Monday’s Mtg: How Far Left Will the Democratic Party Move?

Well, the Democrats seem united, and with a clear strategy, too. As you know, it’s pretty typical for a party’s presidential nominee to tack to the center after the convention. But, it seems the Dems really are going to try to take advantage of the GOP nominating a nut job for president by moving both leftward and rightward at the same time.

As everybody knows, Bernie Sanders’ surprising success resulted in a party platform that is farther to the left than it has been in living memory. As we’ll discuss on Monday, it’s generational changeover that are driving this bus. Millennials are very liberal (or just incoherent?), on both social and economic issues. The Republican Party has no idea how to appeal to young people and the Dems are trying to cement their loyalty for a generation.

But, the Dem convention made it crystal clear (in that showy and repetitive way party conventions do) that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party wants to expand the Obama coalition, not just replicate it. They are making a play to peel off college-educated White moderate voters from the GOP, a group that’s been loyal to the latter since roughly the Reagan era. If they can pull it off over a few back-to-back elections, the Democrats will have pulled off a rare, historic political realignment that could last decades.

Except…how can the Democrats go in both directions at once? Even if they do so successfully this electoral cycle, can it last? Can the Dems satisfy the growing progressive sentiments of Democratic voters and pick off the low hanging fruit of an increasingly extremist GOP without flying apart from the internal contradictions?

I suggest we grope for tentative answers to these questions the same basic way we did last week when we discussed the future of the Republican Party. In brief opening remarks, I will try to lay out how the basic building blocks of the Democratic Party are changing: Its leadership, institutions, and voting blocs. The “emerging Democratic majority” that was confidently predicted in a well-known 1999 book hasn’t actually emerged in a stable form. But, it might, helped along in the near-term by Trump and in the longer-term by other factors that created Trump (last week’s discussion) and within the Democratic Party (this week’s).

Obviously, the future is too contingent to predict with much confidence. But, I think we can have another great discussion like the one we had picking over the GOP’s bleached bones last week.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What does “progressive” mean right now? Policies: Econ + social issues? Rhetoric? Abstract beliefs like size/reach of govt? Inclusiveness? Exclusiveness?
    –> Is Left/Right too simple a way to describe our politics, or at least many voters?
  2. How liberal are Dem right now, in terms of their (1) elected officials and (2) voters? Has the Party really been moving rapidly leftwards recently?
  3. If so (or if not), why? Leaders, institutions, voters, events?
  4. Is it permanent?
    –>  Will the forces moving Dems leftwards last? Will new trends emerge?
    –>   What about countervailing forces, including the GOP response?
    –>  If Dem coalition gets bigger, must it get more centrist?
  5. Ought: What do you think the Democrats should do (morally + strategically)?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Movement leftwards so far –

  • On economics, both Obama and Dem electorate have moved left.
  • Conservative POV: Really, really left on everything.
  • Wrong. As this graph shows, Dem elected officials even in the House have moved only a little left since 1980. It is House Republicans that moved far to the right.

The future Democratic Party will be…

Next Week (Aug 8):  Is Obamacare working?  What comes next?

Monday’s Mtg on Future of Democratic Party

Tomorrow (Friday) PM I’ll post my usual pre-mtg link-fest.  I was watching all the convention stuff.  It’ll will be a great time to talk about the Dems’ future.

Monday’s Mtg: Trumpocalypse and the Future of the GOP

As I sit here on Thursday night Donald Trump has just finished delivering his shocking, openly authoritarian victory speech at the Republican Party convention. I am beside myself.  I have never been more frightened for my country. The Republican Party has destroyed itself and may destroy us all.

Trump’s speech (and entire campaign) is an audition to be America’s dictator. When he paints his terrifying portrait of a helpless and exploited United States preyed upon by criminals and foreigners, he is describing a nation near its final, apocalyptic collapse and arguing that only he can prevent it. “Law and order” is means one-man rule, Constitution and checks and balances be damned. Make no mistake.

So, what is a group called Civilized Conversation to do? Talk seems so pointless now, so strongly must we all fight to stop this monster and the political party he now speaks for. The election will be close – count on it. This man is guaranteed 45% or so of the national vote and the party he is molding in his image holds more legislative power than at any time since the mid-1920s. I think tonight’s speech is so well-written, passionately-delivered, and rousing that the entire GOP leadership will cave in now to his grotesque spell. For now, it’s Trump’s party, body and soul, an enraged, terrified White nationalist party.

But, hold on. The future isn’t written yet. Only with time will we learn whether Trumpism really is a movement or just a man. I think we can discuss in a civilized (-ish) fashion how the Republican Party is likely to evolve from here. The GOP’s future will depend on many things besides November’s outcome. Leadership. Organization. The corporate, evangelical, and other wings of the Party. Media. Events. Even how the Democratic Party comports itself!

On Monday I will give a brief introduction on what the future of the GOP might depend on. This will be future-focused. For “theories of Trumpism” I refer you to our meeting we had on him last November. It is going to be very hard to turn the Republican Party from this path, given Trump’s immense talent at fear-mongering and persuading a crowd that he has the easy solutions he promises. But, maybe it can be done, and maybe the GOP can be something other than what it has become.

(Oh, and we should also discuss the many ways in which Trump is NOT conservative. The man has shredded conservative orthodoxy on trade, foreign policy, immigration, and much else, and I’m not sure what that signifies and where the Party will go.)

Civilized conversation? Always. But, after that strong-man oration and the crowd’s adulatory response? Saving our civilization is a part of the discussion now, too.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1.  I will write some after I have calmed down a little.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Causes and Lessons of Trumpism –

Future of GOP and Trumpism:

Next Week: The Democrats’ Turn – How far Left will the Party move?

Monday’s Mtg: Native Americans – Are Their Interests Still Neglected?

This is a great topic we haven’t done before. Thanks to Carl for suggesting it.

I know very, very little about Native American social and political interests and issues. According to Wiki, the last U.S. Census counted just under 3 million Native Americans in this country, plus another 2.2 million people that claimed partial native heritage. There are close to 600 recognized tribes, each with a formal nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government.

That sounds like a lot of people, but their numbers are small by America political standards, and several other factors combine to weaken Native American influence. For one, they are the most rural of all U.S. ethnic/racial groups. About 1 million live on reservations, often far removed from the centers of state power. In most states, Native American votes are a rounding error:  They comprise less than 1 percent of the population in most states and more than 5% percent of the population in only 6 states (AK, NM, SD, OK, MT, ND).  It also doesn’t help, I imagine, that many American think casino gaming has made all tribes rich. It hasn’t – not even close.

The social and economic problems affecting Native American communities are legion, of course.  From poverty to poor schools to environmental degradation. Governments at all levels have proven indifferent to and incompetent at handling Native affairs.

President Obama has a very strong record on issues of importance to Native American communities, according to accounts I’ve read. You can read the details below and I’ll summarize them quickly to open our meeting.  Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton made it a point to court Native American votes.  Donald Trump…well, loves to call Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” while the crowd makes mock war woops.  But, there is a conservative POV that Native Americans are too dependent on the federal government for their own good.  I think this is an idea worth discussing, as is the notion of whether progressives have (and should have) abandoned the belief that cultural and economic assimilation is a positive good for minorities like Native Americans.

On Monday night I’ll open our meeting with a little basic information about Native Americans in the United States and some issues that (I’ve read) are of major concern to those communities.  Then, I’ll turn to Carl for his thoughts.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Basic Information:

  • Wiki entry: “Native Americans in the United States.”
  • Part-Native Americans are the largest multi-racial group in the USA, but they don’t think of themselves that way!  Recommended.

Issues:

Politicians/policies:

Next Week:  GOP convention wrap-up –
Trump, Trumpism, and the Doomed Grand Old Party

Monday’s Mtg: Are Californians Environmentally Over-Regulated?

This topic is one that political conservatives worry about a lot. Every time California experiences a recession or the mildest growth hiccup, and every time a high-profile business leaves California for another state conservatives say it’s all because of over-regulation. To me at least, their rhetoric often sounds ideological and a cynical cover for corporate self-interest.

But, not so fast. I think there’s something to this topic, even after discounting for rhetorical excess and partisanship. California has a very dense web of environmental regulations. They affect every aspect of living and doing business in our state. No one serious is saying we should not have clean air and water, safe consumer products, and wetlands. But, perhaps Californians can be said to be over-regulated, especially if “over-regulated” is carefully and specifically defined.

One definition of excessive govt regulation involves marginal costs exceeding marginal benefits. I will explain this basic concept briefly in my opening framing remarks on Monday night. But, basically, the more stringent an environmental regulation is, the higher the costs of implementing it and (probably) the smaller the additional increment of benefits it provides. You can think of the marginal costs and benefit curves as being non-linear to reflect this. At some point the lines cross, and the reg does more harm than good.

This sounds simple, but it’s very hard to compare costs to benefits in a way that gives us confidence we have assessed them right. C/B analysis is not my field, nor is environmental policy. But I’ll explain this basic idea within the level of my competency.

A second type f over-regulation involves the bureaucratic process. The enviro law permitting process in California can be very time consuming and expensive, especially for big projects that require the full Monty environmental impact studies. There is a lot of talk right now in Sacramento about streamlining the processes. Process is one of those boring-but-really-important aspects of government that separates good government from bad, even if it’s hard for non-experts to discuss and gets very little media attention.

A third type is more like mis-regulation. Like the rest of government, enviro laws/regs can and do get manipulated by private interests for their own benefit, usually at the expense of their public good. As the links explain, below, the third party litigation allowed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is vulnerable to this. (As is our initiative process, that big biz uses to bypass enviro laws they don’t like.)

Huge battles are brewing all over the country over the future of our environment and climate.  As always, Californians will be manning the front lines. At present, the Republican Party has virtually abandoned the environmentalism it used to embrace. That can’t last forever, though. Even if it does, it puts the Democrats in danger. Progressives risk getting too smug about their environmentalism and ceasing to listen to skeptics, businesses, and other good people who bear the brunt of good (and sometimes bad) policy.

I think an honest discussion of the limits of CA’s environmental regulation is very much needed now.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What are CA’s main environmental laws? How do they get enforced?
  2. What is “over-regulation?” Can it have more than one meaning? How can we measure its extent and distinguish valid complaints from false/cynical ones?
  3. If we’re over-regulated environmentally, how did we get that way? How can we safely reverse any over-regulation?
  4. New areas: What do we think of the latest CA enviro laws addressing climate change, energy use, toxins, and groundwater?
  5. Is “technology forcing” regulation a good idea? How do we know if we’re overdoing it?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

[Update – Climate Policy – CA is moving very aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Here is a (very supportive) description of what’s bee done, and here is what to expect in the near future.]

Are we environmentally over-regulated?

Next Week July 18: Are native-American interests being neglected?

Monday’s Mtg: What Does Today’s Science Fiction Say About the USA?

Borg on the fourth of July! Yes, Monday’s topic really is based on the idea that science fiction can be very revealing of American culture and society. I thought it would make a fun summer holiday topic.  That and it let me use that pun.

I know this topic puzzled some of you. Here’s my thinking. I read once that if you want to understand a country’s history or politics or economics, you should read non-fiction. But, if you want to understand a nation’s culture then you must read its fiction, and really try to grok (the first of many Sci-Fi metaphors this week) what it is trying to say about society.

Science fiction in particular, IMO, can tell us a lot about where our cultural zeitgeist is at and where it’s heading. Why? Because sci-fi is speculation about what the future might be and should be like: How we’ll use technology, organize society, and see ourselves.  It also explores who might benefit and suffer under alternate scenarios.  Like all fiction, reflects our cultural zeitgeist.  Perhaps more than other types of fiction, sci-fi helps to frame our big choices and their consequences .

(BTW, to quote Robert Heinlein, “a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” If sci-fi is about what might be, fantasy can be thought of as being about what cannot be.)

Plus, science fiction is wildly popular these days. Sci-fi movies took in nearly one-quarter of U.S. ticket sales in 2015, triple what they did in 1995. TV is awash in sci-fi and mixed sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows, like The Walking Dead and Preacher.

Moreover, the sci-fi/fantasy genres have changed a lot recently. On the bright side, there’s more cultural and international diversity in both authorship, viewership, and plotlines.  But, modern sci-fi has also gotten pretty dark and apocalyptic and it seems more explicitly political and ideological than it used to be, at least to me.  Movie sci-fi  has gotten really, really dumbed-down too, in my opinion, with its superheroes and digital special effects overkill.

Some of these changes reflect changes in the entertainment industry and special effects technology, not cultural evolution or devolution. I’ll explain some of those changes in a brief opening presentation on Monday. Then, we can get our sociology and cultural criticism on.  Or we can talk about Thor, World War Z, or the latest Superman atrocity.  But, please – not Jar Jar Binks.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Why science fiction matters –

Sci-Fi as social/political commentary –

How Sci-Fi has changed recently and why –

Next Week: Are Californians environmentally over-regulated?

Monday’s Mtg: Whatever Happened to the Boat People?

Today’s “boat people” fleeing the Middle East for Europe are just the latest in a long line of water-borne refugees fleeing wars and chaos. Carl, who has some personal experience in this, wanted us to talk about what most people old enough to remember it think of as the Boat People: The 1.2 million Southeast Asians that fled the aftermath of the wars in Indochina in the 1970s-80s. Most of them that resettled in the United States were Vietnamese, many of Chinese or Hmong descent. But, there were also tens of thousands of Cambodians, Laotians, and others.

I won’t be at Monday’s meeting. Too bad because I remember these events pretty vividly. I remember we faced the same hard questions and anguished choices the Europeans are facing today over their refugee problem. What is our moral responsibility to these people? Which countries should let in how many? Who should screen them and using what criteria? How can we help the host countries near the war zone that are overwhelmed with asylum seekers? Should some refugees be sent back to their home countries against their will (some Vietnamese boat people were)?

And, I recall the fierce political opposition the Boat People inspired, not just here but in other countries – including, BTW, Germany and Great Britain. In 1975 when Saigon fell, everybody was generous. As migrants kept on coming in large numbers year after year, not so much. Yes, a lot of that opposition was racist. But 1975-85 were tough economic times, too. A lot of Americans did not want to compete for jobs and government resources with an unexpected new wave of immigrants from countries that we had already sacrificed 57,000+ of our young men to defend.

As Carl will explain in my absence, many of the Boat People of the 1970s-80s had a kind of happy ending. The international community eventually resettled over 2 million of them, mostly in developed countries, with the United States taking the most. They joined a long historical list of boat people (see links), from Cubans (1980s) to Haitians (1980s) to European Jews (1940s).

You would think we’d have this down by now.

Anyway, on Monday evening Carl will give his take on whatever happened to the Indochinese Boat People and what lessons we perhaps should have learned.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Next Week:  What does today’s science fiction say about our culture?
Borg on the fourth of July!  

Monday’s Mtg: Should We Care About “Brexit?”

On June 23, the United Kingdom will decide in a national referendum whether to leave the European Union. Polls show the vote is too close to call, and the earthquake of a decision to exit the EU might actually happen.

[** Update:  Just today (TH) an MP that supports staying in the EU was assassinated on a street corner by a right-wing, anti-immigrant nut.  This event could turn the tide against Brexit in the close contest.]

If it does, the consequences could be profound for the UK, the EU, and the rest of the world (which includes us). A Brexit vote would trigger a complicated, multiyear process to divorce the UK from EU laws and rules at just about every level of interaction. The British government would have to change hundreds of British laws and thousands of regulations and formally renegotiate the terms of all of its commercial relations with the EU.

Why leave? The British would gain back some of the sovereignty and flexibility the country voluntarily gave up when it decided – by referendum – to join in 1975 1973 (although not its currency; the UK is not a Euro zone country). It would not have to pay what’s basically an annual membership fee of about $40 billion [update: The exact net amount of annual transfers is in dispute; an audit says about $7B]. It would be free of pesky EU regulations. These include EU requirements to admit a large number of refugees from the Middle East, which is a major driver of the pro-Brexit campaign in the Conservative (Tory) Party and right-wing parties.

But, there is also a huge potential downside, as the articles below brutally explain. There is a huge risk of economic and financial instability, at least in the early stages of a UK-EU decoupling. Great Britain could lose diplomatic and economic leverage. The future of the EU itself might be endangered if other member countries decide to follow Britain’s lead and/or if Brexit induces financial panic or economic recession. For these reasons and more, political and economic elites in and out of the UK pretty much universally oppose Brexit.

But, elites won’t decide this thing; British voters will. Six days from today. Think of this as our Populism, Part II: The Empire Strikes Back meeting.

On Monday, I will start our meeting with a brief description of why the Brexit referendum is even happening. Then I’ll list a few of the best-case/worst-case consequences of a Yes vote, including on the US economy and foreign policy.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What is Brexit? Why is it happening?
  2. Who supports and opposes Brexit inside the UK? What are the main arguments they make? What do outsiders think?
  3. Impact if Brexit fails (“Remain” in EU wins).
  4. Impact if Yes (Leave the EU):
    1. On UK; e.g., econ and finance, immigration, regulatory, foreign policy?
    2. On EU.
    3. On rest of world, including USA.
  5. What are the Big Lessons here? Are any of them for us?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

ABCs –

Pro-Brexit (Leave the EU) –

Anti-Brexit (Remain) –

Consequences of and Lessons for    the United States –

Next Week: Whatever happened to the Boat People?

 

Monday’s Mtg: Trump & Sanders – What Does Populism Mean Now?

Everyone is talking about the return of populism to American politics in light of Donald Trump’s astonishing primary victory and Bernie Sanders’ near-miss. But, there is some sloppy use of the term, even in the elite media. Many commentators seem to say “populist” when they just mean “popular.” Many ignore important differences between left-wing and right-wing populisms and democratic versus authoritarian populisms. I find this to be a shocking dereliction of their duty.

Of course, populist appeals are not just those that work really well on regular people. The term has a specific meaning historically. In the words of one of the links, populism

…generally refers to a rhetorical style that seeks to mobilize “the people” as a social or political force. Populism can move to the left or right. It can be tolerant or intolerant. It can promote civil discourse and political participation or promote scapegoating, demagoguery, and conspiracism. Populism can oppose the status quo and challenge elites to promote change, or support the status quo to defend “the people” against a perceived threat by elites or subversive outsiders.

The point is that populism defines The People and fingers The Guilty Elites. But, historically, left-wing and right-wing populisms in America do this very differently.  (I think neither is inherently democratic or undemocratic, or at least I used to). Sanders and Trump continue this sharp difference. Both men and their movements have starkly divergent ideas about who are the oppressed people and who are their oppressors. And, despite some loose talk about their alleged substantive similarities, Bernie and the Beast have radically different ideas on what to do about it.

Now, the broader impact these two men and their revolutions (or “revolutions”) will have on our politics will be on Civilized Conversation’s radar for a long time. We will meet on the future of the Republican and Democratic parties right after their nominating conventions.  July 25 = GOP, August 1 = Dems). But, I think the populist revival is not a flash in the pan in the USA or elsewhere, so I thought modern populism merited its own evening in our spotlight.

On Monday, I will open our meeting with some brief remarks on the differences between left-wing and right-wing populism in the United States and a (very!) quick summary of the major populist features of both Bernie and Trump. Then, we can have a wide-ranging discussion of whatever’s on your minds, including, I hope, the following tough questions.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What has populism meant, historically? Have American versions of populism had unique characteristics?
  2. What is the difference between populism and…
    1. Popularity (mass appeal) in a democracy?
    2. Pandering?
    3. Scapegoating?
  3. Right-wing versus left-wing populisms: How do they differ, specifically?
    1. Underlying world views?
    2. Who they appeal to (“us”) and target as the enemy  (“them”)?
    3. Their solutions?
  4. Populism versus authoritarianism: When does populism expand democracy versus threaten it?
  5. Sanders and Trump: How populist are their
    1. Rhetoric
    2. Policies?
  6. How lasting will their “revolutions” be on GOP/Dems?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  Lots, so pick and choose.

ABCs of American Populism:

International Comparisons:

Trump and Right Wing Populism’s Future:

Bernie and Left-Wing Populism’s Future:

Next Week: Brexit – What if the U.K. votes on June 23 to leave the E.U.?

We’re a Meetup, Now, too!

After 10+ years (!!) as a standalone club, Civilized Conversation is now also a Meetup group.  I thought it would help us find some new members in this world-historically crazy election year.

We’re:  http://www.meetup.com/Civilized-Conversation-of-San-Diego/

Our process will remain unchanged.  By every Friday evening I’ll post my usual pre-mtg intro to our next topic with links to optional background reading.  If you join the Meetup group you’ll get their email reminders, and it might be more convenient way for some of your friends to join CivCon.

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