Nietzsche here sees that evolved human nature shows a range of natural desires, and he sees that the freedom of a liberal democracy allows for the expression of all those natural desires as diversely expressed in different kinds of lives, all of which can be justified as naturally good, including Nietzsche's own philosophic life of the Socratic "free spirit."

When I was speaking at the panel, Catherine shook her head repeatedly to indicate that she disagreed with everything I was saying.  I was surprised, however, that no one on the panel or in the audience offered any reasoning to support Strauss's idea that the philosophic life is the only good life by nature, as if this were a Straussian doctrine that is not to be questioned.