SENSE AND CENSUS-BILITY

I have a new thing at The Nation about the need for the new Democratic House to do whatever they can to fix the 2020 Census. Trump and his Commerce Department appointees have done what they can to manipulate it, and the consequences of a botched Census will last well beyond a Trump presidency.

No idea whether this is even on the radar of anyone in the leadership, but it should be.

I KNOW WHY YOU'RE SAD.

On paper, Tuesday was a good day for Democrats. They took the House for the first time in eight years. Several important Governorships (in advance of post-Census 2020 redistricting battles) were won. Notably vile Republicans like Kris Kobach, Scott Walker, and Dana Rohrabacher lost. The high-visibility Senate races Democrats lost (Missouri, Tennessee) were pipe dreams anyway. You already knew that Florida sucks, hard. So you're not sad because "The Democrats did badly."

You're also not sad because Beto lost, or Andrew Gillum lost, or any other single candidate who got people excited this year fell short. They're gonna be fine. They will be back. You haven't seen the last of any of them. Winning a Senate race in Texas was never more than a long shot. Gillum had a realistic chance, but once again: It's Florida.

No, you're sad for the same reason you were so sad Wednesday morning after the 2016 Election. You're sad because the results confirm that half of the electorate – a group that includes family, neighbors, friends, random fellow citizens – looked at the last two years and declared this is pretty much what they want. You're sad because any Republican getting more than 1 vote in this election, let alone a majority of votes, forces us to recognize that a lot of this country is A-OK with undisguised white supremacy. You're sad because once again you have been slapped across the face with the reality that a lot of Americans are, at their core, a lost cause. Willfully ignorant. Unpersuadable. Terrible people. Assholes, even.

You were hoping that the whole country would somehow restore your faith in humanity and basic common decency by making a bold statement, trashing Republicans everywhere and across the board. You wanted some indication that if you campaigned hard enough, rednecks and white collar bloodless types alike could be made to see the light that perhaps the levers of power are not best entrusted to the absolute worst people that can be dredged up from Internet comment sections running on platforms of xenophobia, nihilism, and racism. In short, you wanted to see some evidence that corruption, venality, bigotry, and proud ignorance are deal-breakers for the vast majority of Americans.

And now you're sad because it's obvious that they aren't. Even where horrible Republicans like Walker or Kobach lost, they didn't lose by much.

So I get it. It's depressing. There's no amount of positives that can take away the nagging feeling that lots and lots of people in this country are just…garbage. They're garbage human beings just like the president they adore. These people are not one conversation, one fact-check, and one charismatic young Democratic candidate away from seeing the light. They're reactionary, mean, ignorant, uninteresting in becoming less ignorant, and vindictive. They hate you and they will vote for monsters to prove it.

Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.

GO TIME

One thing that has changed since Trump is that I'm a lot more vocal about criticizing the Democratic Party. I think this country is well and properly screwed in the long term if, as a two-party system, the options available to voters are Middling and Neo-Fascist. There needs to be a left, and a real left, one that doesn't try to impress right-wing suburbanites by embracing means testing and trying to combat a movement based entirely on negative emotions with technocracy.

Along the way a lot of people whose ability to think about politics reduces to "Blue Good, Trump Bad" have shouted at me before eventually going away, which has been a huge, surprising net positive. I like doing this again in a way that, by the end of the 2016 election, I really was not feeling anymore. It's fun again and while that's not important to anyone else, it's quite important to me.

Rather than rehash complaints and criticisms you've probably heard plenty of times here and elsewhere, let's say you're well aware of the shortcomings of the current crop of Democratic leaders at the national level. You get it. I get it. And we both also get the "But vote for them anyway" arguments that have dominated the past year.

This kind of last-minute rallying call is less relevant than ever given how popular early and mail-in voting have become, but here goes anyway: You have to show up and do this now. Just because I'm not standing on the side of the road screaming VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO! to guilt people into voting for Joe Manchin or some other turd does not mean that you should not, in fact, vote for Joe Manchin. Objective 1 is to get as many Republicans out as humanly possible in a system they have rigged, and are actively rigging, to their benefit. We just have to start somewhere.

I said over a year ago, and maintain, that your local races are more important than the higher-profile congressional and gubernatorial races. There is no Liberal Jesus who will fix this problem from the top down. In the 1980s the GOP enacted a brutally effective strategy of organizing to win elections in which hardly anyone votes – and that dominance of low visibility, local political institutions eventually formed a foundation they used to build a nationally successful movement. The Democrats are probably going to take the House, and between their timid leadership and neurotic obsession with performative bipartisanship (What Americans really want to see is that we can reach out to and work with this…white nationalist kleptocrat) the odds that they'll actually do anything to meaningfully restrain Trump beyond simply existing are very small.

What is more likely to produce noticeable improvement is a change in one or more of your relevant local governments. You really need to be focusing on Politics at a level more refined then "Trump sucks and if we get the House that will fix things." I guess if that's what it takes to motivate an individual to vote it's a net positive, but that type of thinking really misses the point. We have to do more. That's the point. It starts with voting, and I have confidence that if you're reading this you've already gotten at least that far. But voting is just the start. We have to Do politics beyond posting a bunch of stuff on Facebook. We have to show up. We have to do the work. We can't sit back and say "Well that takes care of that!" once some institutions are again safely in the hands of bland moderates. That's a welcome step in the right direction, but it's not the end. Because none of these people are going to do anything that will actually make your life better unless you keep them scared shitless indefinitely.

That's what the GOP has done for decades. It's a long game. Do your part now, but remember that voting is the easiest part. For now, anyway.

TWILIGHT OF THE RACIST UNCLES

I've had a few pieces run in other outlets and end up traveling well. Most writing, here or anywhere else, tends to float around for a minute, gather the standard amount of traffic, and then disappear. There's just an ocean of Content out there and none of it has much staying power.

This piece for The Baffler is the first one that, like, really traveled well. It's disappointing in the sense that I often try to write serious stuff with useful history or social science in it and it goes fair to middling, and then I write a long, mean screed about something that's shitty and everyone loves it. It's a perverse system of rewards.

So do go ahead and check that rant out, but for balance check out something where I tried to make a more important point like this thing in The Nation from back when Roseanne's show was canceled.

IT CAN HAPPEN HERE

So here we are. We've arrived at the "radicalizing delusional, gun-obsessed racists to go out and start killing people" stage of America's hi-larious experiment in seeing what would happen if literally the worst person on Earth became president.

In about a week, the Democratic Party is highly likely to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in decades. As I've said many times in many different ways, this is not the most important institution to focus on at this point. Republican dominance of state legislatures and governors' mansions is a more proximate and direct threat to the kind of politics that affects us directly.

But the House race is going to be important in a very different way because, as everyone has recognized for the past two years, Trump's long term goal is to undermine any faith in electoral outcomes. And the endgame of that strategy is, of course, more violence.

I keep saying things will get worse before they begin to get better. I have the sense that events of the next 2-3 months are going to provide ample evidence to support that theory.

Knowing well that a quarter of the population will believe whatever The Leader tells them, declaring election outcomes illegitimate sets the stage for a crisis the likes of which Americans have not had to confront in living memory. If you think things are chaotic and ugly and violent now, wait until fifty-plus million people decide that Congress isn't really a legitimate governing institution because Republicans no longer control it.

Without going off the deep end, it makes sense to think about a few things most of us don't spend time thinking about. Do you have enough stuff at home to last a few days when it might seem inadvisable to go out and run chores? Is the car full of gas? Do you and your spouse, kids, etc. have a basic "emergency" plan in place? Maybe it's nothing, but it probably wouldn't hurt to have the conversation. We aren't about to confront tanks rolling down the streets, but there's every reason to suspect that "Lone" Wolf attacks are going to experience an uptick. If you work in particularly dangerous or targeted professions – journalism, education, etc. – maybe take a few minutes to review whatever plans your institution has in place for emergencies.

One very important but dismal lesson 2017-18 have taught us is that when white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or other far right types decide to get violent, you absolutely cannot rely on the police to protect you. The police will stand by and watch. If you haven't noticed this pattern, pay more attention to who ends up getting arrested when skinheads decide they want to attack someone.

Take care of yourselves, people you care about, and one another.

INDEPENDENCE

The first thing I recall learning in grad school that was truly eye-opening was the extent to which individuals' evaluations of the economy, foreign policy, and just about anything else are a function of partisanship. Like most people I had always assumed that with all the proxies available – gas prices, bank rates, one's own paycheck, businesses opening and closing locally – an adult could easily develop a "sense" of how the economy is doing.

Granted, that kind of evaluation isn't a measurement. It's a feeling. And that's fine, because what survey questions ask is how the person *feels* the economy is doing. And there's nothing simpler than announcing your seat-of-pants guess at how things are.

Yet when you look at the research, one of the most consistent findings in public opinion is that even these rough feeling type evaluations are almost purely partisan. Few voters even use the easiest proxies ("Gas prices are going up! Economy bad!"). It really is as simple, for many voters, as my party is in power therefore the economy is great. The other party is in power so no matter how many raises I get the economy is bad and my taxes are going up.

Brian Schaffner posted this neat time series from the Cooperative Congressional Election Studies (CCES) – my favorite data to "play with" in all of social science – showing partisan evaluations of the economy from 2006 (regrettably, the first year of the CCES) to 2017. The results are unsurprising and demonstrate the basic point I made above.

Note that after a rare period of tri-partisan agreement that things were going to shit in 2007-08, Democrats' sense of the economy rebounded more sharply and rapidly once Obama took over. Now look at 2017.

Another thing political science has a large amount of evidence for is the contention that people who identify as independents often have highly partisan voting habits. They might not say they're Republicans, but they very well might vote exclusively for Republicans. A lot goes into Independent identification; it expresses dissatisfaction with both parties (Many Americans, reasonably, have concluded that they don't like either irrespective of policy positions) and boosts a sense of oneself as an open-minded, free thinking, doesn't take orders type of badass.

In practice, of course, most of these people vote a party line or close to it because that's what people do. They get their ballot, realize they don't know anything about 99% of the names on it, and vote using the easiest available cue.

The CCES data here demonstrate pretty clearly a point I'm often trying to make, which is: Don't "independents" in this data look an awful lot like Republicans? Like, suspiciously so? Almost like Independents are really Republicans who don't want to, for whatever reason, think of or announce themselves as Republicans?

The rise of Independent identification in survey data – and it has risen sharply in recent years – is the worst thing ever to happen to political consultants. They see the word "independent" and believe that it signifies a large mass of undecided voters just waiting to be hit with the right message to sway them. For some independents that may be so; various estimates in research suggest that maybe 1 in 10 voters falls into this category and genuinely does not make up their minds until late in an election. For the majority, though, there is no meaningful independence. It's just a label.

Chuck Schumer famously said in 2016, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” That election helped demonstrate the flaws not only in targeting opposing partisans (hint: moderate Republican is still Republican. It says Republican right in the name) but in assuming that Independents are Independent. Generally they aren't. This is well understood.

So, any election strategy you hear that references independents, swing voters, or any synonym for a big group of persuade-able voters is not a strategy that makes sense. Any winning candidate who credits it fundamentally misunderstands what happened, and losing candidates who appeal to it are likely to repeat their mistakes.

IN BAD FAITH

"In good faith" became one of the mantras of the late George W. Bush years. It was the perfect exculpatory phrase for decisions that turned out to be terrible; as long as the original intentions were good, we can hardly blame these hard-working public servants for having erred.

Of course that rhetorical flourish overlooks the fact that those decisions, had any forethought whatsoever gone into them, should never have been made irrespective of the intentions. The intention to turn Iraq into Scott Walker's Wisconsin in the desert no doubt was sincere, but a child could have seen that it had no chance of happening. There's nothing admirable about diving into something that would cost dearly in blood and dollars with nothing but Good Faith in its favor.

The opposite, arguments made in explicit bad faith, is one of the keys to understanding Trump and his success at manipulating the media. They don't even feign sincerity. They lie blatantly and their supporters couldn't care less because it *feels* true and no matter how many times we go through this cycle the Democrats still haven't come up with an effective way to handle it or respond. To quote Washington Post reporter Ishaan Tharoor, "The Elizabeth Warren DNA gambit encapsulates in microcosm what the Dems have been prone to for so long: A credulous insistence that fact-checking can dispel talking points made in cynicism and bad faith."

The example he uses is ultimately irrelevant, although I suspect in the long term it will follow Warren around like "potatoe" did Dan Quayle. In the grand scheme, though, it doesn't mean anything. The question I have, and so often do when I see things like this, is: what was the goal here? What, in the best-case scenario, was taking a right-wing talking point at face value and trying to rebut it going to accomplish?

The hard facts are that when the right makes these idiotic accusations, 1) nobody on the left takes them seriously, at all (see: "Her emails." Try to find a single person who isn't a Republican who gave a flying shit about Her Emails.) and 2) nobody on the right is going to stand corrected, ever. They will – if they bother updating at all – simply move the goalposts. Here the pivot from "lol Pocahantas" to "lol 1/1024th" was so fast it was almost imperceptible.

I think, as usual, the root of the problem is the delusion that there is a big group of Undecided Voters out there who can be persuaded if only they have it pointed out to them that the right makes up 95% of its talking points. Democrats are forever trying to persuade and reach a hypothetical voter that probably doesn't exist – at least not in great numbers. I understand that someone has to maintain the daily list of things the White House says that are blatant lies, if for no reason other than to establish that the pattern isn't changing. But let the interns and faceless DNC staffers take care of that.

The candidates themselves should talk about nothing but 1) a policy agenda that doesn't require white papers to understand and 2) a vision of where the country needs to go that doesn't refer to policy. Do that and focus on getting more people who are predisposed to vote for you to turn out. Attempting to rebut Trumpian accusations is pointless because nothing will dislodge them from the minds of people inclined to believe them and anyone inclined to believe things Donald Trump says absolutely is not going to be reached with some fact checking.

ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BOT TOILS

At this point it is well understood that "bots" – a term I will use generically here for the sake of simplicity to refer both to non-human social media accounts AND human-run accounts paid to fill up comment sections with certain scripts / talking points / etc – are a major component of the social media landscape. What doesn't appear to be as well understood is the fact that literally everyone is doing this.

It is a favorite insult of anti-leftist types to accuse commenters on social media of being "Russian bots" for advocating anything to the left of, say, Zell Miller. There is no doubt that bots, Russian or otherwise, are part of a pot-stirring agenda to create or sow dissension. There is ample documentation of the large amount of money and effort that has been committed to what is essentially a global-scale Operation Chaos. However, the "Russian bot" accusation betrays a telling lack of understanding about the role "bots" play in social media.

I am always tempted to ask people who raise the Russian Bots point: Do you honestly believe that there isn't a massive social media Bot Farm operation run by the mainstream Democratic Party? And the Republican Party? And far-right interests like white nationalist groups? If so, you are being incredibly, willfully naive and falling for the "Bad things are clearly happening, but bad things are what the other side does" line of thinking that undermines an understanding of the problem as it really is.

You could reasonably counter that with "Well of course the Democratic Party does it, they need to fight back against what others are doing" and that would be reasonable. The merits of that point could be debated. But a lot of comments I see seem ignorant – intentionally or otherwise – of the fact that it is being done. And that's just silly.

The major parties can throw vastly more money and manpower at this than fringey groups. There is a positively *massive* Blue Wave / mainstream Democrats bot farm operation. I know people who work in it. I don't object to its existence on either moral or practical grounds. I'm only stunned that there are people – well-intentioned people fundamentally aligned with its ideology and goals – who seem not to understand that it's out there.

There is a large number of people (to say nothing of true "bot" automated activity) out there being paid hourly to fill Facebook comment sections with talking points, retweet / boost favorable media, share links, spread information about campaign resources (how to volunteer, how to donate money, etc), and all the stuff that is a normal part of online discussions and comments about political topics.

All of this is fine. Everyone is doing it. I see no reason whatsoever that any single group should unilaterally disarm in the delusion that playing by certain rules will be rewarded. That would be counterproductive. What I find confusing is the framing of this as something "everyone else" is doing, but not "we / us." Hint: everyone is doing it, and everyone means everyone. That super enthusiastic person on Facebook with the pink hat and blue waves in her profile has every bit as good a chance of being a bot or a paid promoter as the long-haired DSA Marxist dude harping at her for supporting Andrew Cuomo over Cynthia Nixon has of being a Russian Bot.

There is, of course, also not only the possibility but the likelihood that both are real human beings talking in sincerity about their disagreements. But if your worldview is one that includes extreme suspicion that one of them is a bot or a paid shill, you really need to recognize that it isn't one of them but both of them that deserve your suspicion.

I'll close with Pew research demonstrating that the most bot-supported political material on social media is generic / mainstream / centrist content – CBS News type stuff. Because not only are bots out there trying to promote a political viewpoint, but a vastly larger number are out there with no goal more noble than jacking up ad revenue.

GOOD JOB BUB

Episode 9 of Mass for Shut-ins is live featuring the story of Harold Holt, the Australian Prime Minister who disappeared. Seriously, he vanished without a trace. How Australia is that?

My guest is Mike Bridavsky, human friend of the Internet Cat Sensation that is Lil BUB. We talk about the strange experience of viral internet fame, living your life one day and having literal millions of people clamoring to see your cat the next.

If you're new to (or abstain from) listening to podcasts, don't let that minor technological fear stop you from enjoying Mass for Shut-ins. Here's a short and simple guide.

Additionally, I have a new piece up at The Outline – my first for them. It's a millennial-oriented online magazine, maximized for mobile devices. The piece covers the myth that just won't die: that colleges and faculty are havens for hardcore leftist extremists. It doesn't take much thought to see how patently silly that caricature is…but it's more thought than right-wingers are willing or able to devote to the issue, apparently.

I've been doing a lot of writing on other platforms lately, and I will give you guys a real post here soon. You're owed it.

FAST, FURIOUS

Many new things to take a peek at if you're looking to pass the time this weekend.

First, a new Mass for Shut-ins Minicast is available. I take a short look at why Donald Trump's suits look so bad. It's more interesting than it seems on the surface and goes beyond "Because he's a big garbage bag of shit."

Then check out this new piece for The Nation on one of the most remarkable stories of the year so far – a jury convicted a Chicago police officer of murder for the shooting death of an armed black 17 year old. That's so much different than the outcome of every other police shooting story in this country. I take a look at what made it happen.

If all of that seems too heavy, here's a preseason Deadspin piece on the NHL Triumverate that combined to win 8 Cups in the last 10 years. Pittsburgh still has gas, Chicago looks like it might be running out, and LA is just a mess.

Now back to work editing the next very special guest podcast segments…