Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trump, Sanders and the new Civil War

"the 1960s are best understood not an an aberration, but as an integral part of American history. It was a time of intense conflict and millennial expectations, similar in many respects to the one Americans endured a century earlier--with results as mixed, ambiguous, and frustrating as those produced by the Civil War."

--Maurice Isserman and William R. Kenan, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, p. 4

The 1960s, 50 years ago, represented a major turning point in U.S. history. Is the nation about to turn again?

We have written about how the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913 brought a symbolic end to American politics’ post-Civil War era. President Woodrow Wilson, who visited the battlefield and spoke about healing the war’s wounds, was himself the first elected Southerner since the Civil War.

Wilson was a Democrat and a segregationist. Until Wilson and except for Democrat draft dodger Grover Cleveland of New York, every elected president from 1868 through 1900--nine elections--was a Republican and an officer, usually a general, from the victorious Union side. The 1913 Gettysburg encampment for over 53,000 Civil War veterans--Yankee, Confederate, all lily white--helped knit up the nation’s bitter North-South division.

Yet it took another 50 years or until the 1960s for blacks to secure the freedoms the Civil War had promised a century earlier.

The Civil Rights movement ended one era but opened another--the anti-Vietnam “civil war of the 1960s.” Today’s politics with its sharp division between elite and masses, between educated and less-educated, between professional and working/lower class, all bear the scars of Vietnam, all tracing back to the draft.  

Brief history of the draft

The North instituted the first federal draft in 1863. That draft allowed $300 buyouts by those who could afford it, which led to massive New York City riots and the death of over 1,000. Because of the riots, buyouts ended a year later, and a more equitable draft enjoyed popular support through both world wars and Korea.

Then came Vietnam, which in 1965 produced the first draft riots since the Civil War. Though the more privileged in the draft-eligible pool successfully used student and medical deferments or enlistment in the reserves to escape Vietnam, dodging the draft generated guilt that fueled a massive anti-war/anti-draft movement.

In 1967, Selective Service terminated the controversial student deferments at age 24, while extending the draft-eligible age range from 26 to 35, threatening the privileged even more. Then in 1969, a lottery affecting all regardless of student status--an even more equitable system--went into effect, in its first year hitting the pool aged 20 to 26, and after that, each cohort becoming 19. The lottery survived only because draft numbers fell fast until the draft's 1973 end (see chart).

During Vietnam, from a pool of approximately 27 million, Selective Service inducted 2.2 million men. It also “encouraged" another 8.7 million to pick their branch rather than risk the draft, and in fact, the majority serving in Vietnam were volunteers.

Almost 16 million men, including me (serving as a diplomat), avoided active military service. Of those, 57% were exempted because of jobs including other military service, deferred usually for student status, or disqualified for various physical and mental deficiencies, often helped by sympathetic physicians opposed to the war. Perhaps 100,000 draft eligible men fled the country.

*= A total of 1.5 million men were drafted during the Korean war (1950-53), with annual totals much higher than for Vietnam, but covering just three years. At peak strength, U.S. ground forces in Korea totaled 302,483. To avoid the infantry, many joined the Navy, Air Force or National Guard. Others gained deferments by scoring at least 70 on an intelligence test, but when 65% were deferred in the test’s first year, many suspected bias. In December 1950, 82% of the Army in Korea were regulars; two years later, the ratio had flipped to 63% draftee, 37% regular. The bulk of ground combat forces were working class, though more select because the Army rejected 50% of potential draftees. In Korea rear-echelon forces (67% of Army personnel) served 18 months, while combat troops (33% of the Army) fought for 9-12 months.  

Brains win out  

"For a half-century, America’s elite universities have drawn the most talented people from all over the country, socialized them and often married them off to each other. Brains have become radically more valuable in the marketplace."

--Charles Murray, Wall Street Journal

Murray’s “half-century” is the 50 years since the draft helped separate those able to escape Vietnam from those who served. A guilt-ridden, anti-war elite nurtured in the crucible of academia and fighting at home in the name of equality and justice, went on to gain control of most leading institutions. The meritocratic values that spared a generation from combat in Vietnam won the “civil war of the 1960s.”

America’s less-educated losers fell further and further behind. As Murray writes:
For white working-class men in their 30s and 40s—what should be the prime decades for working and raising a family—participation in the labor force dropped from 96% in 1968 to 79% in 2015 (see chart below). Over that same period, the portion of these men who were married dropped from 86% to 52%. . . In today’s average white working-class neighborhood, about one out of five men in the prime of life isn’t even looking for work; they are living off girlfriends, siblings or parents, on disability, or else subsisting on off-the-books or criminal income. . . about half the children are born to unmarried women, with all the problems that go with growing up without fathers, especially for boys. Drugs also have become a major problem.

These people are responding today to the anti-establishment appeal of Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Bernie Sanders.

Women win out  

"Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment. And I've got to tell you that it is ... (APPLAUSE) It is really quite amusing to me."

--Hillary Clinton

The anti-war, anti-draft movement that powered the 1960s civil war included millions of women. They hated war and racial discrimination, were sympathetic to their draft-threatened brothers, but women also fought for freedom from constraints that blocked their true equality with men.

As Murray reminds us:
the civil rights and feminist movements. . . began as classic invocations of the [self-reliance] creed, rightly demanding that America make good on its ideals for blacks and women. But the success of both movements soon produced policies that directly contradicted the creed. Affirmative action demanded that people be treated as groups. Equality of outcome trumped equality before the law. Group-based policies continued to multiply, with ever more policies embracing ever more groups.
Democratic politics wins, the working class turns

The 1960s civil war meant that by the 1980s, the Democrats’ longtime popularity with ethnic minorities, single women and low-income women, had alienated the white working class. Murray points out that a half-century of economic growth passed virtually nothing to the lower classes; real family income hasn’t increased since the late 1960s. For 50 years, American corporations have sent overseas millions of manufacturing jobs, the best-paying working-class jobs--70% held by males.

Murray adds that
[d]uring the same half-century, the federal government allowed the immigration, legal and illegal, of tens of millions of competitors for the remaining working-class jobs[, many in] the construction trades or crafts. They too were and are predominantly men’s jobs: 77% in 1968 and 84% in 2015.
By today, as Joel Kotkin has found:
only 51% of Americans call themselves middle class while the percentage identifying with the lower classes rose to 48%. The bulk of this population belongs to what some social scientists call the “precariat,” people who face diminished prospects of achieving middle class status—a good job, homeownership, some decent retirement. The precariat is made up of a broad variety of jobs that include adjunct professors, freelancers, substitute teachers—essentially any worker without long-term job stability. According to one estimate, at least one-third of the U.S. workforce falls into this category. By 2020, a separate study estimates, more than 40% of the Americans, or 60 million people, will be independent workers—freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees.
Democracy--one person, one vote--means we will hear from this angry, downscale mass, whether or not a new civil war is already upon us.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Hillary: Entitlement, Interrupted.

Hillary Clinton is in trouble. It’s unlikely she will be president. I say so, because I see signs she herself knows this.

In the MSNBC debate last Friday, Clinton said government leaders
want me as their partner in the White House. And that's exactly what I will do. We'll get things done together. Democrats, Republicans, independents, we're going to make progress together when I'm president.
That’s a statement you’d expect from a practical progressive seeking to cut slightly to the right of a socialist opponent.

Yet it’s a flatly remarkable statement coming from someone who the night before, in the CNN town hall when Anderson Cooper asked her whether she still thinks the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which she blamed for attacks on then-President Bill Clinton, is alive and well, Clinton replied:
Don’t you? Yeah, it’s gotten even better-funded. You know, they brought in some new multi-billionaires to pump the money in. . . At this point it’s probably not correct to say it’s a conspiracy, because it is out in the open. There is no doubt about what they’re doing.
Look, these guys play for keeps. They want to control our country. Sen. [Bernie] Sanders and I agree on that completely. They want to rig the economy so they continue to get richer and richer, they could care less about income inequality. . .They want to go after any economic interests that they don’t believe they can control, they want to destroy our balance of power, they want to go after our political system and fill it with people who do their bidding.
I don’t think all of the Republican candidates are so ill-informed about climate change that they say they don’t know because they’re not scientists. They’re just doing the bidding of the Koch brothers. They’re told, ‘Don’t you dare say climate change is real, because we are in the fossil fuel business.'
[J]ust know what we’re up against because it is real and we’re going to beat it.
Doesn’t sound like someone getting ready to “get things done together” with Republicans, does it?

No, the above passage is an unusual look inside the real Hillary, the person she usually hides away from us. Yes, she’s worried about losing the election. Yes, she’s worried about the damage a long primary fight will do to her prospects. The rules of the last election importantly affect how one looks at the current round, and in 2012, Democrats benefited from Obama’s having no primary, with his party free to turn their attention to helping rich, detached Mitt Romney win the Republican nomination, then savaging Mitt once he became the nominee.

Most of all, Hillary’s worried Republican pressure is forcing out the truth about her illegal server, the illegal materiel she stored on it, whether destroyed or not, and the connections her foundation has to corrupt governments and people wanting favors from the Clintons, the State Department, and Hillary’s hoped-for administration.

Republicans are Hillary’s mortal enemy. If America had only one party, the establishment could protect her, as it is now trying so mightily to do. She thinks, "thank heavens for Barack Obama and his Justice Department."

But deep down inside, Hillary fears Obama’s help may not be enough. The *&#!@%$ Republicans!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

American establishment fails. One party notices.

New York Times conservative Ross Douthat reminds us that we live in
A society where people have fewer children and hold diminished expectations for the future, where institutions don’t work particularly well but can’t seem to be effectively reformed, where growth is slow and technological progress disappoints. A society that fights to a stalemate in its foreign wars, even as domestic debates repeat themselves without any resolution. A society disillusioned with existing religions and ideologies, but lacking new sources of meaning to take their place.
Our elite is failing us.

For a different view, we turn to Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times, now running his own “FiveThirtyEight” website. Silver is one of America’s smartest political observers. He correctly called the 2012 presidential election outcome in all 50 states.

Today, Silver offers his take on what’s going wrong with Republicans, doing so in the process of reviewing The Party Decides (2008) by political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller. The book claims “American political parties are strong institutions. . . able to make presidential nominations that further the party’s best interest.”

Silver boils down the book’s thesis to:
You ought to pay attention to what influential people who care about a party nomination are doing, since they can have a lot of say in the outcome.
Or in the authors’ words:
Parties are a systematic force in presidential nominations and a major reason that all nominees since the 1970s have been credible and at least reasonably electable representatives of their partisan traditions.
Silver adds that parties nominate candidates who, in the book’s words, are:

1. “Credible and at least reasonably electable”;

2. “Representatives of their partisan traditions.”

I’m sure that Silver, progressive that he is, is perfectly happy with a Republican Party that nominates George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, popular vote losers in five of the last six elections.

Republicans don’t necessarily share Silver’s satisfaction.

Silver says it’s “extremely rare” for a party to nominate a candidate scoring poorly both on electability and party faithfulness -- as does Donald Trump.

What’s going wrong? According to the book, after all, parties are supposed to employ “soft power” -- manipulating an electorate “open to suggestion.” In the book’s words:
An electorate that is usually not very interested, not very well informed, and attracted to candidates in significant part because they are doing well is probably an electorate open to suggestion about whom to support. If, as we know to be the case, many primary and caucus voters are also strong partisans, what they want in a candidate may be exactly what party insiders want: someone who can unite the party and win in November.
This isn’t happening with Republicans in 2016, Silver suggests, because of an “erosion of trust” between party elites and rank-and-file voters. Only the “influential people” stand between the GOP masses and disaster, and
the GOP would qualify as a weak, fraying party if it can’t avoid nominating Trump, a candidate who might at once reject large parts of the party’s traditional platform and potentially cost it a highly winnable general election.
One can almost see Silver and his progressive colleagues in the background jumping with joy, as they contemplate their Republican elite colleagues’ inability to block Trump’s nomination and the subsequent GOP disaster.  

Comment: Silver’s thinking reeks of top-down elitism. The Party Decides is all about one elite fighting another, and the far superior progressive elite -- whose media helped nominate the other party’s John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 -- is outsmarting the conservative elite once again. Who cares about issues such as the sick economy, national security disasters, and Big Government’s obvious inefficiencies? The only thing that matters is “the game” of holding onto power, with Silver’s elite the game master.

As we said, Democrats are still playing the old intra-elite game at a time when Republicans have completely lost confidence in the establishment, so are battling over more direct popular control -- even if the fight costs this election.

Yet in that bleak context, how about Iowa? Maybe Trump isn’t as inevitable as Silver hopes he will be.