January 31, 2018

The fundamental trumps the theatrical: Reminders from the last GOP president

Consider a Republican president in a mid-term election year delivering a State of the Union speech that is received positively by 75% of viewers, peppered with appeals to bipartisan cooperation through difficult issues, and full of variations on feel-good words like "hope" and "courage".

Consider that this speech touts its recent successes in passing "tax relief" that has brought home however-many billions of dollars into the pockets of American workers, families, and businesses. Not to mention its successes in "pursuing the enemies of freedom" with its military, particularly in the Muslim world.

Consider the president asking the Congress, on the basis of those past successes, to take it to the next level going forward -- after cutting taxes, to privatize Social Security, and after helping millions of Iraqis to vote in free elections, to stand behind our military as they push ever further into that country to secure these newly won freedoms. Cut to: family members of an American soldier killed in the Middle East during this project.

Consider the speech's tough-but-fair proposal on immigration that reads:

Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.

And consider that the president is speaking to a Congress controlled by his own party in both chambers, a seemingly invincible force.

Folks, we're not considering Trump's speech from last night -- but the SOTU speech of George W. Bush from 2006, which did in fact poll very well.

But by that fall, Bush supporters were given a rude awakening about the lasting influence of speeches. In a wave election, the GOP lost control of both the House and the Senate, as well as the majority of governorships. In the next presidential election, the party would get wiped out so bad that even "safe" states like Indiana and North Carolina would fall to the rival party.

How could that have happened? I thought Bush had EXPOSED THE DEMONRATS as the party that opposed American workers getting billions of dollars dumped into their pockets from tax cuts. I thought he had painted them into a rhetorical corner, where they were now the party advocating cowardice and abdication of responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought he had given so bipartisan and aspirational of a message, that he mortally branded them as the party of obstructionist killjoys if they objected to his agenda.

The persuasion framing was win-win -- either they surrender, or they struggle against your agenda and make themselves hated by all. The rhetorical figure-four leglock was impossible for them to escape from!

In fairness, the same could be said of Obama's uplifting bipartisan SOTU speeches -- touting recent successes as a way to ask for near-term goals -- delivered right before his party lost the House and the governorships, then the Senate, then even the White House.

And of course, sometimes these predictably, uniformly well-received speeches precede electoral gains rather than losses.

The elites will never internalize this lesson, but quite simply: culture does not matter, only the cold hard fundamental material conditions. Speeches, framing, branding -- rhetoric in general -- has no impact on an audience that views politicians merely as agents to implement a set of agenda items that they were elected to carry out, rather than as performers to make them feel good in unison with other feel-gooders.

Below the elite level, people are too concerned with the basic layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, not the higher ones like a sense of cultural belonging. They don't discount the higher layers, they're just too preoccupied with a precarious material situation. Polarizing "hot-button" culture war issues only play out among well-to-do voters, whereas low and even middle-income voters are concerned strictly with material welfare (see the work of Andrew Gelman and colleagues).

Predictive models of presidential elections, like that of Allan Lichtman, do not include cultural variables but things like the direction of the economy, success or failure in foreign policy, major legislative achievements, division vs. cohesion within the incumbent party, and so on. The only non-material variable is whether the politician is charismatic, which is more of a personality trait than an aspect of his logic and rhetoric in speeches.

So, enough already with devoting so much attention to speeches, branding, and messaging, whether they're coming from Trump or anyone else. No one cares about them, and they are immediately forgotten. All the voters care about is whether or not the incumbent party can deliver the goods that they were promised in exchange for electoral support.

Partisan Republicans may have voted for Trump in order to enjoy tax cuts, see conservatives nominated to the courts, and stand behind the generals as they send more Americans into Afghanistan.

But the Independents and cross-over Democrats (largely Bernie supporters), who barely put Trump over-the-top in a handful of Obama-voting states, are still waiting to see those major changes that were supposed to break the GOP away from its zombie-Reagan program of cutting taxes, deregulation, widening trade deficits, and soaring military budgets.

All inside sources are saying that Trump is in fact softening on protectionist trade measures, for the personal reason that he feels that they would threaten the stock market boom that he has hitched his wagon to, and more importantly for the institutional reason that the sectors of the economy that control the GOP (like manufacturing, energy, and agriculture) would rather assassinate Trump than see him terminate NAFTA or slam tariffs on foreign steel used to build pipelines for oil and gas.

These are the major legislative or executive items that they will be judging the incumbent party on in 2020 (and even in 2018). There will be no foreign policy successes since the military is hell-bent on antagonizing the major regional and global powers in the Middle East, where we have only ever lost, and perhaps provoking North Korea into attacking us after the generals' "bloody nose" strategy. The economy does not go on for 12 years without a major correction, especially when the finance sector that controls the out-of-power party can pop the biggest ugliest bubble in world history and pin the blame on its rival party. And the fragmentation of the incumbent party will only get worse as the occasional attempts by Trump to re-align the party only expose and hammer on the faultlines within the GOP that resists his re-alignment, relating to immigration, trade, war, and Russia / NATO.

For the Bernie wing of the Democrats who will be taking on the GOP in the mid-terms and especially the next presidential election, it is only these kinds of things that candidates should focus on. Hillary screamed "racist" and "sexist" and "xenophobic" until she was blue in the face -- and still lost! Culture schmulture. Focus instead on undoing the corporate and military empires that are ruining our once great nation.


  1. Yo Agnostic,
    Matt Cushbomb's drunken rant on SDS and atomized american workers was pretty good this week. Sure beats the usual cheesy netflix-addled comedy bits, or for that matter, Enoch babbling about the Jews for 3 hours. But you dont do podcasts I know.

  2. I actually do listen to Chapo, as of a few months ago. Don't dig it enough to pay for episodes, though, like the one you're talking about.

    Most of the right-leaning commentators, and I assume their podcasts, tend to focus on social-cultural issues, usually not from an interesting or insightful view.

    The only regulars for me are Ann Coulter's visits on talk radio, and Roger Stone on Infowars, since they're focused on the success/failure of the Trump White House and are not sycophants or fanfiction masturbators.

    And Peter Schiff's podcast for economic news. That's essential for keeping up with whatever numbers come out, and what they mean. Easy to ignore the libertarian policy prescriptions on some things, like the standard Boomer response to just "cut government spending".

    Sometime in 2015 I tried listening to one of the Right Stuff podcasts, as the Trump movement got going and the Alt-Right became internet famous. Couldn't make it through more than 10-20-30 minutes. Jews jews jews.

    Left podcasts at least have something to discuss, usually current events or a broader state of affairs, and are not larded up with ideology like the right-wing ones are. The ideology is there, but it's not the focus of discussion -- more of a framework to help understand what's going on in the topic under discussion.

    Their ideology has all sorts of holes in it, but it's still better than making the ideology the topic itself.

    It makes it easier to push back against their take when it's way off -- you just think, "Oh, that's their multicultural taboo at work" when they say we are morally required to import all 10 billion bodies on planet Earth into the US, no matter how much that's going to wipe out our standard of living.

    But they overlap with us in their values and interests, and bring up things you would not otherwise encounter on Drudge, Axios, Breitbart, or wherever else.

    Others lefties I listen to are Unauthorized Disclosure (mainly for Rania Khalek, who is a decent source for Middle East current events, not so much the gay co-host), and Moderate Rebels (also mostly on foreign policy, and mostly for Max Blumenthal rather than the prissy co-host). I'd listen to Moon of Alabama if he did a podcast.

    Why did Michael Tracey stop doing video chats? Maybe part of his terms of employment after joining TYT.

    Nomiki Konst occasionally has interesting guests on TYT Interviews, like Tulsi Gabbard.

    I enjoy Chapo's range of issues covered, as opposed to most I listen to that are narrow in focus, but the irony and absurdism does grate on the nerves. It's hard to learn or discuss anything important if the news is just a set-up to an ironic reference or absurdist punchline.

    I get that it's more than just a news & analysis thing -- serving as black-humor therapy to lefties when they're so far from influencing or controlling things. But that's all changing, especially after the Bernie phenomenon, and even more so by 2020.

    Time to get a little more serious (which they may have started -- I haven't listened to old episodes from before Trump took office).

  3. I was disappointed that Bernie's response to the speech was Russia Russia Russia.

  4. Although cringy, it was just an insincere throwaway line. He wasn't trying to convince anyone who isn't already a Russia conspiracy theorist, just going through the motions in order to get the DNC funding to broadcast his speech.

    His response showed that he's the only one trying to scoop up former Trump voters -- saying Trump promised all these wonderful things during the campaign, but he isn't delivering on them and is going the opposite way.

    E.g., If you really want to take a hatchet to those globalist trade deals, if you really want to lower prescription drug prices, you're going to have to go outside the corporate Republican party and vote for a populist Democrat.

    I didn't watch or read the other Dem responses, but from what was reported, they were the predictable dinosaur multicultural identity politics with zero policy substance. And the official one coming from yet another degenerate zombie of an undead political clan.

    What's funny is how low the production values were for Bernie's response, including a technical difficulty lasting several minutes, compared to the overwrought poser stagecraft of the mainstream responses like the Kennedy guy's. Somehow Bernie still rates the highest among contenders for the 2020 primary.

    It's like how barebones Trump's campaign HQ was for most of the campaign, how minimal and inexperienced his staff was, how unrehearsed the speeches were, and yes even the many technical difficulties that made him flip out -- "This stupid mic isn't working. Don't pay the guys who set this up!"

  5. Only change in tone Bernie needs to make is drop "dishonesty" and "liar," since that will put his voters on the defensive.

    And it's just wrong -- Trump really does want to see his campaign promises come to fruition (even if he isn't interested in the instrumental side of govt to make it happen).

    It should have to do with Trump's own party hemming him in so much that he can't break free from its Reaganite clutches. "If the Republican party is unwilling to move on from Reaganism, America is going to have to move on from the Republican party."

    That is both true and more sympathetic, meaning his voters will be open to what you're proposing to take the place of "tax cuts, deregulation, and widening trade deficits" which got us into this mess in the first place.

  6. Hello AkinoKure/agnostic. I rarely comment online but felt compelled to join blogger for the conversation on this most excellent blog. You are one of the very few who mix "left" and "right" like me, although I would argue the left-right paradigm since the 1960s is extremely problematic, as that is when the fake-left was literally created by Capital to alienate the white working class from socialism/labor politics and such (Joan Roelofs discusses this some). Anyway, the real issue under any system is Labor vs. Captial.

    The left has gotten away from this, although some like Jimmy Dore and Caleb Maupin (RT) touch on it (however they ruin it with identity politics to one extent or another). The right (Trump movement) and alt-right (sans the anti-jew BS) are perhaps the lesser of two evils but embrace too wholeheartedly capitalism. They fail to see it's not left vs right but Labor vs. Capital. Does this make me a socialist or nazbol? Idk but I like to think of myself as an American Justicialist based partially on Peronism in Argentina, its equivalent (Teddy Roosevelt) in America, and aspects of Socialism (Debs). On the socialist question--I am not advocating communism, but it becomes clear to me that to "enforce" protectionism and the American industrial sector at this point, the government must use force to defend the people's jobs and kick out the illegals. I am also for single-payer as a non-negotiable.

    To me, several things have become physically clear in my study of politics: (1) the need to scrap the federalist/elitist Constitution and have a breakup of the USA into regional nations or large states. Democracy is not possible with the federalist/deep-state structure. And districts are too big. (2) The need to embrace some aspects of moderate socialism because we sure know the private sector isn't gonna do things by themselves. (3)Whatever our preferences are economically, we must make the core battle Labor vs. Capital. Soros, the fake-left, the antifa are all run by capital, and are not socialist in reality. Soros helped agitate AGAINST communist warsaw pact states. The alt-right and alt-lite are similarly elite-friendly in that they spend most of the day left-baiting and bashing "marxism" instead of attacking the real enemey--Capital.

    Finally, as to this article, I have more or less been a labor-style leftist my whole poltical life since grade-school, and now in my late twenties have become more flexible but maintain my core values. I voted Kucinich in 2008 and supported his run in my youth in 2004. I was a Bernie-primary-voter who turned to Trump in the general because I wanted (a) to oppose affirmative action, (b) to stop the TPP and renegotiate or scrap nafta, (c) end foreign policy of aggression, and (d) i couldn't stand Hillary. Trump has defaulted on nearly ever promise and opted for Reaganism. His mainstream alt-lite bases licks it up off the floor, but some are disillusioned and blame the "deep state." Sure it exists, but if we can't expect Trump to come through on populist-nationalism a la Bannon, then why bother with voting or the Consitutional/federalist structure at all? My prediction is that a liberal dem will take over in 2020 on the promise of genuine economic progressivism, but then turn and do anti-white stuff as a way of "reversing" the Trump years' pseudo-progress for white working class people.

    Anyway...I hope to post more in the future. You have a great blog and I encourage you to keep it up!

  7. I'd add "managers" in with labor and capital. They are not the lowly wage-earning order-takers like labor, nor do they own the company.

    They're the managerial elite that comes up with the plans, creates hierarchical chains of command for these plans to be carried out, and supervises the overall performance of the system.

    Mike Albert (ZNet) calls them the "coordinator class," but same idea. Most Leftists come from this professional-managerial class, regardless of how much cash is in their bank account (classes being defined by their roles within institutions, not wealth).

    In fairness, so do change agents on the Right.

    The populist and nationalist struggle is as much a battle against them as against the owners. They're the ones who are over-optimizing overly complex systems to the point of over-fragility where they get wiped out by fat-tail events, as Taleb would say.

  8. I respectfully disagree with the idea that Capital does not constitute the ultimate enemy. Those idiot managers, many of whom are affirmative actionites (started by darling of the Right, Richard Nixon--Philadelphia Plan), are employees of Capital and Capital's agenda. To Capital they owe loyalty. Replace them and you will get souped-up versions of the same thing--like with. Capital pulls the essential strings of the fake-left resistards and the alt-right/alt-light pseudo-dissenters, knowing resistance will exist but making darn sure economic leftism does not line up with cultural rightism, a la nazbol, peronism, or old-school (pre-sixties) socialism. I have never considered myself much of a marxist, but the marxist core of class struggle is true. The urban jews who invented marxism were right--the bankers, capitalists, etc. are the enemy (while the rural Christians were too busy worrying about the "jewish elite," old-timey nationalism, and their own version of alex jones conspiracy theories.

    And I think we have wholly different ideas of what constitutes a leftist. Managerial folk are by definition not leftist (at least not under a capitalist system). Lefitsm is the movement of the sans-culottes and working-class, and perhaps a few revolutionary or progressive intellectuals, as per the far-left of the French Revolution up to the 1960s. Everyone seems to think I'm outdated, but I think class struggle is as relevant as ever even in a somewhat deindustrialized economy. If you don't want communism or total fascism, embrace unions.

    Changing the middle-men changes nothing. Populism is flimsy, ask william jennings bryan. If one wants democracy, or even perhaps democratic socialism, there must be radical change in which nations are made smaller and more ethnically homogeneous and in which economics is at the forefront of the discussion.

  9. Also marx meant by "the internationale" a European association of socialist sovereign nations. Not multicolor globalism. Leftism is inherently nationalist, socialist of some sort, pro-Napoleonic merit, and with borders, although working in friendship with other nations:

    French Revolution nationalism

    nationalist upheavals of working class peoples in 1800s

    Paris commune secessionism

    USSR was big and imperialistic, but had borders

    Arab Ba'ath SOCIALIST Party

    And if you wanna take it this far--Berlin Wall, although not the prettiest example

  10. "USSR was big and imperialistic, but had borders"

    Indeed, even moving between provinces within the USSR was heavily controlled.


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