Trump and the next conservatism

In a recent Vox interview and American Conservative book review, conservative intellectual Samuel Goldwyn shares a bleak view of where American conservatism is going – trying to run up the down escalator of demography. The basic claims of Reaganite conservatism to care about small government, robust international intervention to spread American ideals, and preserving traditional moral schemas have failed to deliver. The last Bush administration delivered America into a profound financial crisis and two terrible wars.

What will replace “movement conservatism”? What is conservatism? While Goldman prefers a negative definition (the greatest political good is not liberty), he does refer to another conservative intellectual, Paul Gottfried. Gottfried has wrestled hard with this question and has a better, more positive answer. If the Left is all about equality, then the Right is all about the affirmation of authority, tradition, and identity.

Three affirmations

Affirmation of identity does line up well with the new Trumpian voice given to white nationalism. So let’s check that off as a clear part of the next conservatism.

Affirmation of tradition certainly lines up with supporting any kind of Christian viewpoint of America, whether shining city on a hill or Puritan Salem. So let’s expect conservatism to stick close to the core cultural center of Western tradition, the Church.

Affirmation of authority is trickier, but I expect that it will mean accepting the place of the state in life. In the days of kings, affirmation of authority meant affirming the royal right to rule. The ideal of small government is really irrelevant to this core conservative concept. In this sense, buying into  the use of government previously called ‘big’ or ‘interventionist’ can be welcomed into the next conservative platform.

So that is the next conservatism. American exceptionalism, Christian exceptionalism and friendly to government intervention. If the messaging could drop the racism and anti-urbanism of current conservatism, it could be very successful.

It never will, of course. This is basically the GOP Autopsy Report after Romney’s loss in 2012 plus throwing Grover Norquist under the bus. Nuanced acceptance of diversity and government are “can’t get there from here” positions. Sad!


The French way

Sorry, this article is not free to read. Basically, it says French banks are taking advantage of a difference in regulation to become dominant players in the US Treasury repo market. (The data behind the article was sourced from the OFR, my employer.) Dominant, that is, until quarter-end window dressing forces them out.
US banks have to report balance sheets every day, while the French banks only report quarterly. So the French banks play big in the repo market until the last day of the quarter, when they close out all the trades and pretend everything is fine and no, there is no gambling in this establishment.
Not that repo is gambling, it is the exact opposite – about the safest thing you could do with money. Safe, that is, until your counterparty evaporates every 90 days, or has come to rely on repo and then very inconveniently can’t access the repo market because it is quarter-end. Liquidity squeezes can take many forms.
Aligning regulatory regimes across the globe is absolutely necessary in a global capital market. Post-crisis regulatory reform still has far to go, even as people start to forget what all the shouting was about in 2008 (so long ago!) and why can’t I gamble with other people’s retirement funds?

A near-fatal case of polarization

The U.S. is suffering from a near-fatal case of polarization,

That’s the opinion of Sam Wang, over at Princeton Election Consortium.

I think he’s overstating the case but I agree its bad. How bad? This bad.

A chart showing which Congressional districts are not contested.
Polarization as lack of choice

One cause of this lack of choice is the use of gerrymandering to create safe seats for a party. If a district is drawn to contain 60% voters from one party and 40% from the other, it is pretty much a given that the 60% party will win all the time. This leads the 40% to stop running candidates it knows will lose, and that disenfranchises the 40% vote share.

The argument that gerrymandering is disenfranchisement has just moved forward in the courts.

A map of Maryland showing gerrymandered districts.
Gerrymandering – bad no matter who does it

A Federal court has ruled that these districts were drawn to favor Democratic candidates, and that should not be allowed. This is a good thing, because we are now closer to the Supreme Court deciding to ban political gerrymandering.

Our democracy is undermined by threats to the one person, one vote principle. Threats such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, and corporate influence are systemic threats and have to be opposed whether they offer a momentary advantage or not.

Single party districts are a symptom of these threats. That they have grown to 15% of all Congressional districts is shocking.

Hidden in the map of CDs is another issue – the use of ‘top 2’ primaries. In this system, the top 2 vote-getters of a single combined primary appear on the final ballot. This can lead to two candidates of the same party, as it has in Washington, California, and Louisiana.

The top 2 system, like open primaries, diminishes the importance of political parties in our electoral system. This is bad for the country. Individuals running without strong party support, but within the party-based ecosystem, are much more open to corporate influence and their policy positions are much harder to ascertain.

Returning to Sam Wang’s point, polarization has paralyzed Congress. This is mostly seen in the House, where the majority party is more concerned with a faction of bomb-throwers than with legislating. The Senate has also slowed to a glacial pace, and refused to advance appointments for votes. Rather than being a successful exercise in power, these tactics have shifted power away from Congress and towards the President.

The short term effect of the coming election will be to further polarize the Republican Party, as moderates are swept out and conservative politicians in safe seats remain in place. In contrast, the Democratic Party will have become more moderate, in order to win those same seats. In 2018, the Dems will have to become more moderate still, as they have to defend these gains and face a tough group of seats up for election in the Senate.

Polarization and one-party politics does not benefit America. It opens the political process further to corruption. We should support all efforts to create a healthy two party system.

Congress and Madam President

President Hillary Clinton’s first two years in office will offer her a limited window of action on the agenda promised in her campaign.

Based on current polls, the Senate has a good probability of flipping into Democratic leadership. Clinton may be able to clear the backlog of Federal judgeships and get one or two Supreme Court justices confirmed. The utter failure of Trump at the polls combined with Mitch McConnell’s position that the next President should decide will be a lash at the backs of the GOP Senate to abandon the obstruction game they have played with both Obama and the previous President Clinton.

The election’s effect on the House is less clear. The combination of self-selection and gerrymandering has been to create safe House seats for the GOP that are occupied by the faction of the House Freedom Caucus. If the election is an embarrassing blowout but not a total landslide, Paul Ryan will remain Speaker. However, his caucus will have shifted further into the pugnacious, bomb-throwing corner as it is most likely the moderate Republicans that will be swept out of office.

The result will be no movement on Clinton’s legislative agenda – college tuition, single payer, none of it. Any action at all on these items will require Democratic control of the House, which in turn will require a yuuuge, very classy win. It just might happen, after all we haven’t had the debates yet. But I’m thinking it will be a bridge too far.

And then the reaction

The 2018 midterms will roll back these gains for the Democrats in both House and Senate. The Senate seats up for election threaten more Democrats than Republicans. What isn’t clear is if Trump will still be dragging down the GOP two years after his loss. My guess is yes, and the Senate will retain a thin Democratic majority throughout President Clinton’s (first) term.

The House may see the effects of a few redrawn districts in 2018, so the classic mid-term reaction against the President’s party may be muted. (Looking at you, North Carolina.) It will also be interesting to see if the GOP establishment will be able to pick off a few more Freedom Caucus members, as they did with Tim Huelskamp this year. In any case, no movement on Clinton’s agenda.

This outlook gives Clinton’s term the same shape as Obama’s first term, with Trump’s campaign playing the role of the Iraq War and the financial crisis in terms of creating a space for Clinton to achieve something. GOP leadership can choose to continue the oh so successful obstructionism, and the result will be the expansion of executive power. I rate bipartisanship possible but unlikely.

PS – I would like to thank Donald J Trump for making it possible to write the phrase “President Hillary Clinton” this early in the process. I am bigly grateful.


Writing the unwritten rules

It isn’t until someone tries to bend or break the rules that most rules get written down. For what everyone else takes for granted, some jerk will say “Nobody told me it wasn’t allowed.” “It isn’t written down anywhere that this is forbidden, so it must be allowed.” And then it gets written down, because somebody had to be a jerk.

Welcome to today’s session of writing things down that should even need to be said! Our topic – Candidates should be nice.

The actual requirements for running for President of the United States are few. Be over 35 and a natural-born citizen. Changing the Constitution to refine these criteria would take a long time and eventually fail. However, we can take advantage of the fact that two major parties control access to the Presidency, and they are private organizations that can make up their own rules. Given the right pressures, political parties can be very responsive.

So here is my list of requirements for anybody running for President with a major party:

  1. Be transparent – Share 10 years of tax returns.
  2. Be inclusive – Spend 100 hours in community service in the last year.
  3. Travel – Meet elected officials from 10 other countries.
  4. Be electable – You must have held elected office before at the state or Federal level, or as the mayor of a large city.
  5. Be knowledgeable – Take a test and allow your score (and right and wrong answers) to be public. There will be essay questions.
    1. World history and current events
    2. Probability and statistics
    3. Macroeconomics and finance
    4. Basic science and current issues
  6. Be clear – Respond to the current party platform and say how you would change it.
    1. Extra credit – Respond to the other party’s platform as well.
  7. Take the truth seriously – donate to the other party for being caught in a lie by a fact-checking group.
  8. Be direct – Agree to at least three debates.
  9. Renounce hatred – Hate speech against any protected class will be disqualifying.

Candidates should agree to these things at the start of their candidacy, in writing, as part of their contract with the party whose nomination they are seeking. Either the party or the candidate may terminate this contract at will, at any time, without recourse. Terminating the contract ends the candidacy.

I realize some of these requirements might be controversial. That’s OK, they are meant to start the discussion, not end it. In particular, the idea that you have to demonstrate electability might strike some people as overly restrictive on ‘outsiders’. Sorry, the last counter-example is Eisenhower, and the last counter-counter-example is Trump. A little road-bump between a military career and political office is not a bad thing.

It used to be that we could expect our parties to put forth the best and the brightest, without worrying the exact details of what ‘best and brightest’ entailed. Apparently that is not possible anymore. So here we are.

After Trump

What will the Republican Party look like after the November election?

Today, I see the GOP as a coalition of three regional parties. The first is the Dixiecrats, the white supremacists of the Old South. As most know, they switched from Democrat to Republican after the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The next is a Far West anti-Federal government party (think Cliven Bundy and Dick Cheney) for whom making the Federal government smaller and less intrusive is the key issue. Lastly, there are the pro-business technocrats of the North-East/coasts/suburbs.

As long as the white supremacists were just a base that could be called out to vote for the pro-business candidate, the GOP was happy to exploit them and coddle them. Reagan-Bush was a classic example of the coalition electing a Western, anti-Federal President and a North-Eastern, pro-business Vice President with  the votes of the white grievance faction.

However, the grip of the pro-business faction on the party leadership has been slipping, as can be seen by the length of the contested period during the GOP primaries. From Bush to McCain to Romney, it was taking longer to beat back the Mike Huckabees and Ted Cruzes. Changing the rules to allow the pro-business candidate to win faster had the unintended consequence of allowing Trump’s candidacy to succeed.

Procedural changes such as proportional voting and closed primaries will help the next time. But in the short and long term, the party has to deal with the surfacing of white grievance as the driver of so much of what the GOP has stood for.

Just recently, voter suppression laws have been shot down that were latest attempt to keep minorities from voting. Gerrymandering is also slowly being eroded as a tool of party support. Corporate influence in politics, exemplified by the Citizens United ruling, will also come under attack in a new Supreme Court that will shift to a more moderate equilibrium after Scalia’s replacement is seated.

Prior to the accession of Trump, the center of the GOP was almost perfectly represented by the Koch brothers. The Kochs, working with others, have spent a lot of money making the Republicans the vehicle for their beliefs. Much of that is now at risk.

But will it fail completely?

No. If for no other reason, the billionaire class still wants a return on their investment.

Trump is so far from the conservative norm, it will be relatively easy for down ticket Republicans to repudiate his failure as a personal failure, not a failure of the brand or philosophy of conservatism.

I expect that state-wide elections will be the first place to see the effect of changing perceptions of the GOP brand. Senators and governors will have to react to a shift to urban and minority voters animated by Trump long before Representatives and state legislators in safely gerrymandered districts.

Aligning the Senate and the White House will give the Democrats a window to set the Supreme Court in a progressive direction, and pursue foreign policy without fear of contradiction. Aligning the state executives with the Federal executive will ease the implementation of healthcare reform.

The Trump disaster may affect the GOP’s ability to mount a mid-term reversal of Democratic gains. However, it remains true that Clinton’s first two years are her best opportunity to pass tax hikes on the rich that will directly counter income inequality and pay for stabilizing Social Security, free college, or single payer health care.

At issue will be whether the pro-business Republicans can use the moment of Trump’s collapse to free themselves from the Tea Party fanatics. Paul Ryan will have to choose between the complete obstructionism of Newt Gingrich that created gridlock for 12 years (the last 6 years of Clinton and Obama) or reaching across the aisle to govern with Democratic moderates for as long as he holds the gavel.

In the end, the GOP control of the House depends on the fate of the Dixiecrat wing. Jeff Sessions will be a key example of whether the GOP South can move to leaders like Nikki Haley fast enough to hold off electoral losses that will lose the GOP the House majority.

It is in no one’s best interest for the GOP to collapse. We need a voice calling for efficient and right-sized government. We need a robust two-party system. But the GOP really does need to exorcise the demons of racism at the core of one of its key constituencies. The 2012 reform package will need to be implemented and then some. Crush the racism of the Dixiecrats, and the GOP might survive. Repudiate the intransigent dickishness of Gingrich, and begin to thrive.

Brexit and the dream of Apartheid

“I don’t want to sound racist, but I think there are just too many people coming into the country. I moved out here from Dagenham four years ago, because Dagenham was looking like a foreign country.”

Nobody wants to sound racist, but sometimes racism happens.

The referendum vote in Britain has been an object lesson in the dangers of direct democracy. This is what we hire politicians for.

It is also an object lesson in the dangers of loose confederacy over a tight Federal union. The greatest triumph of American statesmanship was to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution. The states were bound together much more tightly by the Constitution, and it was a one-way street.

David Cameron has given Vladimir Putin the best bit of news the Russian dictator has had since the Ukrainian Revolution. Why join? Why stay? These questions are so much easier to ask, today.

The effects within the UK are still to be assessed, but already we see that English relations with Scotland and Northern Ireland have been vastly complicated, perhaps fatally for the Union. At the same time, London will face the largest threat ever to remaining a more important financial center than Frankfurt.

North Korea and Myanmar have been stark lessons in the success of going your own way. All Britain is, I’m sure, breathless to hear what Nigel Farage’s juche advice will be. The rest of us are simply shaking our heads.