Populism, Trump, and the Future of Democracy
August 12, 2020 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Four Actionable Points outlined by Michael Sandel who teaches political philosophy at Harvard University.
posted by CheapB (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
sl-audio, 1hr 10mins long. Transcript anywhere?
posted by lalochezia at 4:57 AM on August 13, 2020 [15 favorites]

The youtube description:
Donald Trump was an angry verdict on decades of rising inequality and a version of globalization that benefits those at the top but leaves ordinary people feeling disempowered.

I'm just starting but LOL no it wasn't. I wish these guys would stop sniffing their own farts and look at who actually voted for Trump and who supports populists. HINT: They like inequality!! They are trying to increase it!! Maybe they dislike 'globalism' but that is completely different, and that's mostly about racism.

Hopefully this is literally the opposite of the description.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:28 AM on August 13, 2020 [15 favorites]

Didn't take long to get to the part where we laugh off the idea that material conditions might inform politics.
posted by Reyturner at 7:45 AM on August 13, 2020 [12 favorites]

Nope, more nonsense. I really love the part about (paraphrasing, 22 mins in)"workers who believe their country cares more for cheap goods [this is implied to be the liberal position on immigration and free trade] than for the job prospects of its own people"... are going to support populist candidates like Trump, who believe we owe more to citizens then to prospective immigrants. Oh the Trump populist party that made those very workers sign wavers so they could force them to work amidst a virus without any legal remuneration? Yep. Nice job populists! You really showed you care for the common man! You really stuck it to the liberals.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I grabbed the auto-generated transcript and posted it to my blog with extremely minimal formatting (link is in my profile), but I noticed his assertions seemed a little outdated and double-checked and saw the talk is from 2018, and I'm not sure how well it holds up.

I was going to go through and pick out the four actionable points, but I ran out of time. Anyone else want to skim the transcript and let us know what's actionable?
posted by kristi at 7:50 AM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of the 4 points:

To reinvigorate democratic politics, we need to find our way to a morally more robust public discourse. One that honors pluralism by engaging with our moral disagreements rather than avoiding them, disentangling the intolerant aspects of populist protest from its legitimate grievances is no easy matter but it is important to try understanding these grievances and creating a politics that can respond to them is the most pressing political challenge of our time

Wow. I mean, if you leave out the current protests about police brutality [and only engage in the moral issues the 'moral majority' wants to discuss], then yeah, I guess he has a point. This speech has not aged well!
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:01 AM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'd say the current police brutality protests are also very much about the failure of liberal politics to engage with populist protest about legitimate grievances.
posted by fleacircus at 8:10 AM on August 13, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'd say the current police brutality protests are also very much about the failure of liberal politics to engage with populist protest about legitimate grievances.

I would agree with that, but remember this guy's speech is about the rise of populism as presented by Donald Trump, not generally about a rise in equality or a rise in 'fairness', or even about a 'real' populist revolt, where 'the people' matter more than a subset of elites. Populist Trump is trying to stamp those protests down.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:17 AM on August 13, 2020

In other words, an actual populist revolt IMO would not at all align with either Democratic or Republican views. But that is not discussed.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:19 AM on August 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

His speech is not about that, he is talking about broader discontent, like with Occupy, and how liberalism bungled its response to it, and that void is being filled by Trumpian things. I don't think he is particularly open to the counter argument you are making, that because Trump is a shitty white nationalist plutocrat in populist's guise, therefore he is not harnessing legitimate populist anger, successfully in part because of how liberalism has bungled its own response to it.

And like.. I think you should probably take a step back and give people a chance to actually listen to the thing because you're fifty percent of the comments of the thread so far.
posted by fleacircus at 8:30 AM on August 13, 2020 [14 favorites]

Here's a transcript, I think. It seems to follow along entirely, so far.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:51 AM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

After going over Michael Sandel's main points, the political situation in Weimar-era Germany might be relevant to his call for avoiding "liberal neutrality" and taking populist fascism head-on.

We have an administration pursuing autocratic — fascistic — control over our government, from law enforcement disappearing people off the streets, to passively allowing a biological agent for the genocide of indigenous and PoC who largely oppose him, to Trump's open admission today of using voter suppression as the means by which he intends to stay in office past November.

Why Weimar is perhaps instructive is that the Communists and trade unions were major political movements during the formative years leading to Nazi rule. They emerged out of the economic devastation that WWI reparations wrought upon Germany. And one of the first things the Nazi Party did upon asserting totalitarian rule was to crush unions and persecute communists, because they were its strongest opposition.

Part of the playbook we're seeing unfold as we go up to the 2020 general election is to see Trump and the Republican Party label their opponents as socialists, Communists, and Marxists. Obviously, that's ridiculous — candidates running for the Democratic ticket are nowhere near those ideologies economically or politically — but the stridency of the language used by the right to describe them is important, I think.

The Republican/Trump playbook, in some important ways, mimics that used by the Nazi Party before 1933. This raises the question if running on a boring centrist platform — counter to the perhaps more confrontational or direct approach that Sandel proposes here — can dull the extreme and dangerous language used by a dictatorship-in-waiting, even if we really do ultimately need to tackle questions of universal income, universal healthcare, and many other ideas that would be called socialism, as the nature of class, labor and (formerly-industrial) economies change.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:19 AM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

“Save the Party, Save the World,” [Subscription Required], Joseph O’Neill, The New York Review of Books, August 20, 2020 Issue
Somewhat unexpectedly, ensuring the success of the Democratic Party has become the most important political project in the world. The United States remains the world’s largest economy and superpower, and its constructive international leadership is essential if the climate crisis and other world-historical dangers are to be overcome. This can happen only if Democrats dominate the national government for the best part of the next ten years or so. Republicans cannot be trusted with meaningful power precisely because they form one of the world-historical dangers that must be overcome. Noam Chomsky has accurately described the contemporary Republican Party as “the most dangerous organization in human history.”
posted by ob1quixote at 12:44 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

>The Republican/Trump playbook, in some important ways, mimics that used by the Nazi Party before 1933. This raises the question if running on a boring centrist platform — counter to the perhaps more confrontational or direct approach that Sandel proposes here — can dull the extreme and dangerous language used by a dictatorship-in-waiting

What would that look like? How does that get accomplished without sliding the Overton window to the right? How does someone act non-confrontational with people hoping to incite confrontation? How do you dull eliminationist rhetoric in an ameliorating way? How do you find electoral success with being boring if the opposition is extremely good at getting their base to the polls?

I'd like for politics to be boring like they were in the 90's, but I don't think trending towards acquiescence is the right way to fight fascism.
posted by Gatyr at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2020

How do you find electoral success with being boring if the opposition is extremely good at getting their base to the polls?

Well, I think you have to somehow both "be boring" and "get turnout" though those seem to be two goals at somewhat cross purposes. Republicans do tend to be good at getting their base to the polls, but their base is increasingly in the minority of all people. A big reason Democrats win is turnout; in other words, elections where voter turnout is high favor Democrats. This is of course why Republicans tend to be the architects of tactics and laws to suppress voting, and specifically this year Trump and his allies are making lots of noise trying to discourage vote-by-mail, because they rightly surmise that the mail-in voting will encourage more people to vote if for no other reason than it presents less of a hurdle than having to drag one's ass to a polling place after work has in years past (I say after work because people who vote before work tend to vote reliably, and retired folks tend to be Republican).

None of this is particularly new ideas, but what I think might be really interesting this year will be if a combination of vote-by-mail and everyone being sat at home in quarantine will cause an explosion of turnout or not (especially in swing states). I think there's a lot of fear among Rs surrounding this unique set of circumstances, because there's no recent historical precedent so nobody has any idea what to expect.
posted by axiom at 2:13 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm suggesting a different approach, based on the fact that Germany's overt left-wing labor movements — leading the same kind of direct action that Sandel proposes — were brutally crushed, once the Nazis took over.

It's not so much acquiescence, as a get-out-the-vote process can also be about evasion and irritation, provoking Trump and other Republicans to make their actions — and the deadly consequences of them — more explicit to middle-of-the-road voters who are tired of the right-wing chaos, corruption, and depravity.

For example: "Do you like having Social Security? Do you like having a post office? Why are Republicans taking these aspects of normal, boring American life away from you and your family?"

Conservatives label their opponents as extremists anyway, so in the process of them playing to their base, the outlines of their fascistic plans will show more clearly to everyone else.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:16 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

This raises the question if running on a boring centrist platform — counter to the perhaps more confrontational or direct approach that Sandel proposes here — can dull the extreme and dangerous language used by a dictatorship-in-waiting

The problem with running a boring centrist who's running on a platform of going back to normal is that

1. "normal" was what got us here in the first place
2. if Trump really does steal the election in plain sight (as it looks like he's gearing up to do) with a complacent Senate and Supreme Court ready to make it all look like all the rules are being followed, what will that boring centrist do? Do you really see millions of people running into lines of riot police to ensure Joe Biden becomes president?

There will absolutely be violence, but it'll be atomized and ineffective and short lived. Hell, if there's looting, there's a good chance a lot of aggrieved centrists will denounce it as "counter productive"
posted by Reyturner at 2:17 PM on August 13, 2020

In the near term, how you protect American democracy is, yes, about ensuring the survival of the Democratic party and that Trump leaves office in January 2021. The answer to that is not primarily going to be figuring out how to communicate to economically and culturally marginalized white people. It is going to be about fighting voter suppression and efforts to make it harder for institutions to call a winner when they see one.

The longer-term question of what do we do next to build a progressive agenda that addresses the real impacts of globalization is really what Sandel's speech is speaking to.
posted by AndrewInDC at 2:38 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Donald Trump was an angry verdict on decades of rising inequality and a version of globalization that benefits those at the top but leaves ordinary people feeling disempowered.

Goddammit no Trump was fucking NOT a "verdict on decades of rising inequality" and neither was fucking Brexit (I lived in the UK for over a decade); anyone who makes the foolish claim that either was about the "dispossessed and disenfranchised working classes lashing out at the forces of globalisation" or whatever is completely full of shit and has no goddamned idea what they are talking about.

Brexit was about racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Farage and his ilk made "control of immigration/our own borders" a centrepiece of their argument. I saw pro-Brexit signs in the front windows of houses that also had BNP placards.

Trump? With his calling Mexicans "rapists" and "thugs" and his talk of "American carnage" related to gangs? Was appealing to the same racism and xenophobia. Pretending otherwise is at best ignorance and at worst wilful blindness.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:29 PM on August 13, 2020 [12 favorites]

This is re-litigation of 2016. So, we've tread this topic many times before and we're just going around in circles.

Honestly, I'm going to flag this and encourage everyone else to do the same.
posted by FJT at 5:41 PM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

In this lecture, renowned philosopher Michael Sandel argues that before mainstream parties can hope to win back public support, they should learn from the populist protest that has displaced them—not by replicating its xenophobia and strident nationalism, but by taking seriously the legitimate grievances with which these ugly sentiments are entangled. These grievances are not only economic but also moral and cultural; they are not only about wages and jobs but also about social esteem.

Above is the rest of the youtube description. That first line was really unfortunate because it doesn't really convey the thesis of the speech. Sandel's characterization of Trumpism and Brexit would certainly be that those movements and their leaders are racist, nationalist, and xenophobic.

I don't particularly feel like summarizing the entire argument, so I'll just say that I agree the left needs to develop a moral argument and moral language along with concomitant policies that address human needs for community, justice, and the feeling that their contributions are valued.

In the US, I think this need manifests most strongly in the mobilization non-boomer voters: basically voters under 40. It's not about convincing voters swayed by racist, sexist, and xenophobic arguments; it's about mobilizing and engaging other votes, as well as helping them overcome legal and economic barriers to voting and political engagement. Obama was able to do this in 2008, but even in 2012 Democrats were starting to lose support amongst younger voters, a trend which was only somewhat reversed in 2018.

It's funny, I just read a facebook post today from an old high school acquaintance. He hates Trump, but he feels Biden/Harris are so corrupted by corporate money that he can't bring himself to vote for them. Apparently Andrew Yang, and only Andrew Yang, is a trustworthy figure for him.

The lecture is international in focus, so it mostly ignored US specific issues, the first line of the youtube description notwithstanding, but I wonder if there aren't unique factors in US politics that make developing such a language of particular importance. Trump and the Republicans aren't particularly popular, and it seems that there is a widespread sense of generalized anger at corruption in the US political process and racism and inequality in US society, but the languages and politicians voters under 40 in particular turn to as solutions to these problems vary: some respond to Elizabeth Warren type uber-technocratic messaging, some respond to Sanders style moralizing, and others like my acquaintance apparently respond to Silicon Valley style left-libertarian critiques of capitalism and the effects of mechanization. These groups of voters don't consistently tend to vote together; thus, their political power is weakened.

Focusing on individual political figures appears futile considering, just speaking of the federal government, lawmaking requires two legislative bodies and the executive branch to happen, as well as the approval of the courts. Then again, large scale moral and policy discussions tend to occur only within the context of Presidential elections. It seems as though the division of lawmaking powers within our government, particularly the peculiar nature of the Senate, abstracts policymaking from the voting process most people, particularly voters under 40, use, which endangers feelings of alienation and thus leads to disenchantment and disengagement. Those trends appear particularly pronounced within voters under 45 or so, which greatly amplifies the voices of voters responsive to racist, sexist, and xenophobic messages, who tend to be older; such voters appear more willing to vote, possibly because in the Republican party and Trump in particular they find politicians who are responsive to their needs. The left in America needs to develop a language to speak to the moral concerns of younger disenchanted, and/or disenfranchised voters, whether those concerns include racism, sexism, economic inequality, or just plain political corruption.

One update I'd add since this lecture, which occured in 2018, is that the pandemic and associated economic recession handed the Democrats an advantage that could not be foreseen at that time. Assuming Biden/Harris can beat Trump, they will face the herculean task of assembling a positive vision to convince voters to vote for them, as opposed to a purely negative argument that Trump is too dangerous, evil, and incompetent for another term. Such a moral language, and the perceived moral standing to use that language, would appear vital to accomplishing that task.
posted by eagles123 at 6:53 PM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Trump Won Because of Racial Anxieties — Not Economic Distress
Economic anxiety has been shot down repeatedly by the experts.... The PRRI analysis of more than 3,000 voters, suggests financially troubled voters in the white working class were more likely to prefer Clinton over Trump. Meanwhile, partisan affiliation aside, it was cultural anxiety — feeling like a stranger in America, supporting the deportation of immigrants, and hesitating about educational investment — that best predicted support for Trump. White, working-class voters who expressed fears of “cultural displacement” were three-and-a-half times more likely to vote for Trump than those who didn’t share these fears.

In this election, education represented group status threat rather than being left behind economically. Those who felt that the hierarchy was being upended—with whites discriminated against more than blacks, Christians discriminated against more than Muslims, and men discriminated against more than women—were most likely to support Trump.
posted by xammerboy at 10:14 PM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

The hard reality is that Donald Trump was elected by tapping a wellspring of anxieties, frustrations, and legitimate grievances to which the mainstream parties have no compelling answer....Trump was an angry verdict on decades of rising inequality and a version of globalization that benefits those at the top but leaves ordinary people feeling disempowered.

Right xammerboy. Straight from the guy's mouth. If Trump ran as a right-wing populist but then just enacted standard Republican policies [and not right-wing populist policies*] with full support from the rest of the Republicans , then just exactly what is it that specifically the Republican party had no compelling answer for? [*The one right wing populist idea he did enact was strict border controls - but his policies have shown us definitively that strict border controls and standard Republican polices don't increase employment, GDP, or marginal US income for any income cohort -- so thanks Trump for dispelling that lie with actual data, that neoliberals were correct].

So since Trump has not actually lowered inequality, then shouldn't his populist constituents be mad? Are they? I would say 'no'. Maybe a few are a bit embarrassed. Enough to turn an election? Who knows? Sandel just ignores it.

I also reject the comparison of Trump to Brexit - on a technical basis. Brexit was a fair, public election of a right-wing populist idea, and it passed. The people who voted for it got what they wanted. Liberals may dislike the outcome and the reasons it passed are probably due to racism, but it is not at all similar to US elections, since we don't put specific policies to a vote. If we had a public vote about police funding, or immigration it might turn out to favor right-wing populist policies, but we haven't so it's not a realistic or fair comparison. We are barely even managing a fair election of people, much less ideas.

"The hope that Mueller’s findings will lead to the impeachment of Trump is wishful thinking that distracts Democrats from asking hard questions about why voters have rejected them at both the federal and state level. " Proof please? Again, this is more evidence that the 'rising inequality' narrative is false. Half of Congress saying "Do what you want President" is not combating inequality, it's exacerbating it. And if this is against standard Republican policies, shouldn't they have used impeachment as a way to 'answer' for it?

"Having strayed from its traditional mission of taming capitalism and holding economic power to democratic account, liberalism lost its capacity to inspire" How inspirational was it, that the only way liberals could stay in power was by being free market-lite? Who was the last 'insperational liberal'? Jimmy Carter? (LOL No. He builds houses, super Christian, is a laughingstock among Republicans) FDR? Kennedy? That was a long freakin' time ago, even in the 1990s.

Sandel is putting way too much into campaigning promises. Obama was a liberal, but not a liberal populist. "Assuming office in the midst of the financial crisis" that's carrying a lot of weight. So Obama was too busy fixing someone else's mess to enact liberal ideas. What a surprise. Doesn't bode well for Biden. Also, Occupy never produced many candidates, is that Obama's fault too? Also the Tea Party has supported the financialization of the economy, tax cuts for business, etc. So what exactly were they opposing, other than liberal ideas in general?

Then let's get to the 4 points:
Income inequality: If liberals have been pushing 'income inequality grievances' since Occupy but have not been winning, then maybe it's not that strong a play? Maybe Americans like income inequality, in general?

"Meritocratic hubris: " Is this a liberal position? Then why do non-whites without college degrees vote so strongly for Democrats? Why didn't they support Trump? He's the one surmising - he should have that answer.

The dignity of work: More made up positions. Who is it that is fighting wage increases to service industry jobs again? Affordable health care? Safety equipment? Vacations? What exactly is it that Republicans are offering that liberals should match?

Patriotism and national community: I like that he's a Harvard professor of political philosophy and asks " What is the moral significance, if any, of national borders? Do we owe more to our fellow citizens than we owe citizens of other countries? In a global age, should we cultivate national identities or aspire to a cosmopolitan ethic of universal human concern?" basically rhetorically. Who could know? Also does he have any examples of citizens of other countries that we give more to than we do to our own citizens? Is he talking the costs of war? What is included there?

As an aside, I like the Biden's (also not a liberal populist - they all lost in the primary) VP showed more cultural sensitivity than Clinton or Trump did. He's not a populist, but is walking the walk on culture. But how much he'll be able to accomplish is debatable, if he's even elected. Fixing others' messes takes a lot of time (see above). All that stuff about 'market liberalism', maybe that's the talk at elite institutions but the number of actual liberal candidates who talk like that- Who are they?

I'll say it again. This guy has nothing to say about anything. If this was his point
"The longer-term question of what do we do next to build a progressive agenda that addresses the real impacts of globalization is really what Sandel's speech is speaking to."
The 'what do we do about globalism' is just another fake Republican talking point. The EU treats all those things (dignity of work, college degrees, patriotism, etc) very differently than the US, but the UK Brexited away anyways.

Maybe liberals actually need to accept the idea that nationalism, entrenched power structures, and class/economic hierarchies are pretty popular, and we will always be fighting them, so we need to fight a bit dirtier and go around the people who like that stuff.
posted by The_Vegetables at 5:15 AM on August 16, 2020

Final point: Beto O’roarke did all his 4 points in 2018 and still lost. Texan but not racist, connected with the common man by visiting all 200 counties, etc.
posted by The_Vegetables at 5:37 AM on August 16, 2020

Elections in the US are as much about who votes as they are about how voters vote. After 2008 Democrats thought demographic changes that made millenials less white would hand them a permanent electoral advantage. Unfortunately for them, they failed to replicate the 2008 turnout in future elections. The 2016 Presidential election was so close, if a fraction more of the younger voters that stayed home had voted, not voted third party, or not left the Presidential section of their ballots blank, then H. Clinton would have won.

The candidates millennials, gen z, and to a lesser extent Gen X tend support foreground issues of economic inequality and social justice because younger generations are most impacted by, to name just a few factors: stagnating wages, rising higher education costs, rising housing costs, rising health care costs, over-policing, k-12 educational inequality, increasingly tenuous employment (e.g. moving from job to job), and general economic precarity. The problem isn't that these voters vote for candidates like Trump - they don't; the problem is that they don't vote as frequently as older, wealthier voters that tend to support reactionaries such as Trump or they don't even vote at all.

Last, Robert "Beto" Oroarke's Senate campaign came closer than many would have thought possible to knocking off Cruz. He came a hell of a lot closer than Wendy Davis did in her gubernatorial run in 2014. Granted, Cruz is uniquely loathsome on a personal level, but Texas is still considered a deep red state. A big contributor to Texas's "redness" is it's low voter turnout, and the mobilization of younger voters by Oroarke's campaign may help Democrats win stateside races in the near future.

Still, Beto was a dud on the national level in the primary because he tried for some vague Obama cover band style inspirational messaging in the vein of JFK, who himself barely beat Nixon in 60 - I have no idea what lies behind the liberal fascination with the Kennedys. Beto didn't speak to the concerns of younger voters, his base during his Senate run, so they abandoned him for Sanders/Warren.
posted by eagles123 at 7:14 AM on August 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

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