There are two types of multinational federations: Those that end peacefully, and those that end violently

In a few days, the United Kingdom will hold a non-binding referendum, advising members of parliament either that the majority of voters would like to remain in the European Union, or that a majority would like to withdraw from it. Every party with more than one MP has a leader who is committed to remaining in the EU, and the classes to which MPs belong are dominated by economic interests which benefit from British membership in the EU. Therefore, unless Leave wins by a vast majority, as there is almost no chance it will do, the results are unlikely to precipitate British withdrawal from the EU. A win for Remain will lead to self-congratulation by advocates of British membership, to vows of continued resistance by opponents, and to no significant change. A win for Leave will probably trigger a leadership contest in the Conservative Party, the winner of which will be a prime minister who makes a great show of going to Brussels and presenting various demands for the European Union to reform its institutions. When those demands are either granted or politely taken under consideration, that prime minister will declare victory, claim to be a reincarnation of Alfred the Great (or more likely Winston Churchill, since historical literacy in the UK isn’t what it once was,) and go on with business as usual.

None of this is directly my business, as I do not live in the UK and am an American citizen. However, it does strike me that, throughout the history of the world, there have been many multinational federations. Some of these have labeled themselves as empires, famously including the Holy Roman Empire and the Dual Monarchy of the Hapsburgs; others as movements embodying a nationalism transcending borders that were dismissed as historical accidents, like the United Arab Republic under Nasser or Yugoslavia under Tito; some as the vanguard of global revolution, like the Soviet Union; etc. What they have in common is that their formal bureaucratic and legal structures were tolerable to the people of their member states as long as the underlying realities of economics and Realpolitik supported them. When economic circumstances and the power relations among the federation’s constituent parts shifted, those formal structures broke down and the federation itself ended. Since economic circumstances and power relations continually change, it is safe to assume that all multinational federations will sooner or later collapse, and that the primary distinction among them is between those that dissolve peacefully, like the Soviet Union or the United Arab Republic, and those that dissolve violently.

Among federations that dissolve violently, there is a second distinction to be drawn. Some dissolve as a consequence of wars they have fought and lost against outside states; others dissolve as a consequence of wars among nations within the federation. Outside states usually involve themselves in these internal wars as sponsors of the various sides.

If the current goings-on in the UK are any indication, it seems unlikely that the European Union will dissolve peacefully. How might a violent dissolution of the EU play out? The principal geopolitical division in Europe is between the Western section, naturally dominated by Germany, and the Eastern section, naturally dominated by Russia. When the European Economic Community and NATO were formed, Germany was divided, defeated, and occupied, as weak as it could be, while Russia was the nucleus of the USSR, an empire of nearly unlimited reach. These institutions then served to sustain a balance of power between the two halves of Europe. Now, Germany is the undisputed mistress of western Europe, while Russia is still isolated and relatively impoverished. Under these conditions, a set of institutions that commit the United States of America and the members of the EU to a perpetual alliance with Germany against Russia can serve only to unbalance the European system and make general war more likely. Every time in history when Germany has been strong and Russia is weak, the Germans have grown reckless pressing their claims in the East, ultimately provoking the Russians to war. There is little reason to suppose that matters will play out any differently this time.

If Russia undergoes an economic and political resurgence soon enough, then perhaps Russia will be able to contain Germany’s ambitions before they take the situation to its usual cataclysmic outcome.  If that resurgence continues long enough, and is accompanied by a relative decline in Germany’s fortunes, perhaps the European Union will end as Yugoslavia ended. As Germany sponsored Croatia and other states in their anti-Serbian efforts leading to the destruction of Yugoslavia while the powerless Russia of the 1990s looked on, so in the future Russia might sponsor anti-German efforts on the part of various EU member states, leading to the destruction of the EU while a weakened USA looks on from across the ocean.  This scenario would be as likely as an outright war between Germany and Russia to involve a large-scale thermonuclear exchange and therefore the destruction of civilization.

Of course, simply because the UK is going through rather an unfortunate bit of political theater right now does not mean that it will not be possible, at some future date, for the members of the European Union to escape peacefully. It might be more difficult than one supposes, however. A German government unrestrained by the need to maintain a coalition that includes the Social Democrats might very well charge hard enough into the former Soviet republics, pressing NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia for example, that there might not be time for a peaceful breakup. If the USA is led by so hawkish an administration as that which Hillary Clinton has promised to conduct, then such a danger would be very close by.

If that danger is avoided, there would likely be some warning before EU member states erupt in civil war. One would like to suppose that member states would withdraw peacefully rather than fight civil wars to postpone departure. What might prevent peaceful dissolution would be a sharp cleavage in economic interests between social classes in the member states. Should a time come when it is clearly not in the interest of most people in certain EU member states to continue in the federation, while it was as clearly in the interest of the elites in those states to continue, then civil wars on the Yugoslav model would be very close at hand.

A links post, like in the olden days

Biswapriya Purkayastha, alias “Bill the Butcher,” creator of Raghead the Fiendly Neighborhood Terrorist, posted this ravishingly beautiful prose poem on his blog last week. Maybe the opening will hook you into following the link and reading the whole thing:

I was lost in the forest at night, alone, and I called to my ghost; and at last, my ghost came to me.

I asked my ghost, “Why, when I was lost and I was calling, did you take so long to come? I have been wandering alone and blind through the dark, and I could have harmed this body beyond repair.”

And my ghost settled before me like mist on the ground, and reached out to touch me.

“I was gone far,” it said, “looking along the paths of the forest, and the things that dwell therein.”

“And what did you see?” I asked my ghost, and saw that it still hung away from me, as though reluctant to come home to my body.

“I saw pain and hunger,” the ghost said. “I felt death and the terror of many small scuttling things. And I saw on the fringes of the forest, villages; but the villages lay empty, burned by fire and disease until the living fled and the ghosts of the dead, unable to bear the loneliness, fled after them.”

“What else?” I asked, for I knew the ghost had more to tell; it was my ghost, and it had dwelt within me since the moment I was born.

“And I saw on this path, before us, five images in the shape of women; but women they were not.” The ghost paused, and I could feel it look away into the jungle with its eyeless eyes. “They had skulls for faces, and were clad in robes made of the night. And the first of them had a flame in her hand, for she was the spirit of passion and the heat of vengeance, and she would burn you to ashes if she found you; not because she would want to, but because it is her nature.”

“And the second?” asked I.

It just gets better from there, it really is a gorgeous bit of writing.

It’s certainly at the opposite extreme from the sort of thing I encounter that sometimes makes my daily habit of looking at things on the internet feel like this:


I am very fond of this installment of The Periodic Table of Videos. My favorite moment comes when the Prof says, “I’ve no idea how this sample got to London. It was brought to me in London, in Max’s bag.”

At The American Conservative, Alan Jacobs worries about the extent to which Americans have taken up, as a favored hobby, hatred for those whose political views differ from theirs.  He recommends pieces in this topic by blogger Scott Alexander (an essay that made its way into the DNA of Weird Sun Twitter,) journalist Lynn Vavreck, and scholars Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood.

The “Archdruid,” alias John Michael Greer, is occasionally brilliant; this essay about “The End of Ordinary Politics” builds on his theory that the distinction between hourly wages and salaried employment marks a class division that explains much of American social life, and that the US political elite has little comprehension of or curiosity about the economic interests of wage laborers. The Archdruid holds that the kind of partisan hostility that Alan Jacobs, Scott Alexander, and others lament is largely explicable as the result of tactics representatives of the salaried classes deploy to keep wage laborers off the political radar:

I’m thinking here, among many other examples along the same lines, of a revealing article earlier this year from a reporter who attended a feminist conference on sexism in the workplace. All the talk there was about how women in the salary class could improve their own prospects for promotion and the like. It so happened that the reporter’s sister works in a wage-class job, and she quite sensibly inquired whether the conference might spare a little time to discuss ways to improve prospects for women who don’t happen to belong to the salary class. Those of my readers who have seen discussions of this kind know exactly what happened next: a bit of visible discomfort, a few vaguely approving comments, and then a resumption of the previous subjects as though no one had made so embarrassing a suggestion.

It’s typical of the taboo that surrounds class prejudice in today’s industrial nations that not even the reporter mentioned the two most obvious points about this interchange. The first, of course, is that the line the feminists at the event drew between those women whose troubles with sexism were of interest to them, and those whose problems didn’t concern them in the least, was a class line. The second is that the women at the event had perfectly valid, if perfectly selfish, reasons for drawing that line. In order to improve the conditions of workers in those wage class industries that employ large numbers of women, after all, the women at the conference would themselves have had to pay more each month for daycare, hairstyling, fashionable clothing, and the like. Sisterhood may be powerful, as the slogans of an earlier era liked to claim, but it’s clearly not powerful enough to convince women in the salary class to inconvenience themselves for the benefit of women who don’t happen to share their privileged status.

To give the women at the conference credit, though, at least they didn’t start shouting about some other hot-button issue in the hope of distracting attention from an awkward question. That was the second thing relevant to my post that started happening the week after it went up. All at once, much of the American left responded to the rise of Donald Trump by insisting at the top of their lungs that the only reason, the only possible reason, that anyone at all supports the Trump campaign is that Trump is a racist and so are all his supporters.

The Archdruid isn’t a Trump supporter and does not deny that Mr Trump’s appeal is at least partly racial, but he focuses on the questions of economic status that have drawn so many white wage-earners to that particular loudmouthed landlord when they might have chosen to throw their lot in with any of a number of other race-baiting demagogues.

Speaking of Scott Alexander, here’s a bit of speculation from him about where religions come from. These paragraphs are from the middle of it:

If we were to ask the same New Guinea tribe to follow Jewish food taboos one week and American food taboos the next, I’m not sure they’d be able to identify one code as any stricter or weirder than the other. They might have some questions about the meat/milk thing, but maybe they’d also wonder why cheeseburgers are great for dinner but ridiculous for breakfast.

People get worked up over all of the weird purity laws and dress codes in Leviticus, but it’s important to realize how strict our own purity laws are. The ancient Jews would have found it ridiculous that men have to shave and bathe every day if they want to be considered for the best jobs. One must not piss anywhere other than a toilet; this is an abomination (but you would be shocked how many of the supposedly strait-laced Japanese will go in an alley if there’s no restroom nearby). I have been yelled at for going to work without a tie and for tying my tie in the wrong pattern; wearing sweatpants to work is right out. And once again, this gets even longer if you you let the more modern/rational rules onto the list – Leviticus has a lot to say about dwellings with fungus in them, but I recently learned to my distress that landlord/tenant law has a lot more.

Once again, if we made our poor New Guinea tribe follow Jewish purity laws one week and American purity laws the next, they would probably end up equally confused and angry both times.

So when we think of America as a perfectly natural secular culture, and Jews as following some kind of superstitious draconian law code, we’re just saying that our laws feel natural and obvious, but their laws feel like an outside imposition. And I think if a time-traveling King Solomon showed up at our doorstep, he would recognize American civil religion as a religion much quicker than he would recognize Christianity as one. Christianity would look like a barbaric mystery cult that had gotten too big for its britches; American civil religion would look like home.

Insofar as this isn’t obvious to schoolchildren learning about ancient religion, it’s because the only thing one ever hears about ancient religion is the crazy mythologies. But I think American culture shows lots of signs of trying to form a crazy mythology, only to be stymied by modernity-specific factors. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we have too many historians around to tell us exactly how things really happened. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we have too many scientists around to tell us where the rain and the lightning really come from. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we’re only two hundred-odd years old and these things take time. And most of all, we can’t have crazy mythologies because Christianity is already sitting around occupying that spot.

I have a weakness for maps that purport to describe what people are like in various locales, such as this one, which I saw here and which comes from this article:


Minority voting

Writing for The Atlantic, Matthew Delmont considers “What African Americans lost by aligning with the Democratic Party.” It’s a brief piece, but makes important points about the limits of the Democratic Party’s collective vision of race relations in the USA, and the ways in which those limits have exacerbated regional and class divisions among African Americans.

I would just like to add one point. It would be illogical for African Americans to vote otherwise than as a bloc supporting one party with 90% or more of their votes. Illogical, because in each of the fifty states and in most other jurisdictions around the USA, African Americans are a numerical minority. Say African Americans constitute 10% of the vote in a given state, and that there is no ethnic bloc voting in that state. If African Americans give one candidate 5.1% of the vote and the other 4.9%, that .2% difference will matter only in the most closely divided election. It will hardly be worth any candidate’s while to address issues of special concern to the African American community in pursuit of so small a reward, especially since white voters tend to be quick to see any effort to appeal to African Americans as a sign that politicians are neglecting their interests. Even an African American vote that divides 6% to 4% will give politicians little incentive to risk alienating the touchier segments of the white vote by focusing on specifically African American issues, since many or most undecided African American voters would be concerned chiefly with issues that are as important to whites as they are to African Americans.

By voting solidly for the Democrats, African Americans do lose the interest of the Republicans, and do wind up tied to some unattractive politicians. But they also constitute the single most powerful voting bloc within the party. In the Deep South, where whites vote almost as solidly Republican as African Americans vote Democratic, the institutional Democratic Party is a space where African Americans can influence events on a national and international scale. This in turn gives African Americans in those states an incentive to value loyalty to the institutional Democratic Party. We saw the results of this several weeks ago, when Bernie Sanders, who joined the Democratic Party only last year after decades in politics as an independent, lost every southern primary by enormous margins to Hillary Clinton, who, having been Secretary of State under the current Democratic president and wife to the Democratic president before him, is as much a symbol of the institutional Democratic Party as is any red, white, and blue cartoon donkey.

Ethnic bloc voting is not peculiar to African Americans and to whites in the Deep South, of course. It is the norm wherever the largest ethnic group does not form so large a supermajority of the voting population that it can be confident it will dominate whatever government emerges from an election. In the northern states of the USA, a significant percentage of whites vote for the Democrats, knowing that while African Americans might have more influence and more representation in Democratic state governments than in Republican ones, most of the leadership will still be white, and whether the leaders are white or not, they can hardly hope to stay in office long if they alienate a significant percentage of the otherwise-available white vote. In southern states, where African Americans are a much larger percentage of the population, if a quarter or less of whites voted Democratic, that might be enough to install a Democratic state government. Most of that government’s support would come from African American voters, and so its first order of business if it were to survive would be to address itself primarily to the concerns of African Americans.

I remember public discussion in the USA leading up to and away from the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Before the elections many experts warned that elections in Iraq at that time would, in effect, be an ethnic census, in that Shia Arabs would vote for the Shia coalition, Sunnis would vote for the Sunni coalition, and Kurds would vote for the Kurdish coalition. After the election, observers pointed out that precisely this had happened. Much of that commentary hinged on the phrase “at this time.” An election held “at this time” would be little more than an ethnic census. I wondered what time might come when it would not be so. The hated Steve Sailer likes to quote an August 2005 interview in which Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew said that “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.” I first saw him quote that in August 2005, when that Iraqi election was still fresh in my mind, which is one of the reasons why that line made an impression on me (and why I am still in the habit of reading Mr Sailer’s blog.)

If African Americans ever do break away from the Democrats, it’s hard to see where they will go. Wherever they do go, it will probably be in their best interests to go there as a bloc, since demographic trends don’t suggest that African Americans will be a supermajority of the USA’s population any time soon. Indeed, all current trends suggest that the African American share of the population will continue to decline throughout the remainder of this century.

Trump voters want to live in predominantly white neighborhoods

The other day, Texas Senator Ted Cruz won a very wide victory in the Republican caucuses in the state of Utah, dealing a heavy defeat to loudmouth landlord Donald Trump. Most Utahns, including the vast majority of the state’s Republicans, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. Many commentators have tried to find in this result some aspect of Mormonism that makes Mr Trump’s anti-immigration message unappealing, speculating that the LDS movement’s nineteenth century experience as an unpopular religious minority has sensitized its members to Mr Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Some observers have placed a very different interpretation on the Utah results. So, Rod Dreher quotes at length from a correspondent who argues that Mr Trump attracts votes from people who either live in predominantly white neighborhoods and are worried that their lives will become less pleasant if those neighborhoods become largely nonwhite, or who live in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods and believe that their lives would be more pleasant if they lived in predominantly white neighborhoods. Since Utah is more than 90% white, predominantly white neighborhoods are not particularly scarce in the state, and so these concerns are not the powerful vote drivers they are among downwardly mobile whites in the South and in urban areas.

Who will pick up the pieces of the Republican Party after Trump’s defeat?

It seems pretty obvious to me, at this point, that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee and that each of the other candidates is trying to position himself to be the man who leads the Republican Party out of the wilderness that will follow the defeat Mr Trump will suffer at the hands of Hillary Clinton.

I’ve been tweeting at various people about this.  For example:




Ted Cruz hasn’t done significantly better so far than did Rick Santorum in 2012 or any better than Mike Huckabee in 2008, neither of whom emerged as the heir apparent for the next cycle. So his continued presence represents a hope that Republican voters will be slower to coalesce around Mr Trump than they were to coalesce around Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, George W Bush in 2000, Bob Dole in 1996, or George H. W. Bush in 1988, and that he will be able to win some of the states that won’t vote for him. That seems a forlorn hope, since Mr Cruz has drawn almost all of his support from evangelicals, and in no remaining state are there enough of them to put him over the top. His current standing would not seem likely to entrench Mr Cruz even as leader of the far-right counter-establishment, let alone as nominee-in-waiting for the 2020 election.

John Kasich also has to hope that states keep voting against Mr Trump, and if they do he can plausibly hope to be the beneficiary of that opposition. But, there is really no reason to suppose that Mr Trump’s support on the remaining primaries and caucuses will spike any less dramatically than did Mr Romney’s in 2012. If Mr Kasich’s bid ends with him having lost every state but the one where he is governor, he’ll be a punchline, then a trivia question, then a lecturer at the Kennedy School.

Many diehard anti-Trump Republicans have been touting House speaker Paul Ryan as a potential nominee if the Republican convention does not produce a first-ballot winner. Unlikely as that scenario is, a couple of weeks of discussion of it may be enough to qualify Mr Ryan as this cycle’s runner-up, and therefore as the de facto leader of the opposition to the Hillary Clinton administration.

How party loyalty undermines the power of party elites

I think this piece on Politico about the failure of the John E. Bush presidential campaign and the challenges facing the Hillary R. Clinton presidential campaign is pretty good, but it misses one key point.

In the USA, people by and large are much more likely today than they were in the past to consider their allegiance to the Democratic or Republican Party an important feature of their social identity. US presidents symbolize their parties. Therefore, when pollsters ask prospective voters their opinion of the person their party most recently elected as US president, the first reflex for many of them will be to express a very high opinion of that person.

It should be no surprise, then, that in 2013 and 2014 polls indicated that most supporters of the Republican Party expressed a high opinion of the Bush-Cheney administration. Leading figures in and around that party decided at that time to coalesce around John E. Bush as the party’s next presidential candidate.  If Republican voters liked George W. Bush so much, why not give them his brother as their next standard-bearer? When the party’s rank-and-file greeted John Bush’s entry into the race with an uncomfortable shifting in the seats and the sound of crickets was heard, party elites cast about for another candidate who could address the putative demand for a return to the Bush-Cheney years. Eventually they settled on Florida senator Marco Rubio, whose policy positions are identical to those of the Bush-Cheney administration. Four states in to the nomination contest, Mr Rubio has yet to win anywhere, and polls indicate that the states where he once seemed to have a chance are now moving out of his reach. His campaign and indeed his political career, will likely end with a humiliating defeat in his home state on 15 March.

What the elites who rallied first around John Bush and then around Mr Rubio missed is that the reflex which leads partisans to tell pollsters that they have a high opinion of the person whom they still see as their party’s leader is largely about those partisans’ reaction to a stranger asking them whether they are loyal members of their party. That reaction doesn’t necessarily predict much about the process of selecting a new leader. So when loudmouth landlord Don-John Trump rejects George W. Bush’s relaxationist stand on immigration and says that George W. Bush lied in making the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, party elites are genuinely surprised that Mr Trump’s support among Republican primary voters seems to go up afterward. Why wouldn’t they be surprised, those voters are the very people who for years told pollsters that George W. Bush had been a good president.

Except among party elites and ideological purists, support for Mr Trump is not likely to mark anyone as a disloyal Republican. Mr Trump’s image as a not-particularly-ethical businessperson who is wont to make racist and sexist remarks fits a stereotype of Republicans; that’s why he is so unpopular outside the Republican Party, but it’s also why his deviations from the party’s familiar line are so acceptable to its traditional supporters. He gives them a way to acknowledge that their party’s leaders have betrayed their interests and ill-served their country without surrendering to Democrats or radicals or foreigners or anyone else outside their ranks.

On the Democratic side, we have a two person race in which one candidate has the support of every major donor, every major media organization, and virtually every elected official, while the other is an elderly Jewish socialist who joined the Democratic Party for the first time last summer. In the first four contests, the elderly Jewish socialist first fought the establishment favorite to a tie, then won by a handy margin, and finally came within four points of winning a second victory before heading into territory where he had not had time to build a campaign.

Coupled with the fact that the same establishment favorite actually lost the Democratic nomination in 2008, Mr Sanders’ early success confirms that the Democrats are going through something similar to what the Republicans have experienced with the failures of the party elite to sell either John Bush or Marco Rubio to their party’s rank-and-file. Going in to the 2008 election cycle, Democrats were telling pollsters of their deep and abiding love for former president William J. “Bill” Clinton. As their Republican counterparts would, eight years later, offer George W. Bush’s brother to their party, so Democratic Party elites in that cycle offered Bill Clinton’s wife as a presidential candidate.

Hillary Clinton’s backing for the Iraq War out her at odds with the Democratic Party’s base, dooming her candidacy in 2008 as John Bush’s for a relaxationist immigration policy doomed him among Republicans in 2016. As in 2016 Mr Trump’s fit with stereotyped images of Republicans enables him to hold onto the support of the party faithful while denouncing Republican leaders, so in 2008 voting for the first black US president was so much a thing one would expect Democrats to do that Ms Clinton could not make headway by casting doubt on the status of Barack Obama’s supporters as true Democrats.

That Hillary Clinton has come back is a sign, in part of the declining salience of war and peace as an issue in a Democratic Party led by a president who is currently bombing half-a-dozen countries or more, and in part of the party’s failure to replace Bill Clinton’s Finance First strategies. By Finance First, I refer not only to Bill Clinton’s campaign strategy of lining up finance before formulating policy proposals or doing anything else, but also to the economic policy that was a corollary to that, in which his administration addressed the demands of the finance sector before attending to any other concerns.

Finance First is not an approach that comes naturally to the sorts of people who tend to vote for Democrats, and is in fact anathema to most of them. In view of the distribution of wealth in today’s USA, however, and considering that neither organized labor or ethnically or religiously based political groups can any longer turn out enough volunteers to counteract the power of the money-men, it is not obvious that any approach other than Finance First can elect a president or sustain one in office. The Democratic Party’s elites, therefore, see the presidential nominee’s job as persuading the base to accept Finance First.

Though Finance First has enabled the Democrats to win five of the last six presidential elections (falling within the margin of error in 2000, when the party nominated an exceptionally maladroit candidate,*) it has not served them well overall. When Bill Clinton was first nominated in 1992, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, most state legislative chambers, most governorships, most elected county and municipal offices, and had for decades. A quarter century into the dominance of Finance First, the Republicans hold 70% of all elected offices in the USA. Even if Hillary Clinton defeats Don-John Trump in a landslide come November, that isn’t going to change. Indeed, since the party in the White House usually takes a drubbing in the midterm elections, by the end of the first term of the Hillary Clinton administration the Democrats will probably be in a much weaker position even than they are now.

For Mr Trump to challenge the Bush-Cheney relaxationist line on immigration is not a radical departure for his party. Restrictionists do tend to cluster in the Republican Party, and the party elite can retain its commitment to a low-wage economy even without significant relaxation of border controls. Likewise for the Democrats and an issue like the Iraq War; while militarism is a central feature of the American economic system and a challenge to it would represent a profound revolt against both major parties, one can always express reservations about a particular war without standing for a demilitarization of the US economy and society. Barack Obama’s emphasis on his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq in his 2008 campaign was, therefore, within the bounds of what the Democratic Party is capable of handling.

What Mr Sanders is doing, however, is a head-on challenge to the whole Finance First model.  Even if he had worked out a viable alternative, that would be a breathtakingly audacious undertaking. If he ends up with something like 40% of the popular vote at the end of the primary season, I think we may see a great deal of effort put into developing such an alternative between now and the next open Democratic nomination. If a hardy campaign on behalf of Mr Sanders in the primary is followed by a significant vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the general election, I am confident that such an effort will have a noticeable effect on the Democratic Party’s overall direction.

*Then-US Vice President Albert Arnold Gore, Junior.  Mr Gore likes to be called “Al.”  I call him “The Tennessee Turd.”

More guesses about how the 2016 US presidential race will turn out


Out of the starting gate

Since I’ve been so brilliantly successful at forecasting the progress of the US presidential campaign so far, I’ve decided to share more predictions.

At Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver sees “Four Roads Out of Iowa for the Republicans.”  I also see four sets of outcomes for tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses, but not quite the same four Mr Silver sees.

I see four possible winners. Loudmouth landlord Don-John Trump is leading the polls among Republican voters in Iowa and most other states.  If he wins the first contest, (let’s say he has a 35% chance of doing that,) his odds of winning everywhere else likely increase.  However, it has several times happened that the winner of the Iowa caucuses has gone on to receive a smaller percentage of the vote in the next contest, the New Hampshire primary, than the New Hampshire polls had suggested before that Iowa win. George H. W. Bush in 1980, George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008 can all be cited as examples of that sort of anti-momentum. A highly unconventional candidate like Mr Trump might be especially vulnerable to anti-momentum.  New Hampshire voters might be leery of giving him wins in both of the first two contests, thereby putting him in a commanding position in the rest of the primary season.  If they do desert him, the likeliest candidate to benefit would be Ohio governor John Kasich. Mr Kasich is rising in the New Hampshire polls, drawing big crowds at events in the state, and dominating the airwaves there. So if Iowa goes to Mr Trump, I would put the chances of New Hampshire also voting for him at about 70%, and of it turning to Mr Kasich at about 20%.

Texas senator Ted Cruz is also strong in the Iowa polls, and his voters do seem likelier to turn out for the caucuses. So I’d give him a 50% chance of winning Iowa. If he beats Mr Trump by a narrow margin, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone; Mr Trump’s chances of winning New Hampshire would probably be at least 70% in that case. On the other hand, if Mr Cruz wins by a wider than expected margin, that would put Mr Trump on the defensive, and again Mr Kasich comes into the picture as a possible winner in New Hampshire. Maybe his chances would rise as high as 40% in that case, with a 50% likelihood Mr Trump would win New Hampshire.

Florida senator Marco Rubio has consistently stood in third place in the Iowa polls, and is the only conventional Republican candidate making a stand there.  Mr Cruz and Mr Trump have been feuding with each other in recent weeks; Iowa caucus-goers don’t like that sort of fighting, as witness the Democratic race in 2004, when frontrunners Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt spent weeks filling Iowa television and radio with attacks on each other, then neither finished in the top two on the night.  It’s possible Mr Rubio could pull the kind of upset this year that John Kerry pulled on the Democratic side in 2004.  If that happens, Mr Rubio will eclipse Mr Kasich, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Florida governor John Ellis Bush, and onetime tech CEO Carly Fiorina to become the default candidate of those looking for a conventional Republican candidate. That will likely guarantee him a win in New Hampshire, and probably make him unbeatable down the road to the nomination. If he doesn’t win Iowa, Mr Rubio won’t win anywhere; he’s been static in the polls, fundraising, and organization for months and months, and simply is not very good at connecting with Republican voters.  If he does win in Iowa, though, he’s the nominee.  (Unless something embarrassing bubbles up from his past, or something else unforeseeable happens.)  On the other hand, that Iowa win, is pretty unlikely, I’d say about a 5% chance. So let’s say that translates to a 4% chance of a Rubio nomination.

Retired brain surgeon Ben Carson, briefly a frontrunner in the polls last year, is now polling at about 10% in Iowa.  However, the final polls before the 2012 Republican Iowa caucuses showed former Pennsylvania senator Richard Santorum with about that same level of support, and he won. Mr Santorum’s people were the hardcore religious conservatives, the group that is far likelier than any other to show up and take an active part in the Republican caucus meetings. Dr Carson draws his support from the same bloc, and he has been a familiar figure among them for decades. While Mr Cruz may have made sufficient inroads with the religious right that Dr Carson is unlikely to emerge tomorrow night as the big winner, it would be foolish to discount his chances altogether.  I would guess that he has about a 10% chance of winning Iowa. If he manages that, Mr Trump and Mr Cruz will both be seriously damaged, and Mr Kasich is virtually certain to win New Hampshire.

If Mr Trump comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire looking like winner, he’ll have to knock all of his opponents out of the race quickly, lest his poverty choke his campaign before he can clinch the nomination. If he wins Iowa, Dr Carson will probably back out of the race; if he wins it by a wide margin, Mr Cruz may see his candidacy collapse.  If he wins New Hampshire, he’ll knock Mr Kasich, Mr Christie, Mr Rubio, Ms Fiorina, and Kentucky senator Randall “Rand” Paul out of the race.  Mr Bush has enough money in the bank and enough institutional support that he can continue his campaign indefinitely.  He will likely spend many millions of dollars trying to win the primary in South Carolina regardless of the results of the first two contests. If Mr Cruz is still in contention at that point, as it seems virtually certain he will be, then the outcome of the South Carolina primary will be quite unpredictable.

If Mr Kasich wins the New Hampshire primary, he may slip through the Trump/ Cruz/ Bush scrum to win South Carolina as well.  Even if he doesn’t manage that feat, a win in New Hampshire would give him the mainstream default candidate status Mr Rubio could gain by winning Iowa.  That in turn would take him to March 15, when the first states hold primaries in which the winner takes all of that state’s convention delegates, instead of giving each candidate a share of delegates proportional to his or her percentage of the vote. The two biggest of these states are Ohio, which Mr Kasich will certainly win if he is a viable candidate, and Florida, which is also likely to favor a candidate more conventional than Mr Trump or Mr Cruz. If he wins those two states, Mr Kasich will be all but unbeatable in the later stages of the nomination contest.  But he has to win New Hampshire; he stands so low in the polls nationally and has so little organization or institutional support that anything less than a first-place finish there will force him out of the race.

Of all the Republican candidates, Mr Kasich sounds the most like a president; no less an an observer than the late Richard M. Nixon has declared that he is his party’s most, and indeed only, electable candidate.  I would rather not see a Republican elected president, so I suppose I should hope they nominate Dr Carson or Mr Bush or Mr Cruz, each of whom, for his own particular reasons, would probably drive well over 50% of the electorate to oppose him unalterably.


I say something about politics and something about religion. No sex or money, though.

I’ve recently been participating in two discussion threads at The American Conservative. In a thread on Noah Millman’s blog, I’ve been laying out a theory that Florida Senator Marco Rubio will either win virtually every state in the Republican Party’s presidential nominating contest, or he won’t win any states at all. It all hinges on whether he can pull an upset win in the Iowa caucuses. My comments are here, here, and here.

In a thread on Rod Dreher’s blog, I’ve been talking about how the request by the “Primates” of the Anglican Communion that the leaders of the Episcopal Church scale back their participation in the Anglican Communion’s policy-making structures raises questions about how we can tell whether formal organizational bonds are helping or harming efforts to unify Christians, and if we decide that a particular structure is doing more harm than good, how we can dissolve it without making matters even worse.  My comments are here and here.

I’m not going to vote for a Republican for president in any case, and I think Mr Rubio would do an especially bad job in the White House.  The fact that I have worked up a theory about his prospects, therefore, just goes to show what a political junkie I am.  The other topic is of more direct personal interest to me, since I am a member of the Episcopal Church, and I find some value in the “Anglican” label.  Still, I discuss that topic also in terms of political strategy.

Rational voting

hdzwzq71-300x300Sometime in the late 1990s, a magazine I read regularly ran an article in which two professors of political science made the case for increasing the size of the United States House of Representatives from 435 to 635. I was sure this article had appeared in The Atlantic, and that magazine did run a different article proposing the same thing in 1992.  I can’t find the article I’m thinking of in their archives or the archives of any other magazine I was reading in those days, so I’m stumped as to where it could have been.

The case for increasing the number of seats from 435 was fairly straightforward. The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to determine the number of seats in the House, and the number rose steadily with US population from 1789, when 65 Representatives stood for a population of about 4 million, until 1911, when 435 Representatives stood for a population of about 92 million.  Now the population is over 320 million, and there are still just 435 Representatives.  Since each state has at least one Representative, that means that the Representative from a sparsely populated state such as Wyoming speaks for 585,000 people, while each Representative from a heavily populated state such as New York speaks for over 700,000 people.*  Since each state’s share of the vote for US president is determined by its total number of seats in Congress, this also implies that small states are over-represented in voting for president.  In very close elections, this over-representation can tip the balance; it is likely that if there had been 635 seats in the House in 2000, for example, that Albert A. Gore rather than George W. Bush would have been declared the winner of that year’s presidential election.**

The case against increasing the number above 635 was more complex. The authors of this article, whoever they were, explained a body of political science literature which examines voting behavior in legislative bodies. This literature showed that, when a chamber has more than about 650 seats, it becomes very difficult for its members to engage effectively in strategic voting (a.k.a. “tactical voting” or “instrumental voting.”)  The likelihood that any given question would be settled by a margin of one vote shrank to such a low order of probability that in chambers with more than 650 seats only those members who held positions that enabled them to control other members’ votes made their voting decisions based on the likely outcome of the vote, while members who neither controlled followers nor submitted to the control of leaders found themselves isolated, forming metaphorical “islands” from which they would use their votes expressively, signaling preferences for which they were not in a position to press in the negotiations where legislation was written and national policy formulated. As an example of a legislative chamber with too many seats, the article cited studies of the parliament of Zaire in the days when that parliament had over 1000 members. That, incidentally, is how I know that article came from the late 1990s, since Mobutu was overthrown and Zaire renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1997, and I remember that those events were quite fresh in my mind when I read the article.  I would say it was published sometime between June 1997 and June 1998.

The same article does allow that it is difficult for a group as large as 635 to operate on a basis of strategic voting, and mentions that the single organization most studied by political scientists looking into strategic voting is the United States Supreme Court, which has a nine-member electorate. Still, they do argue quite persuasively that in many groups as large as 635 do effectively function on that basis, and can find no reason why the US House of Representatives should not do so as well.

I think of this mystery article quite often, not only because the US House and the US presidential election system are often in the news, but also because the ideas of expressive voting and strategic voting are often hot topics.

It strikes me that if the maximum size of an electorate in which strategic voting makes sense is somewhere slightly north of 650, then voters in virtually every public election in the USA would be wise to make a habit of casting their ballots expressively. That is to say, except in the few villages and rural precincts where fewer than 650 voters are likely to turn out, voters should support the candidate who most closely reflects their actual views, not the candidate whom they regard as likeliest to win the election.  This view is supported by the behavior of elected officials, who use ever-more sophisticated techniques to examine election returns in search of votes they might be able to gain next time around and who resolutely ignore the opinions of people whose votes either they or their opponents can take for granted.

In an election where four candidates are available, a leftist, a Democrat, a Republican, and a rightist, therefore, a voter who is satisfied with the Democrat or the Republican will be wise to vote for that candidate. A voter who thinks that the two parties have become too different from each other will be able to signal that opinion by voting for the party opposite the one s/he usually favors; analysts are quick to note such defections and to present them to candidates as grounds for moving closer to the other party’s policy profile. A voter who thinks that the major parties have become too similar can signal that opinion by voting for whichever fringe candidate s/he would like to see have an influence on the major party s/he usually prefers; that vote will show the major party that it is leaving votes on the table by tacking in the direction favored by its main opponent, and if there are enough votes like it office-holders and candidates will take them into consideration as they conduct public affairs.

It does mystify me that so many Americans, left and right, seem to regard it as a mark of virtue to vote for candidates who disgust them.  Granted, Candidate A embodies all the evils that beset our country, and will only make them worse, but Candidate B is EVEN WORSE, and so we dare not vote for anyone other than Candidate A. What if Candidate B wins by a margin of one vote?

Well, unless Candidate B is running for mayor of a tiny village, s/he will not win by a margin of one vote.  People who would never buy a lottery ticket, because the odds of any given ticket being a winner are millions to one against, will construct elaborate, tortured arguments in favor of voting based on the idea that someday an important election might be decided by one vote.  Yet there usually is at least one winning ticket in a lottery, so there is some minuscule chance of a ticket being a winner, while elections where the voters number in the thousands or millions are never decided by the margin of one vote. So strategic voting in such elections is not only like playing the lottery, it is like playing a lottery which has never once paid a prize after centuries of continuous operation.

I suspect the reason for this attachment to strategic voting over expressive voting has something to do with gender.  Words like “strategic,” “tactical,” and “instrumental” are associated with competitive activities such as sports, war, and business, and are therefore tagged as masculine in a society like the USA.  Words like “expressive,” “signaling,” and “communicative” are associated with the arts, personal relationships, and education, and are therefore tagged as feminine.  Strategic voting is sometimes called simply “rational voting.”  That phrase would imply that it is rational to vote based on the premise that this election, unlike every similar election in all of history, will be decided by a single vote, while it is irrational to vote based on the premise that politicians and parties analyze election returns and craft their approach to governing with an eye to maximizing their support in future elections.  That implication is so bizarre that the only explanation for calling strategic voting “rational voting” is that “rational” in that phrase simply means “masculine.”

Former colonial power considers censuring nationalist demagogue


Donald Trump admires a typical resident of the UK

There was a debate today in the Palace of Westminster on a proposal to urge the Home Secretary to ban Donald Trump from entering the United Kingdom. Mr Trump is a demagogic politician whose support in his bid to become US president is based primarily on nationalistic resentment. Therefore, it would be difficult to imagine a development more perfectly calculated to increase his support and to improve his odds of becoming his party’s nominee for that office than a formal censure of him by the former colonial power, especially if that censure is delivered a few days before the voting begins in the first electoral contests.

This much is so obvious that one cannot suppress a cynical curiosity as to the true motives of those sponsoring the proposal. The foremost advocates of the recommendation represent predominantly Muslim constituencies. Why would members of parliament representing people towards whom Mr Trump has shown such extraordinary hostility embrace a proposal that would do more than anything else in their power to help him become president of the United States? Well, in the first place, it is unlikely the Home Secretary will actually take any such action. So they can go home and tell their constituents that they did something to express their alarm at the rise of so objectionable a figure, without triggering any real-world consequences.

If by some odd chance Mr Trump actually were banned from entering the UK, his resulting surge of support in the USA would certainly bode ill for British Muslims, especially if it were to take him all the way to the White House. But it might not harm Muslim M.P.s.  On the contrary, they would be able to invoke fear of him and of the USA to consolidate support for themselves as a last line of defense for British Muslims in an openly hostile West.

Moreover, a President Trump, taking office after the UK government had taken a stand against him in so dramatic a fashion, would be in a position to inflict almost unlimited humiliations on that government. If you wonder how that would play out, just think of the consequences of John Major’s decision to actively promote George H. W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 1992.  In the period from 20 January 1993 to 1 May 1997, John Major’s life took on an almost nightmarish quality as Bill Clinton demonstrated time and again just how severely an American president can punish a British prime minister who displeases him. Mr Clinton did all of that out of the public eye, as a purely private vendetta. Imagine what Mr Trump could do with the full force of US public opinion behind him. The sponsors of this recommendation, in a world where the news is daily showing the prime minister, the cabinet, the Queen, and all of the other nominal leaders of the UK crawling on their bellies and begging the US president to relent from his wrath against them, might even attract support from non-Muslim Britons disgusted by that desperate tableau. They might emerge as symbols of patriotic defiance against the power that was grinding Britain into the dust and exposing its leaders as gormless sycophants.


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