Category Archives: Politics

Authoritarianism Reimagined: The Riddle of Trump’s Base

Source: David Norman Smith, The Sociological Quarterly, Latest Articles, April 22, 2019
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From the abstract:
Social scientists are often reluctant to think that cruel words express actual personal cruelty—so when they hear people speak harshly about minorities or women, they tend to blame stress and anxiety, not hate. In that spirit, it is often said that voters who favored Donald Trump in 2016 supported him not because they vibrated with his vindictive rhetoric but rather because they were fearful about their finances. However, many recent studies, including my papers with Eric Hanley, undermine that claim. Financial worries were widespread and did not distinguish Republicans from Democrats in 2016. Rather, what typified Trump partisans was the vehemence of their prejudices—for a domineering leader who would “crush evil” and “get rid of rotten apples” and against feminists, liberals, immigrants, and minorities. My contention here is that grasping this point is essential if we hope to understand the kind of authoritarianism that Trump represents.

Related:
The Politics of Cruelty
Source: Peter Kivisto, The Sociological Quarterly, Latest Articles, April 22, 2019
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From the abstract:
The authoritarian tendencies evident in the Trump campaign and administration are framed by the idea of a “politics of cruelty,“ drawing on Judith Shlkar’s idea of the ”liberalism of fear,” current research using authoritarianism theory, and arguments concerning the impact of the political theology of white Christian nationalism.

Reactionary Tribalism Redux: Right-Wing Populism and De-Democratization
Source: Robert J. Antonio, The Sociological Quarterly, Latest Articles, April 22, 2019
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From the abstract:
This article addresses the question of whether the social impacts, especially increased socioeconomic inequality, and formalization of democracy generated by the neoliberal economization of politics is an important albeit not singular driver of resurgent ethnocracial populism and illiberal democracy.

Political Moderation and Polarization in the Heartland: Economics, Rurality, and Social Identity in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Source: Ann M. Oberhauser, Daniel Krier & Abdi M. Kusow, The Sociological Quarterly, Latest Articles, Published online: April 12, 2019
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From the abstract:
The 2016 U.S. presidential election was a watershed event that signaled decreasing political moderation and increasing partisan polarization, authoritarianism, and ethno-nationalism. Iowa, located at the center of the American Heartland, swung to the political right more than any other state. Multivariate regression analysis of county-level data is used to determine the relative contribution of factors reputed to have caused voters to support Trump: rurality, economic distress, and social identity. We find that rurality and social identity, but not economic distress, were significantly correlated with Iowa’s swing to Trump. Polarization along these social divisions must be addressed if the Heartland is to return to political moderation.

Related:
What made voters flip parties in 2016?
Source: Angie Hunt, Futurity, April 22, 2019

Iowa had more counties flip from Democrat to Republican than any other state, and the reason why had little to do with economic anxiety, research finds.

Corporations and the American Welfare State: Adversaries or Allies?

Source: Mark S. Mizruchi, Studies in American Political Development, FirstView, Published online: February 18, 2019
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One of the most widely held views about American political life is that business is hostile to the welfare state. In the 1970s, David Vogel asked why American businessmen “distrusted their state.” Kim Phillips-Fein has written of the “businessmen’s crusade against the New Deal.” Jane Mayer and Nancy MacLean have recounted the efforts of the Koch Brothers and their wealthy allies to remake American politics in a more conservative direction. What could be more uncontroversial than the view that American business is broadly opposed to government social policies?

Related:

Ascertaining Business’s Interests and Political Preferences
Source: David E. Broockman, Studies in American Political Development, FirstView, Published online: February 26, 2019
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Medicare is one of the largest social programs in the world. Did organized industry favor Medicare’s passage in 1965? If it did, this would represent powerful evidence in favor of the theory that social programs typically require cross-class alliances to pass, such as alliances between business and labor. However, in a previous article in this journal, I argued that answering questions about political actors’ preferences—such as whether organized industry favored Medicare’s passage—can be surprisingly difficult due to the “problem of preferences”; that is, political actors might misrepresent their true policy preferences for many reasons. For example, when their ideal proposals are not politically feasible, political actors may wish to bolster support for a more politically viable alternative to a disliked proposal—even if they do not truly support this alternative to the status quo. To better understand political actors’ true policy preferences, I argued, scholars should trace how those actors’ expressed preferences change as a function of their strategic context—just as scholars seeking to understand the impact of any other variable trace the effects of changes in it.

Business Interests and the Shape of the U.S. Welfare State: From the Insurance Company Model to Comprehensive Reform
Source: Christy Ford Chapin, Studies in American Political Development, FirstView, Published online: February 18, 2019
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Peter Swenson’s excellent article is a welcome correction to the consensus argument so often found in welfare state literature. That interpretation depicts a never-ending, dualistic struggle between capitalists and “the people,” as represented by welfare reformers. Swenson sorts through the evidence surrounding post-1960 health care debates, particularly Medicare, to demonstrate that “business” is not a fixed, homogeneous group that conforms neatly to class-based analysis. He finds significant business backing for federal programming and also shows that where trade associations took conservative, anti-reform stands, they often did so without strong member support.

Hiding in Plain Sight: PAC-Connected Activists Set Up ‘Local News’ Outlets

Source: Alex Kasprak, Bethania Palma, Snopes, March 4, 2019

On 6 February 2017, a website of uncertain origin named “The Tennessee Star” was born. At the time, it was unclear who funded or operated this “local newspaper,” which was largely filled with freely licensed content from organizations tied to conservative mega-donors. After some prodding by Politico in early 2018, the Tennessee Star revealed its primary architects to be three Tea Party-connected conservative activists: Michael Patrick Leahy, Steve Gill, and Christina Botteri.

Now, a Snopes investigation reveals in detail how these activists used the appearance of local newspapers to promote messages paid for or supported by outside or undisclosed interests. Gill, for example, is the political editor of the Tennessee Star, but he also owns a media consulting company that at least one candidate and one Political Action Committee (PAC) paid before receiving positive coverage in the Tennessee Star. Several Star writers have in the past or currently work for PACs or political campaigns that they write about, without disclosing that fact. Though its owners claim that the Tennessee Star is funded by advertising revenue, it appears to be supported by wealthy benefactors. Whatever the Tennessee Star is, it is not a local newspaper producing transparent journalism.

But this story is about more than just the Tennessee Star. Leahy, Botteri, and Gill have been expanding their version of journalism to other battleground states in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. They are, they say, co-founders of a new, Delaware-registered company, Star News Digital Media, Inc., whose explicit strategy is to target battleground states with conservative news. So far, Leahy, Gill, and Botteri have added The Ohio Star and The Minnesota Sun to their network of purportedly local newspapers. These papers are effective carbon copies of the Tennessee Star.

The shutdown: Drowning government in the bathtub

Source: William E. Nelson, The Conversation, February 12, 2019

…. Shuttering the government for the third time since Trump took office remains possible, but is less likely now, given Monday’s progress towards a deal in Congressional talks over securing the border. Meanwhile, bipartisan support, including among prominent Republicans like Sens. Chuck Grassley, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman, is rising for bills that would prohibit shutdowns.

The president’s observable objective in this political conflict is getting money from Congress to build the border wall.

As legal scholars who have spent much of our careers analyzing the interaction between government and society, including the economy, we believe that intentionally or not, the shutdown also was consistent with a goal long sought by a subset of the Republican Party – not to be confused with traditional, moderate Republicans – that wants to dismantle the government.

Starve the beast

These advocates of limiting government’s size have a traffic cop theory of the state, featuring a minimalist state focused on safety and security.

Many believe that government is at best superfluous and at worst a drag on a free market. It has long been their aim to cut taxes to “starve the beast.” ….

When newspapers close, voters become more partisan

Source: Joshua P. Darr, Johanna Dunaway, Matthew P. Hitt, The Conversation, February 11, 2019

…. At a time when national political news is inescapable, there is less local news to be found – and less interest in local politics from Americans.

This shift in media may have a direct effect on how people vote. Local newspapers help protect American democracy by giving people the information they need to hold local government accountable. They also provide an alternative to national news that is often focused on partisan conflict.

As political scientists and communications scholars who study the media’s influence on voters, we wanted to know whether these changes in the news industry had political effects. ….

Beyond the Critique of Rights: The Puerto Rico Legal Project and Civil Rights Litigation in America’s Colony

Source: Valeria M. Pelet del Toro, Yale Law Journal, Vol. 128 no. 3, January 2019

Long skeptical of the ability of rights to advance oppressed groups’ political goals, Critical Legal Studies (CLS) scholars might consider a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico and ask, “What good are rights when you live in a colony?” In this Note, I will argue that CLS’s critique of rights, though compelling in the abstract, falters in the political and historical context of Puerto Rico. Although it may appear that rights have failed Puerto Ricans, rights talk has historically provided a framework for effective organizing and community action. Building on the work of Critical Race Theory and LatCrit scholars, this Note counters the CLS intuition that rights talk lacks value by focusing on the origins and development of the Puerto Rico Legal Project, an understudied but critical force for community development and legal advocacy on the island that was founded in response to severe political repression during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This Note draws on original interviews with Puerto Rican and U.S. lawyers and community activists to reveal fissures in the critique of rights and to propose certain revisions to the theory. By concentrating on the entitlements that rights are thought to provide, CLS’s critique of rights ignores the power of rights discourse to organize marginalized communities. The critique of rights also overlooks the value of the collective efforts that go into articulating a particular community’s aspirations through rights talk, efforts which can be empowering and help spur further political action. By analyzing twentieth-century Puerto Rican legal and political history and the Puerto Rico Legal Project, I demonstrate the value (and limits) of rights in a colonized nation.

How Democrats Solve Their Geography Problem

Source: Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly, January 14, 2019

In a cover package in our latest issue, the Washington Monthly argues that the Democratic Party’s most profound—but fixable—problem is geography. In the 2018 midterms, Democrats rode a “blue wave” of support to their first House majority since 2011. Yet, even with a nine-point advantage in the national vote, they lost a net of two Senate seats. That’s because their voters are increasingly clustered in solid-blue states like California and New York and too thin on the ground in states like North Dakota and Ohio. If this situation continues, Democrats will have a tough time ever regaining the Senate (where sparsely and heavily populated states each get two senators) and may continue to lose the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote.

The challenge is not only that Democrats have hemorrhaged support in economically declining rural areas. It’s also that metro areas in red and purple states, which generally support Democrats, haven’t been growing enough to offset those rural losses. Instead, growth in income and opportunity has overwhelmingly flowed to a handful of large metro areas on or near the coasts—precisely the places where Democrats are wracking up millions of “wasted” votes.

Democrats can fix their geography problem, our latest issue argues, only by confronting this regional economic inequality. And the best and only way to do that is to reverse the national policies that caused the problem in the first place: the abandonment of antitrust and other measures that once ensured that every part of the country could compete economically, which has since enabled the rise of monopoly firms that cluster opportunity in a few lucky coastal megacities like San Francisco and New York…..