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…

ONE AND THE SAME

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp – who also happens to be running for governor against the first statewide contender Georgia Democrats have produced for that race since the late 1990s – is using one of the most common tricks in voter suppression to hold up 53,000 voter registration applications. Over 70% of the applications are from African-Americans.

It's called "Exact Matching" and it's one of the least-subtly racist things in election administration. Simply, it is a requirement (found nowhere in law or the relevant constitutions) that a voter registrant's name must match existing state records with a degree of precision that is rarely possible. For example, if the voter registers as Jose Quiñones but he is found in other state records as Jose Quinones, the application is rejected. Similarly, Warren Jones-Jackson and Warren Jones Jackson are, despite sharing a date of birth, address, and all other relevant personal information, treated as two different people.

This is little more than a net used to catch people whose surnames have punctuation marks. It also catches people who have changed their name at some point and failed to update it across all records, but in intent and practice (look at that 70% number again) such voters are considered mere collateral damage in the quest to kick black and Hispanic voters off the rolls.

Many states have tried this or successfully used such exacting "rules" over the years. It isn't new. It's just rarely so brazen, and it happened in a world in which a lot of people will realize in real time that it is happening.

People ask, what can we do about this? The short answers are that if you live in Georgia (or even if you don't), scream about it from now until Election Day and consider donating money to a group with the means and wherewithal to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against this kind of blatantly racist nonsense.

Oh, and don't worry, Georgia is also using even simpler tricks like closing polling stations in black neighborhoods. It sounds like someone isn't terribly confident of winning his gubernatorial race.

RESPAWN

If you've been reading for a long time you may recall my standard disclaimer from the Early Days: "Be patient, I'm going somewhere with this."

For six-plus years at my current institution I've been taking advantage of a free group fitness class offered twice weekly. It is sort of a hybrid of Jazzercise and Crossfit. I love it because 1) I respond well to the structure of someone telling me what to do and 2) it's hard. The older I get, the harder it is to self-direct in a gym without quickly succumbing to "I'm tired and this is too hard." For me, a class works.

Over time the attendance in this specific class has tailed off. There used to be a core group of undergraduates and older faculty-staff like me, and as people have left the university through attrition many of them have drifted away. Every time new undergraduates come to the class, they come exactly once. I have been watching this dynamic play out for years. It's not some enormous class with 100 people and I never miss a session, so I notice who's a regular and who isn't.

Undergraduates come exactly once for two reasons. One I already mentioned: it's hard. The other is that the class involves a certain "routine" or sequence of actions – choreography? – that is totally baffling the first time you try it. After so many years, I can do the whole thing with my eyes closed from memory. But when it was new to me, it definitely took me a good 3-5 classes to get used to moving from X to Y to Z and so on. You trip over yourself a lot at first.

And if teaching has taught me anything it is that 1) young people will not do anything they absolutely do not have to / want to do, and 2) they quit immediately if something is hard. This has been a subject of interest in the video game industry, which is aimed mostly at the teenage demographic. Old school (80s/90s) video games were hard. They did things like make players go all the way back to the beginning if they "died." Over time video games had to evolve to allow players to respawn wherever they finished their previous try and to make everything easy enough that you can get past it quickly without too much effort. Long challenges or points in the game that are difficult to beat have disappeared in favor of larger "worlds" filled with player-directed tasks that generally aren't real difficult.

This isn't an ideological choice but a practical one. Game companies started to notice that if players couldn't advance past an obstacle immediately or nearly so, they would just stop playing.

I think about that example all the time in my class. It is nothing that a person of any fitness level would be unable to do if they would just try it more than once. Everything can be modified to easier and less demanding movements. The sequence / steps sink in after a few tries. But as sure as the sun sets, these kids show up once and look frustrated and never come back again. They're on the verge of canceling the class because so few of us are attending now. People leave and are never replaced with new regulars.

On occasion I also go to a different fitness class, same university. This class is essentially an hour of lunges and crunches. It requires no learning of any kind. It's always packed, and most people are only loosely following along with what the instructor is doing. They just kind of do whatever, and don't push themselves to do anything beyond what they can do easily. The students *love* this class, if attendance is evidence of anything.

It's anecdotal to be certain, but I feel like this says a lot about my job. I'm not teaching group workouts but it's abundantly clear that some, if not most, students gravitate toward things that they can do easily on the first try and avoid things that require, you know, learning something.

I'll leave it to others to draw broad conclusions from this, but it's hard not to notice. It's a real thing.

JOURNAL-ISM

Maybe thirty years ago there was something clever about doing an "exposé" on academic journals in the, shall we say "softer" disciplines. The Sokal Affair proved its point, a point that varies depending on one's perspective. What purports to blow the lid off of academic research by demonstrating that nonsensical jumbles of buzzwords can be published if they hit the right notes (whatever topics happen to be trendy) is actually illustrating something that every single academic already knows: that there are some journals out there that will publish almost literally anything.

That was in 1996. Why are we still doing this?

Three attention-seeking trolls with apparently nothing better to do (like real research) decided to do this again twenty-plus years after it was sufficiently demonstrated, but with the added benefit (to the authors) of an explosion of pseudo-journals in pseudo-disciplines over that time period. Pay-to-publish is a thing now ("Open Access," although there are certainly some Open Access journals that have high standards and publish excellent work) and the cost of starting a "journal" in the post-paper world is next to nothing. There are *tons* of journals, and many of them are…well, let's just say the bar isn't real high. In my own field, and being at a university where anything peer reviewed Counts (i.e., is good enough in the eyes of the administration in tenure and promotion decisions) I've searched around and found some real garbage out there – things anyone could get a paper published in, but that pride precludes us from submitting to.

I've seen some things on other CVs that sent me Googling to see if they were in fact real journals. Some of these journals are nothing more than randomly uploaded Microsoft Word documents. They can't even be troubled to convert to PDF. And the thing is, a person within academia knows what these journals are upon seeing them. If I publish in the "Iowa Review of Political Science" and it doesn't even have a functioning website, a fellow academic will see that on my CV and conclude that not only does that not Count as a real publication, but also that I have very questionable skills for publishing in such a place. We know what the good journals are and we know the tiers. There are elite journals, good journals, and the lower end of acceptable (journals considered legitimate but not high in prestige). If you have a job at an elite institution you need the elite journals. For most of us, that lower end is "fine" – our institutions just want to see us publishing regularly. It doesn't have to be world-changing, especially considering that people at elite schools have enormous advantages (money, time, resources) over us.

A clearer example is the daily dozen solicitations we receive to submit papers to "international conferences" in random foreign countries where, amazingly, every submission is accepted provided one pays the registration fee. Everyone knows what this is – it's a way to get one's university to reimburse travel expenses for what amounts to a vacation to someplace nice and exotic.

What these attention-seekers prove – and academics immediately grasp this in a way that non-academics may not – is that "Journal of Poetry Therapy" and "Porn Studies" will publish anything. And note that porn studies isn't necessarily a useless topic, but this (apparently) isn't a serious journal for research about it. This game of "find a topic that sounds funny to non-academics and find the worst journal about it" is not challenging and it's not interesting. This is a well-worn trick that, in 2018, only impresses idiots and people who have predetermined that every academic field except physics is "fake."

I'M NOT ELITE, YOU'RE ELITE

Daniel Drezner's latest in the Washington Post is uncommonly good. It makes a useful distinction between Old Money type elites – Kennedys, Bushes, Astors, Rockefellers, etc. – who recognized their own elite status. This is important in the United States since we don't formally christen Old Money elites in the way that, for example, the UK system of titles does. Our informality allows anyone to either claim or deny elite status, regardless of whether that claim has any merit. Neither Drezner (nor I) argue that this makes Bushes good people, but merely that they are unwilling or unable to pretend that they are not the elite dynasty they are.

More often, though, we have ultra-elites going to extremes to deny that they are elites. We all do this to some extent – everyone clinging to and showering one another with tales of our middle- or working-class identification. In politics this goes to comical extremes, with multimillionaire sons and daughters of Congressmen and presidents claiming that something about them makes them normal folks just like us. But it isn't limited to that. It permeates every aspect of our society and especially our professions. Academia is riddled with this kind of thinking; the children of Ivy League professors magically end up as Ivy League professors themselves, yet are curiously unwilling to admit to any sort of privilege or elite status in favor of clinging to the myth of meritocracy. I'm sure other fields experience little different.

More importantly, he identifies where the elite impulse to band together comes from. Early in the Kavanaugh process we all marveled at the number of purported liberals willing to gush over him because, his barbarian politics aside, he was one of them – a fellow Preppie and Yalie. And those ties run deeper than political ones. And, worst of all, the little people were trying to hurl accusations at Kavanaugh. People who are nobodies, from families that don't matter and aren't important to elites. The impulse to accuse Kavanaugh's accusers of lying comes less from a sincere belief that they are liars than from the Blue Blood tendency to pull rank; how dare you speak to one of us that way. You are nobody and you come from nobodies. And to people who think that way, maintaining the social expectations that plebes will speak to their betters only in certain tones and with no pretense of social equality is extremely important. So important that, by any objective standard, they will debase their reputations defending one another to protect it.

An important read.