2018 Summer Online – Politics 333: Democracy and…
Welcome to 333: Democracy and Democratization:
Week 4 – July 16:
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in American Democracy
The Bad and the Ugly seem to be everywhere these days. There is plenty to criticize about the President, whether you are usually sympathetic to conservative, libertarian, or progressive views – and there is no difficulty finding those discussions. We’re going to do some other things that might illustrate parts of what’s going on today.
First, something that may or may not be serious. Could it really be that a real-estate/reality-tv host candidate may have run for President because someone teased him? Maybe…
There are many possibilities to approach the difficulties in American politics and American democracy today. Some are borne by Trump, for sure. But other approaches are important too: the role of political geography; the seeming dissipation of threats from foreign states; the rise of globalization and technology, including social media; the viciousness against President Clinton and his detestable behavior, and the hangover now of Mrs Clinton having shamed and defamed his many accusers; the vulnerability of 9/11; the failure to find massive WMD programs in Iraq and inability to develop some other positive outcome there; the re-emergence of racism against Obama’s rise; the devastating impacts of the financial crises of 2008; and more.
Two of the enduring themes in American politics and American democracy are (1) the Alexander Hamilton notion of a strong central state, the importance of business and urban centers, a technocracy of elites and (2) a Thomas Jefferson notion of amateur politicians, rural life, and state/local rule rather than national-level dominance.
Each of these is a bit of a caricature, but until recently each was a reasonable approximation of modern American political parties.
But in the last few years, the Democratic and Republican parties have become further away from each other, and have developed their own internal divisions. Democrats’ divisions were characterized by Bernie Sanders – not even a registered Democrat – running a progressive campaign against the establishment favorite Hillary Clinton. The rifts continued into a fierce battle over DNC leadership, the recent primary win of a young “democratic socialist” in New York City, and Sen. Diane Feinstein losing California Dem’s endorsement for re-election. Republicans were fiercely set against each other as “Trump / MAGA” and #NeverTrump camps. Every few weeks, the President seems to do something (most recently border family separations and apparent subservience to Putin) that peels away his few remaining prominent supporters.
One approach to all this is to look at American democracy today and the division between “global cultural coastal elites” and “those left behind in Middle America.” There is some overlap of race and age, but the real division is over hope and prospects.
Maybe you went to college and lived near or moved to a big city, you got a job in finance or law or computer engineering or another “thinking” job. Or maybe you didn’t go to college and stayed in your declining small town far from New York or L.A. or Boston or Silicon Valley. The last 40 years have been enormously good to many people in the first category, and enormously difficult for many people in the second category. Trade and technology have made it difficult for people and regions that relied on manufacturing and agriculture, while “innovators” at Goldman Sachs, Google, and the like achieved incomparable success.
Thomas Frank is a coastal elite – originally from Kansas, but with a B.A. from U.Va. and M.A. and Ph.D. from U.Chicago (“coastal elite” in approach and impact, if not in geography). A committed progressive and Democrat living in a very-blue D.C.-suburb of very-blue Maryland, he asked What’s the Matter with Kansas – why do they vote “wrong” (Republican). More recently, he complied a scathing indictment of his own party, Listen, Liberal. He criticizes his Democratic Party for abandoning the working class of America in favor of its fetish for young coastal techies. He condemns it for adding a moral layer to success and meritocracy: whether you are a success or not, you deserve your fate. This Democratic Party, he argues, has forced much of Middle America into Donald Trump’s siren song.
In this clip, Frank offers a short critique of the Clintons and pro-Wall Street, pro-tech deliberate, decades-long choice of the Democratic Party to shift from a party of the working class to a party of the winners class.
A few selections in this approach follow. Please read:
Thomas Frank, critical of President Obama abandoning the working class in his 2014 State of the Union
Cornell West, critical of Obama’s appealing to Wall Street and Republicans instead of the people who need him
Thomas Frank warning that America’s political parties have failed the working class, and thus permitted Donald Trump to be considered worth a shot by people for whom The System has absolutely not worked
James Traub, the son of New York elites, demanding that elites stop the ignorant masses – his words
National Review contributors – leading #NeverTrump conservatives and Republicans who supported Hillary over Trump
Thomas Frank again, the day after the 2016 presidential election, in a grubby I told you so
And finally, how the top 9.9 percent try desperately to stay in that top decile, “hoarding the American dream.” The top 0.1 percent are fine. The bottom 90 percent of us have an enormous uphill climb. But the 9.9 percent themselves are anxious too – here’s how they deal with it.
These selections are all of a similar kind – that culture and economics divide and divided America – that Donald Trump is a symptom and accelerator of this divide, not a source of it. There are other approaches we could have taken and other concepts we could have emphasized – immigration, Big Pharma, criminal justice reform, etc. Maybe you will choose one of these or something else for your end-of-semester paper. But for this week, we’ll use Frank’s approach.
If you like, a much longer (and completely optional) longer video.
* by Thursday night – a news link – esp. a story or source we might not have seen – with your own comment – post on fb
* by Friday night – your “essay” post (probably 300-400 words) at the bottom of this page, based on the essay prompts (“questions”) below
* by Saturday night – post to our facebook group about what you are thinking for your end-of-semester 2000-word essay – you and I can talk about this individually, too
* by Sunday night – comment (approx 20-40 words) on at least one classmate’s news post on fb, and comment (approx 100 words each) on at least two classmates’ essay posts at the bottom of this page
In up to 400 words, at the bottom of this page, bring together two or three or more of these writings and videos. Some of the best essays are likely to be about things you found particularly surprising, but you are not limited to this theme.
Great, let’s go!