Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 13, 2020
by Tony Wikrent
Strategic Political Economy
[ZeroHedge, via Mike Norman Economics 12-11-20]
If you’ve been waiting for a sign that things are really bad economically in the United States, here it is. Americans who never would have contemplated shoplifting before are stealing food to survive…. I wrote the other day about how the response to the pandemic has destroyed the personal finances of American families. An area that deserves more attention is food insecurity…. More than 50 million people are suffering from food insecurity in the United States right now, a number that has leaped dramatically due to the response to the coronavirus….
Twenty percent of Americans are now turning to food banks to help keep their families fed. And according to a report in the Washington Post, the shoplifting of food and other essential items is increasing significantly….
The result is a growing subset of Americans who are stealing food to survive.
Shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began in the spring and at higher levels than in past economic downturns, according to interviews with more than a dozen retailers, security experts and police departments across the country. But what’s distinctive about this trend, experts say, is what’s being taken — more staples like bread, pasta and baby formula.
“We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” said Jeff Zisner, chief executive of workplace security firm Aegis. “It’s not a whole lot of people going in, grabbing TVs and running out the front door. It’s a very different kind of crime — it’s people stealing consumables and items associated with children and babies.” (source)
[Washington Post, via Zero Hedge 12-10-20]
“Alex graduated with a master’s degree in May and was immediately in a bind: no job, no money and, with much of the country still shut down, little hope that anything would change. She’d spent most of her $1,200 stimulus check on rent, and used what little she had left to buy groceries. Everything else — vitamins, moisturizer, body wash — she said she shoplifted from a Whole Foods Market a few miles from her apartment in Chicago. ‘It was like, I could spend $10 and get a couple of vegetables or I could spend $10 on just a box of tampons,’ said Alex, 27, who asked to be identified by her middle name to speak candidly. She has a job now, earning $15 an hour, but still struggles to make ends meet. She says she continues to shoplift — something she’d never done before the pandemic — every few weeks. She says she moves through the store mostly unnoticed. Usually, she said, she picks up a few bulky vegetables — a bunch of kale, maybe, or a few avocados — to disguise the pricier items she slips into her bag at the self checkout. ‘I don’t feel much guilt about it,” she said. ‘It’s been very frustrating to be part of a class of people who is losing so much right now. And then to have another class who is profiting from the pandemic — well, let’s just say I don’t feel too bad about taking $15 or $20 of stuff from Whole Foods when Jeff Bezos is the richest man on Earth.'”
[Institute for Policy Studies, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]
Disrupting Mainstream Economics
Bloomberg , via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]
[Ole Peters is] A physicist by training, his theory draws on research done in close collaboration with the late Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann, father of the quark. He’s also won over two noted thinkers in the world of finance — Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Michael Mauboussin — not to mention a groundswell of enthusiastic supporters in the Twittersphere. His beef is that all too often, economic models assume something called “ergodicity.”
….Peters takes aim at expected utility theory, the bedrock that modern economics is built on. It explains that when we make decisions, we conduct a cost-benefit analysis and try to choose the option that maximizes our wealth.
The problem, Peters says, is the model fails to predict how humans actually behave because the math is flawed.
[Boston Review, via The Big Picture 12-11-20]
Far from a marginal outsider, a new biography contends, Thorstein Veblen was the most important economic thinker of the Gilded Age. His critiques of capitalism and economic theory speak to our own era of economic injustice. Living through economic convulsion and class conflict unlike any other in U.S. history, he often preferred to retreat into the long view of an evolutionary perspective that reduced the present to a little speck in the passage of millennia.
[Financial Times, via The Big Picture 12-9-2020]
What should be the goal of the business corporation? For a long time, the prevailing view in English-speaking countries and, increasingly, elsewhere was that advanced by the economist Milton Friedman in 1970, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits”, published in September. I used to believe this, too. I was wrong. After 50 years, the doctrine needs re-evaluation.
[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-20]
Restoring balance to the economy
Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]
The U.S Senate on Friday passed a bill overhauling anti-money laundering rules and banning anonymous shell companies, a victory for law enforcement and rights groups which have long sought changes to make it easier to police illicit money flows.
The bill requires most companies to report their true beneficial owners to the government, allows greater information sharing between law enforcement and regulators, and authorizes the use of new suspicious activity monitoring tools….
The United States’ weak rules on disclosing corporate owners have allowed criminals to use legal entities to shuffle their cash around the world, according to the authorities. In 2011, the World Bank found that the United States each year produced nearly 10 times as many legal entities with anonymous owners as 41 tax havens combined.
[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 12-6-20]
In July and August, the Australian state of Victoria was going through a second Covid-19 wave. Local leaders set an improbable goal in the face of that challenge. They didn’t want to just get their Covid-19 numbers down. They wanted to eliminate the virus entirely.
By the end of November, they’d done it.
They have seen no active cases for a full four weeks. Melbourne, the state’s capital and a city with about as many people as the greater Washington, DC, area, is now completely coronavirus-free….
Policymakers dreaded an endless cycle of lockdown-reopening-lockdown — exactly the situation the US finds itself in. They realized that amorphous goals of “slowing the spread” or “flattening the curve” had been ineffective in mustering public support for the stringent mitigation measures that would be necessary to contain the virus.
So they went big. The state’s roadmap largely followed a policy proposal laid out in September by the Grattan Institute (a nonprofit think tank supported by the state and federal governments): “Go for zero.”
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-20]
Health Care Crisis
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-20]
[JAMA, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-20]
Climate and environmental crises
[Truthout, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]
[Firstpost, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-20]
[Hakai Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-20]
Most conversations about rising sea levels focus on the direct impacts to coastlines—namely, erosion and marine flooding. But as ocean levels shift upward, there’s another less obvious impact: coastal groundwater is pushed upward, too. Groundwater is typically fresh water from precipitation that fills the small spaces between underground sand grains or rocks. In low-lying areas near the coast, it is often found less than a meter below ground, and, because it intermingles with seawater in those interstitial spaces, it is effectively connected to the ocean. The heavier salt water pushes up and mixes with the lighter groundwater.
The broken water main, likely corroded from the rising salty groundwater, was just the latest indicator that climate change is striking Honolulu—and urban coastal environments everywhere—in unanticipated ways. “Sea level rise does not look like the ocean coming at us,” says Dolan Eversole, the Waikīkī Beach management coordinator with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (Hawai‘i Sea Grant). “It looks like the groundwater coming up.”
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-7-20]
Taken together, all the world’s existing capture facilities can zero out more than 38 million metric tons of CO₂ a year. That number, about 0.1% of all global emissions, would have to rise 100-fold to 200-fold by 2050 to meet climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency. Most of these carbon-capture projects are run by fossil fuel companies. Big Oil likes to celebrate the technology: By putting carbon back in the ground, the industry can provide consumers with the benefits of fossil fuel without the full climate impact. ‘If you’re going to ask somebody to actually do carbon capture, oil companies have all the experience,’ says David Use, a former Chevron Corp. engineer who purchased some of the gases from LaBarge for use at the Rangely oil field, about 200 miles south, in Colorado. ‘They’ve got the pocketbooks and the credentials to do the big projects.’ And therein lies the paradox. As Exxon and its peers look into a carbon-constrained future, CCS seems to offer a golden opportunity. Oil companies could develop a tool considered crucial by no less than the scientists with the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But in the absence of strong government support or regulation, the oil industry might not have the will to invest enough. ”
Information Age Dystopia
[Channel News Asia, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-7-20]
“Computer scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have demonstrated how a common robot vacuum cleaner and its built-in light detection and ranging (Lidar) sensor could be used to “spy” on private conversations, the university said on Monday (Dec 7). The method, called LidarPhone, repurposes the Lidar sensor that a robot vacuum cleaner normally uses for navigating around a home into a laser-based microphone to eavesdrop on private conversations. The research team, led by Assistant Professor Jun Han and his doctoral student Sriram Sami, managed to recover speech data with ‘high accuracy’, said NUS.”
[Protocol, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-9-20]
“Phil Weiser, a law professor and antitrust expert who was elected Colorado’s attorney general in 2018, is co-leading the bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general investigating Google’s search dominance and serves on the executive committee of a separate state investigation into Facebook, which is led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. He says it’s the work he’s meant to do. ‘I am very fluent in technology and fluent in antitrust,’ Weiser told Protocol in an interview. ‘So as cases come up like Facebook and Google, it’s natural for me to be on the executive committee and to play an important role in both of them.’ People who’ve worked with Weiser say he’s a formidable foe to Big Tech because of his heads-down, scholarly approach; it’s hard to strong-arm or dump oppo about a former antitrust academic-turned-government official who has hundreds of pages of writing justifying his position at the helm of the Google investigation. Weiser’s not a ‘break ’em up’ ideologue, said people familiar with his thinking. Over the course of his career, he’s faced criticism for his willingness to bring industry to the table and has readily admitted to the limitations of antitrust law. ‘He wants to push the envelope but in a way that’s respectful and understands case law and precedent and the judiciary,’ said Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked with Weiser in Obama’s DOJ antitrust division and has consulted for Google. That may not be enough for progressives rooting for the state and federal cases against Google to result in the company’s breakup, a movement that has a loud voice and increasing political power.”
[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-20]
Credit scores have been used for decades to assess consumer creditworthiness, but their scope is far greater now that they are powered by algorithms: not only do they consider vastly more data, in both volume and type, but they increasingly affect whether you can buy a car, rent an apartment, or get a full-time job. Their comprehensive influence means that if your score is ruined, it can be nearly impossible to recover. Worse, the algorithms are owned by private companies that don’t divulge how they come to their decisions. Victims can be sent in a downward spiral that sometimes ends in homelessness or a return to their abuser.
Credit-scoring algorithms are not the only ones that affect people’s economic well-being and access to basic services. Algorithms now decide which children enter foster care, which patients receive medical care, which families get access to stable housing. Those of us with means can pass our lives unaware of any of this. But for low-income individuals, the rapid growth and adoption of automated decision-making systems has created a hidden web of interlocking traps.
Fortunately, a growing group of civil lawyers are beginning to organize around this issue. Borrowing a playbook from the criminal defense world’s pushback against risk-assessment algorithms, they’re seeking to educate themselves on these systems, build a community, and develop litigation strategies. “Basically every civil lawyer is starting to deal with this stuff, because all of our clients are in some way or another being touched by these systems,” says Michele Gilman, a clinical law professor at the University of Baltimore. “We need to wake up, get training. If we want to be really good holistic lawyers, we need to be aware of that.”
Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-20]
Anand Giridharadas, interview with Matt Stoller
[The Ink, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]
Facebook is a financial conglomerate. People think of Facebook as that website you use or the app that you use, but really Facebook, as a political institution, is a financial conglomerate and owns dozens of different companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp and Facebook, the social network. And it's a giant advertising company. So they have roughly three billion users. And they try to get their users to do things that their advertisers want them to do, because that's how you sell advertising.
The business model is to divert revenue that used to go to newspapers and publishers to themselves. And so by manipulating people in this specific way that they do, which is to keep them using their system and keep surveilling them so that they can target them with ads, they are, in the process, crushing newspapers and publishers, who no longer have any financing, particularly local newspapers and niche publications like Black-owned newspapers.
So increasingly those kinds of publications don't exist. You don't have reporters covering state houses and city halls and whatnot. Instead, people are now consuming things that Facebook likes them to consume because it keeps them using, and it keeps them available to sell ads to them, which are anti-social publications or posts, like anti-vax stuff or QAnon or whatever it is.
So that's the basic problem. It's a $70-, $80-, $100-billion-a-year revenue company that's destroying newspapers and publishers all over the world and getting people to pass conspiracy theories to each other so that Facebook can make money on advertising.
[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]
...the lawsuits confront a question that has long shadowed the push for antitrust enforcement against tech platforms: How do you prove people are being harmed by a product that’s offered for free? Judging by the complaint filed by the states, which is more thorough than the FTC’s, the answer will hinge on privacy.
At first blush, privacy and antitrust might seem like separate issues—two different chapters in a textbook about big tech. But the decline in Facebook’s privacy protections plays a central role in the states’ case. Antitrust is a complicated field built on a simple premise: When a company doesn’t face real competition, it will be free to do bad things….
Creating new economic potential - science and technology
[Wired, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-9-20]
“On Tuesday, for the first time, QuantumScape’s cofounder and CEO, Jagdeep Singh, publicly revealed test results for the company’s solid-state battery. Singh says the battery resolved all of the core challenges that have plagued solid-state batteries in the past, such as incredibly short lifetimes and slow charging rate. According to QuantumScape’s data, its cell can charge to 80 percent of capacity in 15 minutes, it retains more than 80 percent of its capacity after 800 charging cycles, it’s noncombustible, and it has a volumetric energy density of more than 1,000 watt-hours per liter at the cell level, which is nearly double the energy density of top-shelf commercial lithium-ion cells. ‘We think that we’re the first to solve solid-state,’ Singh told WIRED ahead of the announcement. ‘No other solid-state systems come close to this.’… Singh says that QuantumScape’s battery is the kind of step change in performance that will push EVs into the mainstream.”
[Manufacturing, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-11-20]
“A trip of 500 km on one charge. A recharge from zero to full in 10 minutes. All with minimal safety concerns. The solid-state battery being introduced by Toyota promises to be a game changer not just for electric vehicles but for an entire industry. The technology is a potential cure-all for the drawbacks facing electric vehicles that run on conventional lithium-ion batteries, including the relatively short distance traveled on a single charge as well as charging times. Toyota plans to be the first company to sell an electric vehicle equipped with a solid-state battery in the early 2020s. The world’s largest automaker will unveil a prototype next year. The electric vehicles being developed by Toyota will have a range more than twice the distance of a vehicle running on a conventional lithium-ion battery under the same conditions. All accomplished without sacrificing interior space in even the most compact vehicle.”
Disrupting mainstream politics
Thomas Frank [Le Monde Diplomatique, via Naked Capitalism 12-6-20]
Joe Biden, a well-known sentimentalist, has just won the presidency on the strength of no grand proposals, only revulsion against the hated Trump. Republicans, meanwhile, steam straight ahead with their pointless culture wars and their nostalgic appeals to ‘Make America Great Again’.
Neither party plans to do much to rein in Wall Street and Silicon Valley or to bring manufacturing back to Pennsylvania and Michigan, but the larger political conversation has become a free-for-all of moral accusation in which men carrying assault rifles imagine themselves to be victims, and self-appointed investigators patrol the Internet for hints of privilege and disrespectful adjectives. Personal shame and personal grievance are slowly becoming the whole of our politics,
[Dissent, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-10-20]
“Democrats received overwhelming support from the membership of what are now the flagship unions, based in the public sector, healthcare, education, and hospitality, of the postindustrial American economy and labor movement—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the Communications Workers of America, UNITE HERE (the gaming and hospitality union), and National Nurses United. In recent years, the members of these unions, who are disproportionately female and non-white, have been central to some of the largest and most important labor actions of the new working class: several Chicago Teachers Union strikes beginning in 2012; the wildcat strikes and job actions of teachers across mostly red states in 2018, starting in West Virginia; the United Teachers Los Angeles strike of 2019; and aggressive organizing and strikes by healthcare workers and nurses all over the country. Their militancy is a major reason why labor may have more influence with Biden than it had with Obama. The urgency caused by the pandemic-driven collapse of the economy and the development of a significant social democratic faction within the Democratic Party has also given labor a chance to punch above its weight and promote broad policies on behalf of the working class. Yet labor’s leadership looks primed to screw up its first chance to effectively throw that weight around in the tussle over the nominee for secretary of labor.”
via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-10-20]
Ross Barkan [Political Currents, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-7-20]
“In 2020, a sharp divide exists between a younger left that views Obama with jadedness and derision and the millions in Democratic primaries that selected the candidates he deemed his successors, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. At the heart of the debate is a truth not always easily reconciled, one worth setting down in blunt terms: Obama was a hall of fame candidate, not a hall of fame president. For those who graduated into the Great Recession and bore the brunt of a neoliberalism never checked, Obama nostalgia offers little: no free health insurance, no canceled student or medical debt, no end to the forever wars. What did you do with your historic majorities, Obama? If you’re a severely underemployed twenty-eight year-old who can barely afford rent and will never own a home, the glories of 2008 are meaningless.”
[The Counter, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]
For many advocates of racial justice in the food system, Vilsack’s nomination is an affront that suggests the Biden administration has little interest in making the ag sector more equitable and remedying USDA’s notorious history of racial discrimination against Black farmers.
Much of the disappointment stems from both the agency’s practices under Vilsack’s watch and his own reported reluctance to repair the damage of systemic racism. As The Counter reported in a 2019 investigation, employees alleged that Vilsack’s USDA repeatedly ran out the statute of limitations clock on discrimination complaints, while attempting to foreclose on farmers whose cases hadn’t yet been resolved. Employees also said that USDA manipulated Census data to obscure a decline in Black farming, which in turn allowed Vilsack to paint a rosy but inaccurate picture of his tenure.
“It’s incredibly disappointing—our people deserve better and America deserves better,” said Navina Khanna, executive director of the HEAL Food Alliance, a coalition that advocates for equity and sustainability in the food system. “It’s a signal that this administration doesn’t care about rural America, about Black America, about the millions of immigrants and migrants of color who work in the food system.”
….One particular scandal during Vilsack’s tenure stands out right now: the controversial ouster of Shirley Sherrod, a Black USDA official. Vilsack forced Sherrod to resign after the far-right website Breitbart disseminated a selectively edited video to suggest that she had discriminated against a white farmer….
For women who have experienced sexual abuse while working for USDA’s Forest Service—an agency that employees say fostered a decades-long culture of sexual harassment—Vilsack’s nomination is a punch to the gut, according to Lesa Donnelly, former employee and current vice president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees.
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]
On Tuesday, a group of civil rights leaders urged him privately to take a slew of executive actions during a two-hour virtual meeting. While Biden didn’t close the door to anything specific, he was far from enthusiastic about the idea of using executive action.
A recording of the virtual meeting, attended by Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and civil rights leaders, was obtained by The Intercept. Excerpts from it can be heard in this week’s Deconstructed podcast….
….NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who had warned that appointing Tom Vilsack to be secretary of agriculture would anger Black farmers in Georgia, as well as Black voters generally in the state, for whom Shirley Sherrod was a hero. Sherrod was fired by Vilsack from her position as Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during Vilsack’s previous tenure as agriculture secretary during the Obama administration. Her firing was quickly revealed to have been a mistake and based on an incomplete airing of a video by the late conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart. Particularly in Georgia, Johnson noted, Vilsack’s capitulation was still a sore spot, and nominating him would be “disastrous” electorally. “If you consider the victory that you appreciated in Georgia, it was around 12,000 votes. And so as you consider appointments, you also must consider what impact would that have on voters in the state of Georgia. And I will submit to you that former Secretary Vilsack could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia. Shirley Sherrod is a civil rights legend, a hero,” Johnson said.
[Interfluidity, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-8-20]
“The electorate has spent decades swapping political parties and moving away from what, on average, it has wanted. The social extremity of the Trump coalition can be understood less as a discontinuity, and more as part of a reaction to the post-2008 discrediting of elite economic preferences…. Both parties’ elites shared an interest in polarizing the countries across a social and cultural terrain, while de-emphasizing economics. But Trump turned Washington’s gurus into sorcerers’ apprentices, as their usually calibrated tweaking of social resentments gave way to a figure they increasingly cannot control, and of whose governance no sane American should approve…. I do hope a new administration understands the stakes. You can’t not give the public what it wants over a period of decades and expect democratic forms and norms to go unscathed. In order to bring down the temperature of social polarization in the United States (which, perhaps marking me as a squish sell-out, I desperately hope we manage), elites will have to reverse their 2016 mistake, and give ground to the left on economics while trying to talk the country down (‘unify’) from the social polarization that they themselves, in my view, quite cynically engendered.” • “Nothing would fundamentally change.” –Joe Biden.
The Dark Side
How Trump Won One of America’s Most Diverse Counties — By a Lot (Robeson County, North Carolina]
….defying the conventional wisdom that rural America is a sprawling demographic dead end of a steadily dwindling swath of less-educated white voters… Trump found ways to juice his support in these places, drawing support from pools of people previously considered all but unreachable for Republicans….
….Trump retained the vast majority of the white vote, improved his performance in predominantly Black precincts and all-out romped in Lumbee hotbeds. Trump and his campaign targeted voters regardless of their racial differences with his rural-resonant messages of social conservatism—pro-gun, pro-life, pro-military—and anti-NAFTA broadsides that are catnip for an electorate that blames free trade agreements and globalization for shuttered factories and a sinking standard of living. The campaign also added to the equation a hyperspecific and transactional component: very publicly backing the federal recognition the Lumbee have been seeking since the 1800s. Finally, Trump and his most prominent surrogates kept showing up, a persistence that crested with Trump’s rally in the county seat a week and a half before the election—something no sitting president had ever done here.
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-8-20]
“But Trump’s campaign to pressure GOP elected officials to support his baseless claims of a rigged election — and his success in convincing a majority of the party that widespread voter fraud occurred — is already showing signs of having far-reaching effects that will reshape the Republican Party for years to come. State party chairs are tearing into their governors. Elected officials are knifing one another in the back. Failed candidates are seizing on Trump’s rhetoric to claim they were also victims of voter fraud in at least a half dozen states. As his presidency comes to a close, Trump has not only imprinted his smash-mouth style on the GOP, he has wrenched open the schism between the activist class and the elected class, according to interviews with more than a dozen Republican Party officials and strategists in the states.” • Democrats hate their base*. Republicans fear theirs. The schism was always there. NOTE * Back when the working class was the Democrat base.
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-9-20]
Both Republican and Democratic parties are dissected - and it's not pretty.
The story I remember from 2012 is that there was some focus group, and they were telling the undecided voters what Romney’s proposed policies were. The voters they were talking to didn’t believe these were really his policies because he came across as a decent guy. But his immigration policy was Trump’s immigration policy, it was about making life so bad that people left the country on their own. I think the term “self-deporting” was used.
The takeaway from all of this is that while Trump didn’t sound like a traditional Republican or act like one — because he is too vain and because he wouldn’t speak in that language if he even understood it — he is one. His is a theatrical presentation of a very familiar administrative brutality.
I would think that an opposition party that was opposed to the party that governs like that would have been making hay off of that, and making the point over and over again that when these guys talk to you about “options” or, “restricting immigration flows,” what that actually means is camps. When they talk about “creating opportunity,” what they mean is cutting some rich person’s taxes so they can invest it in some bullshit.
But that’s not something that the Democrats have ever shown much interest in doing, at least in my lifetime….
It’s interesting that even Marco Rubio can speak the language of right-populism now, the idea of “the people versus the powerful.” All this stuff that Democrats used to use in this fairly insincere and facile way, now Republicans use that same language. You have to pin people down on what they mean by “elites” before you can know the specific way in which you’re being lied to….
I think [Donald Trump Jr. is] the future of Trumpism as something that exists online and is dedicated to triggering libs and never logging off. Trumpism as an approach to doing politics is what Republicans have. It’s that or going back to the mealy-mouthed American Enterprise Institute shit where you describe something that is not what you’re actually proposing and hope that no one notices it….
Trump wouldn’t have been nominated, or even thought to run, if our politics worked in the most basic way.
Voters from mainstream liberal Democrats to mainstream conservative Republicans have accepted that they aren’t going to get much from the government. What it is then is a television show. This last election played out that way. Trump said, “it’s me, Donald Trump, your president.”
Then Joe Biden’s thing, to the extent that he had one was “I’m a good guy, I’ve been sad before, I know what it’s like to suffer.” However true that is or isn’t, at that point you’re basically picking the person that you want to watch on television for the next four years as they manage whatever version of decline we get.
The thing that defeats Trumpism and can undo conservative governance as we’ve known it over the last couple of decades is actual material politics. On the Left, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a top-to-bottom reimagining of society, but if people feel like the government is working for them, and it is delivering for them, then it’s not abstract anymore.
If they say “this is where I get my health care,” or “when I lost my job, unemployment insurance helped me get through,” that can be enough to take the abstraction out of the equation and make it look more like what it is, which is choosing what the state is and isn’t going to do for you.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the Democratic Party. Specifically, how you see the past few years and what you think the next four years with Biden will look like. I think we both agree that the Democrats don’t pursue the material politics that you’re talking about for the most part.
A. I really don’t know what to make of it. I’m astonished by their inability to do any kind of self-examination. This all comes back to a sense of abstraction. It matters to them because they want to have the presidency, since that kicks this whole patronage system into gear and then they govern to the extent that they’re capable of governing, given the other constraints that will last however long.
There isn’t a sense there that any of the lessons have been learned, let alone any urgency in facing the task of remedying it. I think that some of it owes to how old and rich and distant the people in the most powerful positions in the party are. But there’s also an element of it that feels completely checked out from the consequences of this. As if it’s just another industry and another character in this broad drama. It’s infuriating because we’re living in the damage that a failed government approach to a crisis can create, in terms of the sickness and suffering and death that surrounds us.
The answer to that is not to tweet “believe science.” You have to act. There has to be an approach that is about action — not just for reasons of winning elections, but because that’s obviously what’s right. The idea that you know we have no choice but continued decline and widespread cruelty writ large, that the only options are between a version of that which seems excited about it and a version of that which is sad about it, is an incredible abdication of responsibility.