Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Making Sense of Politics Through Resentment’ (Part 1 of 9)

In a series of posts over the next week or so, I’ll consider Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. Cramer’s a native Wisconsinite teaching at UW-Madison.

Today, I’ll summarize her thesis, as she presents it in the first chapter of PoR,  ‘Making Sense of Politics Through Resentment.’

Cramer makes five principal contentions in the chapter:

1. That there is a partisan divisiveness in Wisconsin that “reflects broader trends in the United States. The country as a whole has seen increasing partisan polarization since the mid 1970s. (Layman, Carson, and Horowitz 2006; McCarthy, Poole, and Rosenthal 2008; Barber and McCarty 2013.)”

2. Cramer asserts that these divides are, in her words, more than ‘ideology’:

Some argue that the public is not actually polarized, that people are just better sorted ideologically into partisan camps than in the past (Hetherington 2009; Fiorina, Abrams, and Pope 2010). But others observe that there is more at stake here than ideology. Divides between identifiers with the two parties in terms of religious preferences, attitudes toward race, and racial demographics themselves are deeper than ever (Abramowitz 2013, 2014). The divides are not just about politics but about who we are as people.

3. This observation leads Cramer back to another one, that is in fact political and philosophical:

These divides are also reflective of the central debate in American politics today: What is the proper role of government in society and who should pay for it (Stonecash 2014)? There are those who believe government ought to be expanded in order to deal with the challenges we face, and there are those who feel that government itself is a major obstacle that should be shrunk.

4. Cramer contends that “another key feature of the times we live in is economic inequality (Piketty and Saez 2003)” and it puzzles her that

[t]here seems to be less support for redistribution here than in other countries with similar levels of economic inequality (Kenworthy and Pontusson 2005). Why? Why is it that most voters continue to elect officials who apparently do not represent the vast There seems to be less support for redistribution here than in other countries with similar levels of economic inequality (Kenworthy and Pontusson 2005). Why? Why is it that most voters continue to elect officials who apparently do not represent the vast majority of us?6 Or if one does not believe that interpretation, why is it that many low-income voters who might benefit from more government redistribution continue to vote against it? Why, in times of increasing economic inequality, have the preferences of the lowest-income voters moved in a conservative, rather than liberal, direction?

5. Cramer offers her answer, one that is the eponymous thesis of Politics of Resentment:

Listening closely to people revealed two things to me: a significant rural-versus-urban divide and the powerful role of resentment. This book shows that what can look like disagreements about basic political principles can be rooted in something even more fundamental: ideas about who gets what, who has power, what people are like, and who is to blame. What might seem to be a central debate about the appropriate role of government might at base be something else: resentment toward our fellow citizens. This book shows people making sense of politics in a way that places resentment toward other citizens at the center….I want to know what it looks like when people use social categories to understand the political world, and how they connect resentment toward particular groups to the broader stance of wanting less, not more, government redistribution.

Cramer’s work addresses a supposed rural consciousness she discerns among many Wisconsinites, and it rests on her assumption that they approach economic concerns in a particular way, one that flows from this rural consciousness.

Candidly, an aside Cramer offers about driving a VW Jetta in Wisconsin leaves me puzzled. She writes that

As a female social scientist driving my Volkswagen Jetta out from Madison, the state capitol and the second largest city in the state, I heard a lot of criticism of cities from people in small-town Wisconsin.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with professional female colleagues who have enjoyed driving different makes and models of foreign cars, to places across Wisconsin, without rural residents looking askance at them for doing so. Indeed, many southern Wisconsin (and Illinois) families have properties in the sparsely-populated northern part of the state, and the sight of a VW, Audi, BMW, Lexus, etc. would not be unfamiliar to local residents.

It’s a significant exaggeration to say a woman driving a Jetta would get the sort of stares from rural residents that one might properly expect for a person riding a unicorn.

Cramer may be right about a rural consciousness, at least about Wisconsin, but her analysis – one that she confidently grounds in political science – omits any consideration of political theory (what was once called political philosophy). (Indeed, for a work about political claims, it’s telling that neither the terms liberty nor libertarian appear anywhere in the book.)

In her opening chapter, Cramer gives not the slightest hint that there might be a vast body of liberty-oriented theory (including a libertarianism of the left as well as the right) stretching back centuries in America and thousands of years across civilizations earlier.

This libertarian tradition (long before the term libertarian first came into use) does not rely on redistributive goals, but then it doesn’t suppose a theory of a rural consciousness of resentment, either.

A presentation that begins with a particular economic notion (that redistribution necessarily benefits many) and presents a perspective on rural consciousness as a social identity (one that has economic views within it) seems, at first blush, too much like a survey of world religions that considers only the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘A Method of Listening’ (Part 2 of 9).

Margaret Sullivan on Great Local Reporting

Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist observes that Great local reporting stands between you and wrongdoing. (Sullivan was formerly The New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of her hometown paper, The Buffalo News.)

Sullivan explains what great local reporting means:

“In only 15 years, American newspaper companies slashed their workforces by more than half — from 412,000 employees in 2001 to 174,000 last year.

But that troubling trend wasn’t on the minds of journalists at the Charleston Gazette-Mail last year as they dug deep into the prescription-drug epidemic that was inflicting mortal wounds on their community.

No, what motivated them was the West Virginia paper’s unofficial motto: “Sustained outrage.”

That phrase, coined by former publisher Ned Chilton, “means a lot to people here,” executive editor Robert Byers told me last week, shortly after the 37,000-circulation paper won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The family-owned paper (Chilton’s daughter is the publisher now) has a newsroom staff of about 50.

“You can do a hundred stories” on the opioid crisis, Byers said, “but we wanted to know where all these drugs were coming from, and how could so many pills be diverted onto the street.”

Needless to say, not all communities have newspapers like this. On the contrary, in the Whitewater area, we have papers so weak that they’d never come close to a serious journalistic nomination, let alone a real award. Many of them give each other prizes at local press gatherings, for third-tier work, on a participation-trophy theory of life. Indeed, the local climate is so weak that a small-town politician can brand his own website a news source, cover for years the political projects in which he’s been directly involved, and expect to be taken seriously for it.

If  one can say of the admirable Charleston Gazette-Mail that its unofficial motto is sustained outrage, one can say as easily of the Gazette, Daily Union, Register, and Banner that they might as well have a common, unofficial motto of sustained boosterism.

This local problem has been part of That Which Paved the Way to the weaker economic, fiscal, and social conditions that plague nearby communities. The way out will not come neither from more of the same ideas nor the same people pushing the same ideas.

Reading and Reviewing

There are two books I’m eager to review here at FW: Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (2016) and Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story (4.18.17).  Like many others, I’ve been awaiting Goldstein’s book for some time, knowing that significant works take time.

For both books, I’ll proceed with a chapter-by-chapter assessment. I’ve the luxury of taking my time, for two principal reasons: first, blogging allows a self-chosen pace; second and more significantly, both books are worthy of detailed reviews.

There is a third reason, too, and particular to Whitewater:  this city’s local policymakers have a position so weak that their particular maneuverings are of little value. For them, unfortunately, it’s the fate of a grinding attrition for the near future. These political few, and those who have been part of this small group over the last generation, will have little part in whatever successful short-term events Whitewater sees.

A sensible, productive person would stay as far away as possible.  This class is, with a few exceptions, composed of individually capable people who’ve collectively thrown away capability. See, Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way). A political critique of Whitewater is now less a matter of advocacy as it is a recollection and narration of cumulative political errors.

The better approach for the city is a true private charity and a true private industry, unconnected to political policy. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Of Whitewater’s local politics, what once seemed to me primarily a matter of advocacy grew to seem more like a diagnosis, and now seems like epidemiology.

There’s a history to be written about all of this, incorporating particular projects into a bigger work, but for now it’s a greater pleasure to consider what others have written.

I’ll start Wednesday, and continue chapter by chapter, taking time with it all.

Less is Often More

Whitewater’s Common Council had a several items of interest on its agenda for last night’s meeting (among them A Hotel, a Party Plan, and a Dog).

The hotel and the dog (a police canine) were dropped from the agenda, and the item about a party plan (to address larger-scale social events) was discussed only in part. There was discussion of a mailing, with the latest proposal being a revision of an earlier mailing; the best practice will be to wait and see what a final product (if any) looks like.

As for dropping items from the agenda, as long as the items aren’t emergency needs (and neither a dog nor a hotel fits that category), I’ll suggest that less is more. As a procedural and as a legal matter under our Open Meetings Law, Wis. Stats. §§ 19.81-19.98, it’s true that ordinarily the concern is adding items, not omitting them.)

On a hotel in particular, there’s no reason concern oneself too much with it, as for the near-term it’s always been a longshot.

There’s something amusing in this matter from the Banner, whose publisher has flacked countless ineffectual capital-spending programs for years, showing apparent concern over a tax-credit-chasing hotel project for the center of town that’s unlikely to break ground there. In the improbable event that this should be a later-in-life conversion to a more prudent outlook, one should welcome it.

Media on the Right

Dylan Byers, writing in the latest the daily CNN Reliable Sources email (3.27.17 @ 10:32 PM) while Brian Stelter is away, describes the Three Faces of Right-Wing Media:

We throw around terms like “right-wing media” and “conservative media” all the time (see above), but as in the Republican party, there are multiple factions. Broadly speaking, these can be broken down into three groups…

1. THE POPULIST WING: Sites like Breitbart and Lifezette that were enthusiastic passengers on the Trump train but now appear willing, at least at times, to prioritize their principles over strict allegiance to the president.

2. THE MODERATE WING: Moderate Republicans and Never-Trumpers like The Wall Street Journal editorial board and The Weekly Standard who adhere to traditional Republican values and realpolitik, and who opposed Trump vigorously long before he took office.

3. THE TRUMP DEVOTEE WING: Unabashedly pro-Trump conservatives like Sean Hannity and other Fox News pundits who seem set to defend and promote the president no matter what. Outlets like these have provided Americans — including the president himself — with news sources that ignore developments that may be inconvenient for the president while highlighting stories that support his anti-terror and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

HERE’S THE RUB: While Fox News may provide safe harbor for the president for now, the growing restlessness of right-wing populists and enduring criticism of moderate Republicans are both likely to encroach on his safe space.

This is what Laura Ingraham, the founder of Lifezette, told me via email: “LifeZette is a populist media platform that has its own independent voice, even as it wants the president to be successful. Steve Bannon at CPAC told conservatives to keep the administration true to its promises. That’s what I had always planned to do.”

And this is what Stephen F. Hayes, the editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, told the magazine’s owner when he got promoted to the top of the masthead (via NYT): “Let’s add more resources and make sure that we’re basing our arguments on facts, logic and reason.”

I’d say these broad categories are generally accurate, with two exceptions. First, Breitbart and Lifezette are both populist, but not in the same way. Breitbart is a race-bating site just shy of Vdare. Lifezette’s not that far gone.

Second, including the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page in the moderate wing is a mistake. That editorial page hasn’t been truly moderate on Trump in months. (The Journal‘s recent editorial, So Much for Donald Mussolini, both distorts Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan’s work and whitewashes Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. It’s possible the board simply doesn’t understand Nyhan’s work, but it’s more likely they’re battening on the unfamiliarity of readers with Nyhan’s real, carefully expressed views.)

That’s not a moderate position – that’s evidence of shilling for Trump.

Wings 1 and 3 aren’t worth a damn, by the way: it’s low-quality work whether shilling for Trump or advocating worse policies. The gap between all these publications and The New Criterion or Commentary of a generation ago (or even now) is astounding: there’s a lack of rigor today that’s evident. (There’s no reason to think that Hannity, for example, would be able to get through a single article of Commentary or The New Criterion on his own. He’d need a CliffsNotes® version.)

Still, Byers offers a useful grouping as a starting point.

Marquette Law Poll, March 2017 (First Marquette Poll Since 2016 Election)

Selected results below, from among Wisconsin registered voters; full results are available online.


Trump Approval


Trump Disappproval


Trump’s Judgment


Trump’s Concern


Congressional Health Care Legislation


How Description of Law Influences Respondents’ Views


Undocumented Immigrants


Mexican Border Wall


The Upcoming Spring Election in Whitewater

One, but only one, of Whitewater’s Common Council races is contested. Some readers have asked me, variously, if I would comment on the candidates in the contested race, and where one might find the candidate statements submitted to the local League of Women Voters chapter.

I’ll leave residents to consider the candidates (including the contested race between incumbent Patrick Wellnitz and challenger Carol McCormick in District 1) without comment.

For those who would like to see the statements that some candidates have submitted, they may be found at http://www.lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html.

It’s fair to say that I have conflicting views on the League of Women Voters: the national organization has done much good work, but the local chapter betrays some shopworn biases (probably without grasping that they’re biases at all).  The local chapter also has a skewed-old problem that leads to, and exacerbates, their declining influence. For a discussion of the local chapter’s unfounded assumptions, see On the Whitewater League of Women Voters Questionnaire (Spring 2017).

The best approach for any candidate will always be to prepare his or her own statement, apart from any organization, and have it at the ready for distribution to residents.

Rep. Adam Schiff’s Opening Statement Outlining Basis of Russia Investigation

Prepared text of the statement that Rep. Schiff delivered in the video embedded above:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds this first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 Presidential election.

Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States.

The Russian “active measures” campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spearphishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington-based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through winter of 2016.

While at first, the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence, in mid-2016, the Russians “weaponized” the stolen data and used platforms established by their intel services, such as DC Leaks and existing third party channels like Wikileaks, to dump the documents.

The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton and, by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.

None of these facts is seriously in question and they are reflected in the consensus conclusions of all our intelligence agencies.

We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign in which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.

Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been similarly interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades. What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on earth. That ought to be a warning to us, that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong. And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will have only ourselves to blame.

We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like RT, the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is also a lot we do not know.

Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of Trump’s campaign personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.

In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they have used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They have employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here, but they have also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.

The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the Chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation we have signed. We will also examine whether the intelligence community’s public assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. Government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier, and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem. We have also reviewed whether there was any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower – and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation – and we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest.

Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with you the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are not important – they are very important – but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize, of course, that you may not be able to answer many of our questions in open session. You may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is any investigation. But we hope to present to you and the public why we believe this matter is of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation, not only by us, as we intend to do, but by the FBI as well.

Let me give you a little preview of what I expect you will be asked by our members.

Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence, or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know, and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this: the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?

Here are some of the matters, drawn from public sources alone, since that is all we can discuss in this setting, that concern us and should concern all Americans.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises Wikileaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he “has communicated with Assange,” and that more documents would be coming, including an “October surprise.” In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.”

In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #Lockherup. “Payload coming,” he predicts, and two days later, it does. Wikileaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to election day.

On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit, RT, and other Russian entities in the past. In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation. The Vice President, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened. The President is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The President does nothing. Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the President is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The President then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.

Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke – the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be the victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?

Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.

Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you, in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators, with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts. And in addition to this investigation, we still have our day job, which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country, agencies, which, by the way, are trained to keep secrets.

I point this out for two reasons: First, because we cannot do this work alone. Nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly; to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country. We also need your full cooperation with our own investigation, so that we have the benefit of what you may know, and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff and resources to this investigation that we do not have, and that can be completely removed from any political considerations. This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committees should and must do, but as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11.

The stakes are nothing less than the future of liberal democracy.

We are engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in this struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.

Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from the further Russian interference we know is coming. Only then can we help protect our European allies who are, as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.

Finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing, that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy, but bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues, or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the earliest stages of this investigation. That is to be expected. The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible. The truth is, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: If this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will and, after exhaustive work, reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest.

So let us try. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

Via Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Schiff Opening Statement During Hearing on Russian Active Measures @ U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence website.

On the Whitewater League of Women Voters Questionnaire (Spring 2017)

At its website, the Whitewater Area League of Women Voters has posted a questionnaire for the upcoming local election. For all the good work that the League does (and the national organization does admirable work in many communities), the questionnaire reveals an unsupported, narrow view of Whitewater’s local economy.

Consider the 7th question in the survey (http://www.lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html):

Q7. As University students move into available housing rentals in Whitewater, there is a chilling effect on single-family housing. What can be done to encourage more development of single-family homes and therefore an increase in that population?

A few remarks:

1. An assumption of negative effects. The question simply assumes a “chilling effect,” without even the slightest proof of one. (One can leave aside the misplaced use of chilling effect, normally a legal term applied to actions that stifle speech or lawful exercise of one’s rights.) If there should be a deterring effect in this case, can anyone at the Whitewater Area League quantify that effect? If not, then what makes this supposed effect more than any number of unfounded claims (e.g., four-leaf clovers, laetrile, Carrot Top as actually funny).

2. Whitewater’s economy. The questionnaire assumes, necessarily, the demand for rental housing makes single-family housing scarce. That’s most certainly not true of all college towns, many of which have large, well-cared-for single family residences. In those communities, single-family homes are desirable near a university (and so more of them are built). If there is no necessary connection, then the League has claimed one without evidence, and neglected other causes for the lack (in their minds) of single-family housing.

This is the key issue for Whitewater: When will policymakers stop blaming student housing for a lack of single-family housing, and start considering other causes for a (in their minds) a weak single-family housing market? (One could include among those other causes weak community relations – a lack of real engagement before enforcement)

3. Why only a negative effects? The questionnaire states effects in only one direction: negative, from student residents to non-student single-family home buyers. Even if one assumes some negative effects (and there’s no quantification of this), is there anyone who thinks that effects run only one way (that is, anyone outside of the League representative who drafted this questionnaire)? If so, those others have a paltry grasp of economic effects.

4. Why pick sides? An organization’s self-focused membership might assume that what they want is what (1) all others want or (2) what the community should have. These are market decisions among freely selling and purchasing adults, and those voluntary transactions prove that this community – in whole – wants and needs a robust student rental market.

5. Poor formation. The League’s seventh question isn’t even formulated correctly:  “As University students move into available housing rentals in Whitewater, there is a chilling effect on single-family housing” (my emphasis). No, a properly-formulated claim would not be about students moving into available housing rentals, it would be about single-family homes being converted into rentals.

6. Not a politician’s job. Why is it the task – as the League questionnaire assumes – that Whitewater’s common council should intervene in the housing market to advance an outcome that some (but not most actual buyers & sellers) prefer?

If government feels the need to act, it would do better to improve community-based enforcement, make basic municipal repairs, or care for the neediest members of the community: all these projects would be better than trying to rig the local housing market.

The most unfortunate aspect of the League’s question is that, for too many among this town’s policymakers, the Question 7 actually seems reasonable, indeed, obvious.

It’s nothing of the kind.

Molly Ball: Is the Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ the New Tea Party?

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball observes that “Today, a new movement—loosely dubbed “the resistance”—has suddenly arisen in visceral reaction to Donald Trump’s election as president, with thousands taking to the streets. For those who remember the Tea Party, it feels like deja vu. The parallels are striking: a massive grassroots movement, many of its members new to activism, that feeds primarily off fear and reaction. Misunderstood by the media and both parties, it wreaks havoc on its ostensible allies, even as it reenergizes their moribund political prospects; they can ride the wave, but they cannot control it, and they are often at the mercy of its most unreasonable fringe.”

Via Is the Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ the New Tea Party? @ The Atlantic.

What Grant’s Overland Campaign Teaches for Grave Political Conflict

For matters far removed from warfare, including ones concerning severe political conflict, Grant’s Overland Campaign offers useful lessons. It’s typically a poor idea to describe political affairs in military terms, but grave threats to the political order sadly call for a different approach.

One fights in more than one way: sometimes using maneuver, at other times attrition.

One may maneuver many times, again and again, each at a time of one’s choosing, until at last an adversary is in a gravely disadvantageous position, after which attrition will prove effective.

A campaign should fit an overall strategy, often where one coordinates with those farther away to inflict losses from many directions.

One engagement will lead to other engagements, and even a campaign will lead to other campaigns. One must be patient.

One will experience losses, often severe, along the way. There are no easy victories over great matters. Push on.

An adversary is finished only when he will, or can, go on no longer. Particular successes along the way are insufficient; one drives until an adversary’s final, irrecuperable ruin.

The National-Local Mix (Part 2)

On November 18th, I posted on a National-Local Mix, that combination of topics that a blogger might consider under Trump. The need to think about a national-local mix was obvious enough: “Trump is a fundamentally different candidate from those who have come before him.  Not grasping this would be obtuse.  Writing only about sewing circles or local clubs or a single local meeting while ignoring Trump’s vast power as president – and what it will bring about – would be odd. Someone in Tuscany, circa 1925, had more to write about than the countryside.”

To say I’m opposed to Trump, if it had to be said, would be an understatement.

How, though, does one go about deciding what to write about politics, sometimes national, sometimes local?

I’d say there are three steps: (1) be clear about one’s own political beliefs, and find the challenges to those beliefs in (2) national and (3) local policy.

(In this method, finding the challenges is actually a sign of optimism, as it assumes the more easily enumerated group is what’s wrong; if the smaller, more easily counted items were what’s right, then a community would be in truly terrible shape. Most matters in life are not political, and Whitewater in particular would do well to abandon a failed political culture. See, An Oasis Strategy.)

Here’s how those three steps look, in my (libertarian) case —

Political beliefs: individual liberty, limited government, free markets in capital, labor & goods, sound reasoning, peace.

National challenges: authoritarianism, nativism, mendacity, conflicts of interest, poor reasoning, government intervention for businesses, subservience & admiration of Putinism (this last being both a matter of domestic and foreign policy).

Local challenges: closed government, self-interested leadership, grandiosity, conflicts of interest, poor reasoning, government intervention for businesses, and factionalism & lack of community-based enforcement.

Other people would start with different beliefs, and so find different challenges. From the concerns they listed, one would have topics to address that derive from these concerns.

That some officials might have trouble making a list of their own principles (where principles mean more than self-interest) is much to their detriment.

Early Days

We’re in the early days of Trump, and we’ve likely a long and difficult way to go. (My daily count runs from 11.9, so it’s not as early from my vantage.) Even now, however, a solid resistance is forming across the country, including in red states that Trump supporters might otherwise consider unshakably Trump’s. (There is little, in the end, that will prove unshakably Trump’s.)

Clare Foran reports that The Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ Takes Hold in Red States (“This isn’t a fad, it’s not going away, and there’s nothing coastal or elite about it.”):

Last week, videos went viral of people expressing anger and dismay over the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act during the town hall in Tennessee, a state Trump won by a double-digit margin. So did footage of an angry crowd yelling “Do your job!” at Republican congressman and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz at a town hall in Utah….

In the end, GOP lawmakers will likely be more motivated to act if they believe the demands are coming from a significant number of their constituents. Aguirre, who said he never attended a protest before the election, noted that Utah Indivisible is composed of Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. “We’re a group of people who are all extremely pissed off,” he explained. Amanda Gormley, a 34-year-old Arizona Democrat and spokesperson for PN Tucson, which formed in opposition to Trump’s election, said her organization is “open to talking to conservatives.” But she clarified that’s not the group’s first priority. Instead, members will focus on encouraging people who voted against Trump to step up their civic engagement.

A few quick points about all this:

  1. For some who oppose Trump (myself included) opposition has nothing to do with being a Democrat, but rather with independent views. Opposition will require a grand coalition from among many, regardless of party.
  2. Foran’s article describes one method of active opposition – one that looks like the Tea Party protests in some respects – but one method is only one method. For every person who attends a rally, there may be many others who write letters and emails, who walk door-to-door, publish posts, etc.
  3. Local, small-town politicians often assume that how they have done something is how others should do something. So, if there’s never been a rally, they react with alarm to a rally (“this can’t be!”) and if no one nearby has ever written a blog, they insist that it’s simply impermissible to do so. (For an aspect of the latter from here in Whitewater, see An Anecdote About an Appeal to (but not of) Authority).
  4. Very few human events move in a straight line; resistance to Trump can expect setbacks and significant losses along the way. One should be Neither Shocked Nor Awed.
  5. For the most part, I believe that Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders should be the key focus of opposition.
  6. Significantly, this leaves unaddressed the problem of local officials who are, in effect if not avowedly, Trump surrogates. A resistance to Trump nationally that lets local officials carry on as Trump does is a half-resistance. Forming principles for opposition both nationally and locally is necessary.

There’s so much work – good work – to be done.

Underestimating Opposition

I’m libertarian, not liberal, but a quoted remark from some conservative teenagers about liberals caught my attention. In an essay in the New York Times (Why Rural America Voted for Trump), Robert Leonard describes how two conservative eighteen-year olds think of liberals. Here’s the essay’s introductory paragraph, containing the quote:

Knoxville, Iowa — One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.

Perhaps some liberals find this unfair or irritating, but I’ll leave them to their own assessment. Here’s what matters about the teenagers’ remark: they’re assuming their ideological opponents are lazy, and there are few greater mistakes than assuming weakness in one’s political opponents.

On the contrary, the better approach is to assume strength, skill, and tenacity in one’s opponents, and to prepare oneself to face capable adversaries.

Although one’s opponents might be lazy – and should be called out accordingly if that should prove true – one should prepare to face them as though they were industrious, relentless, insatiable. I’ve never prepared for any exchange in my life as though the other side were weak; one prepares as best one can under the assumption that a political adversary is formidable.

A liberal might look at the boys’ remark and take umbrage, but anyone (conservative, liberal, or libertarian) should look at it and notice instead the risk of underestimating others.

Wisconsin’s Best & Brightest Vie for Office

Molly Beck reports that two of the three candidates for state superintendent discussed an arrangement – not illegal yet astonishingly cynical –  about one of them dropping out in exchange for a state job:

A candidate for state superintendent offered an opponent a taxpayer-funded $150,000 job if he dropped out of the race and sought the same for himself if he were the one to drop out, his challenger alleged Wednesday.

Candidate John Humphries said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal that during discussions between him and opponent Lowell Holtz, Holtz proposed in writing that either he or Humphries should drop out in exchange for the guaranteed three-year job with the Department of Public Instruction should one of them defeat incumbent Tony Evers in the general election.

But Holtz said in an interview with the State Journal that the proposal — including a driver, benefits and sweeping control over several urban school districts, including Madison — was a “rough draft” of ideas assembled at the request of business leaders he declined to name of how the two conservative candidates could work together instead of running against each other. Both candidates said the proposal went nowhere.

Holtz said the proposal was intended for consideration after the primary, but Humphries said Holtz meant for it to be weighed before the race even began and contemplated scenarios under which one or the other candidate would drop out.

Each sought to make his case with dueling documents released Wednesday, although it was impossible to ascertain whether either had been altered.

Via State superintendent candidate: Challenger offered 6-figure job to drop out of race @ Wisconsin State Journal.

Credit where credit is due: this is industrial-grade jackassery.

Download (PDF, 443KB)

Download (PDF, 74KB)

An Eminent Psychiatrist on Trump

Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, who served as chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV), on 2.14.17 sent a letter to the New York Times in which he addresses questions about Donald Trump’s mental state. (SeeAn Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump’s Mental State.)

Frances is addressing a debate about whether Trump is mentally ill (Andrew Sullivan, The Madness of King Donald) or is simply a lifelong conniver who has profited from his misconduct (Eric Posner, Is Trump Mentally Unstable?)

Dr. Frances concludes that Trump’s behavior is worse than a person with mental illness, that Trump shows no signs of distress from his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy” (as a clinically-ill person would), and so suggesting Trump is mentally ill only stigmatizes those who suffer from properly-diagnosed conditions.

The full text of letter appears below (emphasis mine).

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

ALLEN FRANCES

Coronado, Calif.

Needless to say, I’ve neither the ability nor inclination to diagnose Trump; the better course is to defer to the judgment of those properly trained for this work (as Allen Frances surely is).

Frances’s point, however – that Trump’s “psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab” – seems profoundly right. The Ancients, with a sense of psyche but without the insights of modern psychiatry, yet would have been able to understand Trump well. We are right to see him as they would have, and as Dr. Frances does, and to conclude that the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

The ‘Balls & Strikes’ View

There’s an interesting exchange between conservative Trump-critic Evan McMullin and conservative Josh Hammer worth considering. The exchange shows the divide among conservatives about Trump. (There’s also a divide among conservatives about whether anti-Trump conservatives are, in fact, conservatives. To this libertarian, they all look sufficiently conservative; that intra-tribe debate is not one in which I’m engaged.)

First the highlights of the exchange:

2:50 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer  He’s obsessed with virtue signaling to MSNBC, NYT, Shaun King, and the rest of the clown show, and is incapable of anything but Trump hatred

3:44 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @Evan_McMullin Josh, I’m sincerely disappointed that this is how you feel.

3:45 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer So show more nuance in actually calling balls and strikes with Trump (as most of us Trump skeptics are), instead of just blasting him 24/7.

What it shows:

  1. Hammer contends that one should call balls & strikes with Trump, but that assumes Trump is a normal political figure, playing by normal rules of the game. Those who oppose Trump don’t accept that he’s within the American political tradition. Hammer also assumes that he – and others – are in a position to play the role of umpire with Trump. If Trump’s even half so bad as those opponents believe him to be, there’s no umpire that Trump will respect.
  2. Hammer thinks that McMullin’s criticisms are virtue-signaling to particular people and institutions. I neither know nor care; the principal question is whether Trump is autocratic.
  3. Hammer call himself a Trump skeptic. Just as one needn’t be an advocate, one needn’t be a skeptic. Some of us are opponents – that others are advocates or (as Hammer sees himself) skeptics is unpersuasive to us. Nuance looks like acquiescence and appeasement.
  4. There’s likely an aspect of intra-conservative peer pressure here: who’s securely within the group, who’s too close to dreaded adversaries outside the group. The real signaling isn’t virtue-signaling to outsiders – it’s signaling to insiders, a profession of countless orthodoxies to reassure one’s fellows of an ideologically correct and pure kinship. Those outside may never notice, but one can be assured that others inside will notice and will care.

There’s a funny local aspect to this, that brings to mind a story about when I began publishing this blog. At the time, someone related to me the concerns of a town notable about my blog. It took me a while (truly) to realize that the concerns mattered to her because someone in authority had expressed them. SeeAn Anecdote About an Appeal to (but not of) Authority. The source of the concerns was unimportant to me, as it was their substantive value that was worth considering. For some, however, social pressure drives debate and discussion.

Intra-conservative or intra-liberal debates will haunt much of the consideration of Trump, at least for now. They are interesting, but unpersuasive, to those outside those particular environs.

More on Local Problems Now Gone National

I posted in November that Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One. (That post described “local fake (or low-quality)” news, but strictly speaking fake news isn’t merely of low quality or error; fake news is deliberately manufactured to deceive. See, How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News.)

Some of the worst aspects of our new national politics have been present in many small towns for years: (1) grandiosity, (2) news stories from weak reporters or indifferent stringers who are mere scribes for those in power, (3) ceaseless conflicts of interest, including news sites from incumbent politicians, (4) distortion of facts to turn crud into caviar, (5) low-quality, lazy work passed off as though it were Newton’s Principia, and (6) a top-down condescension in which a few decide that their work is ‘good enough’ and so the many should settle for that lesser standard & lesser product.

The overwhelming majority of people in these communities are sharp and capable, and deserve more than compromised standards.

Our new national scene brings myriad challenges, but there are many who’ve lived with small-scale versions of these challenges for years.

Paul Krugman Asks ‘How This Ends’

On Twitter, Paul Krugman (@PaulKrugman) has a nine-tweet chain on possibilities after Trump becomes president. The chain begins at 1:05 PM – 6 Jan 2017 and ends at 1:16 PM – 6 Jan 2017.

Here are those tweets, in order:

Some musings on the next few years: We are, I’d argue, in much deeper and more treacherous waters than even the pessimists are saying 1/

It would be one thing if voters had freely chosen a corrupt authoritarian; then we’d be following a terrible but familiar path 2/

But as it is we had a deeply tainted election, and everyone knows it; in truth the FBI was the biggest villain, but Russian involvement 3/

is just so startling, and so contrary to the usual GOP flag-waving, that 2001-type whitewashing of illegitimacy isn’t taking hold 4/

A clever, self-controlled Trump would be careful now to preserve appearances and wait for revenge; but instead he’s confirming his status 5/

as Putin’s poodle/stooge with every tweet. Pretty soon everyone will think of him as a Manchurian candidate, even those pretending not to 6/

Yet there is no normal political mechanism to deal with this reality. So what happens? The GOP decides to impeach to install Pence? 7/

Mass people-power demonstrations? He orders the military to do something illegal and we have disobedience by the national security state? 8/

Or, alternatively, overt intimidation of critics by Trump gangs? Don’t call this silly — tell me how this ends. 9/

Krugman’s last tweet asks readers to tell him how this ends, and he’d be the first to see that it’s the easiest question to answer.

We don’t yet know.