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IPR Fellows: Post-Election Reflections

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The Institute asked some of our Fellows to write their thoughts about what the 2016 election means.  Here are responses from our Fellows:

IPR Director Stephen Schneck

Trump & Legitimation

The philosopher and social theorist, Jürgen Habermas, once described what he a termed a legitimation crisis for democracy.

Sharpening economic divides, he believed, required the state to intervene in the economy to defuse the division and ameliorate the tension between classes. In so doing though, the state itself ultimately cannot contain the divisions it has absorbed and they then spill over from politics and into culture. When such division spills over into society and culture, however, an irremediable problem is reached because the political order depends on faith and support from society and culture for its legitimacy. If the state is not seen to be legitimate, then everything would fly apart with divisions everywhere.

Facing this prospect, Habermas thought, the political order would try to fudge the genuine legitimacy from below that it needs by artificially generating “legitimation” from above. So the state uses promises policies of bread and circuses and cooks up tricks to invoke patriotism. In so doing the hope is that such legitimation tactics can be a substitute for real legitimacy derived from free citizens.

While Habermas several decades ago pretty much abandoned this analysis of legitimation, it seems surprisingly apt to help make theoretical sense of what’s been happening in the current politics of the United States.

In his old theory, however, a scary conclusion marked the endpoint. Because, as the political order tries to use its tricks of legitimation on culture and society to make up for its missing genuine legitimacy, those tricks gradually become transparent, outed, and begin to fail. People begin to realize that they are not really “freely” giving their support. They begin to perceive that they are being manipulated by these tricks of the state. They begin to see that the state’s effort at fomenting legitimation is really a kind of repression.

Once that realization of manipulation is widespread. The state’s last likely recourse, Habermas thought, is authoritarian oppression.


IPR Fellow Ernest Zampelli

Americans have elected a President whose campaign offered little more than hyperbolic distortions and outright falsehoods regarding the state of our country and society. The economy is not in a shambles, trade and immigration are not the culprits in the economic stagnation of some in the Rust Belt or elsewhere, our inner cities, black and Latino neighborhoods are not overrun with crime and violence, ISIS was not born of the policies of Obama and Clinton, Obamacare is not a disaster, a wall will not keep undocumented immigrants out of the country, immigrants are not criminals and rapists, banning Muslim immigrants will not protect us from terrorist attacks, immigrants are not taking our jobs away and lowering wages, Trump’s economic policies will not bring manufacturing jobs back nor will they lead to economic growth rates that rival those of China and India, climate change is not a hoax, and clean coal is an oxymoron.

Those who voted for Trump because they genuinely believe such nonsense have been bamboozled and/or uninformed and/or misinformed. They can say what they will and try to defend themselves, but the data and the preponderance of respectable research lends little, if any, credibility to their views and perceptions. Those who knew or at least suspected that Trump was dispensing deceit but voted for him because of purported Christian values, family values, traditional values, etc., could not have elected a man whose values are more out of sync. They have elected a man who purposely sowed racial and religious divisions. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the white supremacists and fringe right-wing militias in their support. They have elected a misogynist and, and by his own admission, a sexual assailant. To me, that is indefensible.

But, given all that, the electorate has spoken and we have President-elect Donald Trump. We may like it or not, but we accept it because that is what Americans do. From this point on I hope that his rhetoric will cease being divisive, I hope that his policies will not follow from his campaign script, I hope that he surrounds himself with people who are unlike him, who challenge him, who know what it takes to govern, and who are willing to compromise for the good of us all.


IPR Fellow Maryann Cusimano Love

What’s Not Surprising About President Trump

Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States. Here’s why that’s not surprising.

This race was the Republican party’s race to lose. In the modern political era, since the Constitution was changed to prevent a third term for a President, the incumbent party after an elected two term President has lost every attempt at a third term, with only one exception: in 1988 President George H.W. Bush won one election after the very popular Presidency of Ronald Reagan. In all Presidential races since the modern two party era, incumbent parties lose significant popular support to challengers, coalitions fray, particularly in battle ground states. Republicans winning in 2016 is completely expected historically, which is why a record number of Republican candidates entered the race.

The economy matters, and although the economy is steadily improving since the economic freefall of the 2008 recession, most Americans still feel insecure economically. Although the U.S. unemployment rate improved under President Obama, and is better than other countries, for the first time in U.S. history, over 40% of the workforce are contract workers, without job security, stability, with lower pay, and few to no benefits such as health care and retirement contributions. Most Americans do not have college degrees, and people without college degrees are more likely to be contract workers with greater uncertainty, as “good” blue collar, union, manufacturing jobs have decreased. Household income and home prices have not recovered from the 2008 recession. Corporate profits and the countries’ richest are doing well, but many families are still financially insecure. Economics is the number one issue for most voters, and the incumbent party loses when the economy is sluggish.

Older voters vote, and vote Republican. Younger voters are Democratic, but they do not vote. Aging baby boomers are the largest age demographic, and about 70% of them vote. This year’s Republican candidate chose a nostalgic theme of returning America to the greatness of days gone by. This won older voters in large numbers. Millennials are now nearly equal to baby boomers in demographic size (over 69 million people are in each group), but the majority of millennials do not vote. Younger voters did not vote in high enough numbers to counter the demographic bulge of the Baby Boomers.
White evangelicals only make up 25% of the electorate, but vote in large numbers, and 80% of them vote Republican. The religiously non-affiliated are the fastest growing religious demographic and vote democratic, but they do not vote in as large numbers.

Men win, especially white men in the United States. The United States has never had a female President, and has lower rates of women in political office than other developed countries. Over seventy countries have had women serve as head of state, including Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Israel, Burundi, Central African Republic, and the Philippines. Women will vote for male candidates, but most U.S. men do not vote for women candidates. The gender gap in 2016 was wider than in any presidential election going back to 1972 (when the Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses of Congress).

It was going to be hard for any Democrat to win this year. The fact that Hilary Clinton made it close is due to both the hard work of her Latino outreach, and the unpopularity of Donald Trump. Donald Trump has the highest negative scores of any candidate, ever, so it took him longer to mobilize voters. Sixty percent of voters viewed him as unqualified for office, yet many, such as Mormons in Utah, “held their noses” and voted for him anyway. Had the Republicans chosen a less negative candidate, they might have sewn up this race months ago. Had the Democrats chosen a more working class candidate or one with better outreach to religious voters, they might have prevailed against Trump.

Although a Republican victory in 2016 is historically expected, here’s what was surprising about this election. The Republican candidate ran against key components of the Republican party, such as free trade, low tariffs, international trade agreements, national security alliances, and fiscal conservativism. Instead, a billionaire from Manhattan presented himself as the populist voice of working class voters, and won the votes of Middle America. A three-times married man who publicly and repeatedly bragged about his adultery and who does not attend church (the church he claims membership in took out a full page newspaper ad clarifying they had no record of his membership or attendance), who spent most of his life publicly supporting abortion, won 80% of the votes of “family values” religious conservative, white, evangelical voters. The populist, protectionist candidate, promising to protect workers and blue collar jobs was not the Democratic candidate but the Republican candidate. The Church- going, still married, candidate favoring free trade agreements was the Democratic candidate. So in some key themes, the parties reversed long-standing positions. Secretary Clinton won the popular vote, like Vice President Gore, in another unsuccessful bid for an incumbent party to win a third term. Could the Clinton campaign have done things differently? President Obama made outreach to religious groups a priority and won the Catholic vote, while the Clinton campaign did not. White working class counties that voted strongly for President Obama, this year supported a candidate who made racist “birther” attacks on President Obama. The Clinton campaign made a symbolic pledge to work toward removing the Hyde Amendment that bans federal money for abortion, a policy that has no chance of passing in Congress, perhaps in an effort to mobilize millennial women voters, but doing so undercut winning the Catholic vote. But Secretary Clinton has a track record of supporting the trade agreements that voters repudiated this year. She is an insider, inclusivist in a year when outsider, nationalists are being elected globally. While Donald Trump outsourced jobs to foreign factories for his businesses, he has never held any public office, so is not on record supporting the economic agreements that voters blame for economic insecurity. Philandering New York billionaires sometimes run as anti-elite, anti- refugee populists favoring protectionist trade measures and government spending on infrastructure, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but in the past they have not called themselves Republicans.

IPR Fellow Matthew Green

Some Observations on the Election of Donald Trump

Like so many other political scientists, I’ve been spending this week trying to sort through what the election of Donald Trump means, why it happened, and what will happen next. Here are some of my initial thoughts and observations.

1. A win for the “G.O.P.” Republicans did very well on election night, not only winning the presidency but also many U.S. Senate and House seats they were predicted to lose. I put “G.O.P.” in quotes, however, because many of those candidates—Trump included—have starkly different policy views. Trump, after all, was once far more liberal, and even now some of his policy positions (protect Social Security, spend money on infrastructure) sound more like ideas from the Democratic Party’s playbook. Expect to see clashes between Trump and congressional Republicans in the year ahead.

2. Democrats win the national vote yet again. Clinton made history twice on election night. Not only was she first woman presidential nominee of a major political party, she won the popular vote—the first time that one party has won the most votes in six of the past seven presidential elections. Clinton still lost, of course, but it speaks to the fundamental electoral challenges that face the G.O.P. It may also renew efforts to reform the way we elect presidents.

3. A massive fail for political scientists, myself included. This has been written about elsewhere, but it’s worth reiterating just how wrong most (though not all) political scientists and pundits were about the election. Among my own mistakes: assuming that the polls were right, despite knowing survey firms are increasingly unable to reach voters; giving too much credit to “get out the vote” efforts as the way to win elections; assuming that nationalism and racial (white) identity no longer matter to voters; and neglecting well-established statistical models that had predicted an extremely narrow election, some even pointing to a Trump victory.

4. The need for checks on broad executive power. This last point is what keeps me up at night. As a candidate, Trump made boasts that sounded like what one would hear from a petty dictator: jailing Hillary Clinton, firing the speaker of the House, and insisting that he alone could solve people’s problems. We have no idea if Trump will follow through on any of these promises, but they clearly call into question Trump’s willingness to follow constitutional principles. I am highly skeptical that the congressional Republicans who freely called President Obama a “czar” and “dictator” will be similarly critical of an imperial presidency if it means crossing Trump. That’s bad news for American democracy.

5. An opportunity to reform. The presidential campaign, as divisive and nasty as it was, has given us an opportunity to see just how important it is to reform our political institutions. The parties’ nomination processes are clearly broken; it’s hard to remember the last time voters had such poor choices for president. Congress should look seriously at how to strengthen and improve itself—something it hasn’t done in decades—as well as how to curtail the multitude of powers it has given the executive branch over the years. Finally, if I had my druthers, I would require every member of Congress to visit at least one district or state that voted for the opposite party, talk to people who live there, and understand why they voted as they did. That may do more to reduce mindless party conflict in Congress than anything else—and, by extension, help our representative government better represent the people.


IPR Fellow Enrique Pumar

Even few days after the elections of last Tuesday, November 8, different constituencies are still trying the explain the unexpected results.  Some political analysts blame themselves and others for misreading public opinion and exit polls as if survey research is reliable.  Other social scientists are still trying to figure out why about half of the electorate voted against their own interests.  Democrats feel they could have done more campaigning and Republicans are trying to rappel with the idea that a populist, albeit with a flare for demagoguery, could reach the White House when many other more suitable conservatives came short.
All these perspectives have one thing in common, they miss the point. The rise of Trump has deep structural causes related to electoral reforms which require our most immediate attention.  To put it simply, our bipartisan, winner takes all democratic system is not longer suitable for our nation.  We live in a more socially diverse, ideological pluralistic, class fragmented, and globally entangled country than at any time since at least WWII.
Evidence of this structural impasse abounds, the 2000 election, the pesty obstructionism by Republicans during the Obama years and this year’s election are only the latest evidence of the need for renewal.
Moving forward, we need to deregulate democracy to avoid further instances of political gamesmanship.  A comparison of the United States and France demonstrates that in societies with deep social cleavages sensationalism rules.  I propose that to make American great again, the reasonable majority demand a new political season which would make multipartyism meaningful, where political seasons are reduced to few months rather than years, where the electoral vote truly matters, antiquated arrangements are obsolete and political participation represent a majority rather than the determination of the committed.  As FDR reminds us “they who seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers…… call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.”

IPR Fellow Meghan Clark

Unity in Trump’s America Must Begin with Protecting Vulnerable Communities

Meghan Clark writes in Millennial:

There can be no reconciliation without justice. There can be no justice without the protection of vulnerable communities, eliminating the legitimate reasons for fear, and rejecting white supremacy.  We can assume that many voted for Trump in spite of this rhetoric or under the assumption that he didn’t really mean it. Whether or not he or his voters “meant it,” electing Trump legitimatized the very worst of this nation. If we want unity and to build bridges moving forward, if we want to have honest conversations about how and why people voted for Trump in spite of calls to expel millions, build a giant wall, ban Muslims, and joke about sexually assaulting women, there first needs to be a universal condemnation of this violence against communities of color, Muslims, and women.

You can read the full article here.