Political Compass, Volume XX

It’s my once-annual visit to my blog! Almost missed it this month. Twenty years of taking the Political Compass test has shown you do get more conservative as you grow older. For instance, last year I was even farther in the bottom left quadrant! But when you’re basically against the wall, there aren’t many places to go.

I know the test hasn’t changed at all, but sometimes I’ll get tripped up on a question here and there. The real story here is that I’ve been hanging out in almost the same spot for two straight decades.

My Political Compass Text from 2023, showing a result of: Economic Left/Right: -9.13 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.46

Annual Checkup

Economic Left/Right: -9.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -9.28

While the timing of this test comes at a point when I am, shall we say, agitated at the current state of the world, it’s only a slight outlier on a rather tight grouping over the last 19 years I’ve been taking this test. I’d say the libertarian axis is likely a direct result of current events, but it’s also a result of very few questions being answered other than “Strongly Agree” or “Strongly Disagree.” I know what I believe, with certainty. I haven’t become more extreme in my beliefs, I’ve just solidified them. The new current crises have only served to put them into sharper focus.

Purity Tests

Establishment Dems talk about ideological purity a lot and how the Left demands it, refuses to vote for candidates who aren’t ideologically pure, and thus, hurt the party. They frame this as “the Left won’t vote for anyone who’s not a hard-charging Bernie Sanders-style anti-capitalist crusader, and this is why Republicans win!” While there are definitely some on the Left who will agree on the first part, the second part is a total lie. The vast majority of those demanding “ideological purity” from Dems are literally just asking Democrats to run candidates who support Democratic ideals. The problem is, the rank and file and the establishment have very different ideas of what those are.

The Democratic Party is, in essence, a center-right, pro-business, socially moderate party with no strong ethos other than “don’t upset the money.” It is the GOP from 50 years ago, just with less backbone. The problem is that everyone who is in favor of that is either rich, in their 90s, or in the ground already. The modern non-GOP voter wants candidates that will work for them. And when I say “work for them,” I don’t mean some nebulous “work for the people,” I mean “actually make the lives of the non-rich better in these highly quantifiable ways.” The establishment does not agree with this.

The starkest difference between the Dems and the GOP is how they deal with ideology within their parties. The GOP has allowed a fringe authoritarian ideology drive them for the last 40+ years, leading to what we have today. Why? It’s loud and preys on fear, and it works. Older GOP politicians probably aren’t the raving proto-fascists we see today from the party, but pantomiming it to secure and maintain power makes them seem like that. Younger GOP pols? Wearing jackboots. Why? Because that increasing curve into authoritarianism generated true believers, who are beginning to take over. It went from “Mexicans are going to take your jobs!” to “we either win elections at the ballot box, or at gunpoint” because leading by fear produces extreme results.

Dems, on the other hand, refuse to be lead by their party. The establishment demands top-down control, and the top does not care much about the bottom. What it does let itself be lead by, unfortunately, is “The Middle.” The problem here is that, in our two-party system*, “The Middle” only matters if both parties are fighting over it. The GOP is not. It does not need the political center, because it operates on fanatical turnout from its base coupled with driving turnout down among others. The GOP does this in two ways: 1) making it difficult or impossible for those that aren’t likely to vote for them to vote at all and 2) preying on the discord the Democratic party itself generates internally to drive down turnout. And in doing this, they shift the center. The GOP has managed to shift the Overton window steadily to the right for decades by painting moderate Dems as burgeoning Stalinists, and in response, the Dem establishment moves to the right to try to prove them wrong. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t work.

There are, of course, “independent” voters, but they don’t represent “The Middle.” Most of them are low-info, reactionary voters who show up once every four years to vote for whichever candidate has made them care more. To be fair to them, though, most voters are low-info, because neither party likes an informed electorate. Independents tend to say they don’t like either party, but typically it’s more that they don’t care enough to form an opinion longer than it takes to vote. The GOP strategy toward this group is either to keep them home or make them angry at Dems. Both strategies are super effective, because both are easy.

Look at when Dems have won – years that the GOP has been in control when the economy has tanked. Look at years the GOP has won – all the others. They win elections when they’re destroying the country, as long as the money isn’t being touched, because they excel at blaming Dems for their own failures and only lose when those failures are so horrifically large to shift all the blame on. Democrats, on the other hand, are completely inept at even taking credit for their own wins, and are constantly playing catch-up, which, in turn, moves the Overton window farther to the right.

This, in turn, leads the Dem establishment to further marginalize and demonize voices within the party calling for a move to the left, because they still think they can win “The Middle” by being centrists. The only thing they do is create a larger, more disaffected bloc that cannot be relied on to turn out. Rinse, repeat, definition of insanity. “But they won in 2020!” Did they? 2016 and 2020 should have been layup elections where they not only won the White House, but supermajorities in Congress. 2020 was not a win. All it did was barely hold the line. Heavily on display was the Dem establishment strategy of attacking the concept of ideological purity in favor of “what wins.” TWENTY-NINE Dem candidates for President, and they were mainly there to paint candidates like Sanders and Warren as outside the mainstream.

Contrary to what the Dem establishment would have us believe, “what wins” is candidates who say stuff like “it would cost lest money and lower your taxes to forgive student loans so let’s do it” instead of touting GOP lines like “what about people who paid theirs off?” Dem candidates aligning themselves with the establishment will pile on any outsider who says stuff that upsets the money, and piling on draws the money. Dems calling other Dems “socialist” is hilarious, because if you stop using that word and list what it means, that polls extremely well. But the money doesn’t like it. The only ideological purity that the Dem establishment cares about is fealty to the money.

And that’s the biggest difference between the Dems and the GOP. For all the squawking Dems do about ideological purity, the GOP has been practicing this for quite some time, and it works terrifyingly well. Republican voters purge anyone with even a hint of moderation in their primaries, general election consequences be damned, because their party is willing to sacrifice borderline districts in order to increase turnout everywhere, and slowly eat up more control of the process. GOP candidates that lose are considered failures unto themselves for not being pure enough. The Dem establishment paints center-left leaning candidates as threats to general election success, and either paints establishment candidate wins as vindication, or losses as the result of leftist spite.

* Yes, a two-party system, because like it or not, our Constitution does not allow for viable third parties.

What I’m Expecting

I started writing this back in February, but didn’t manage to get it down in a condensed version until mid-August when I unleashed it as a tweet storm. Here’s the slightly expanded and cleaned-up version. Posted here for posterity so you can call me a genius or an idiot later.

The election in November isn’t going to be pretty. It won’t be done by the start of December, either. And when I say “not pretty,” I don’t just mean it’s going to take a while and involve people on CNN yelling at each other. Glad we’re all used to staying inside, because it’s going to be safer there.

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (the third largest county in the state) didn’t certify primary election results for over 14 days. That was in a primary with ~45% turnout among primary voters, which is around 85% of all registered voters. 14 days. Two weeks. Guess what happens when we hit 70% turnout of all registered voters? Think we won’t hit 70%? My precinct did n 2018. This was a high-turnout primary despite the fact that it was essentially a nothingburger for most of the races. Dems had a choice on Auditor General, Republicans had basically nothing. People were just excited to vote. They’re going to be even more excited in November.

Expect high turnout, especially since there is no “I couldn’t make it to the polls” excuse anymore. Expect way more mail-in voting wherever it’s available. That said, my precinct saw almost record-high turnout among in-person voters. Discounting mail-ins entirely, it was the third-highest turnout in the past two decades, and not by a huge margin. Add in the mail-ins and it was far and away the highest turnout my precinct has seen for as far back as they publish statistics for.

Exit polling is going to be all over the place, because we’re not going to be able to rely in exit polling on mail-ins. How could we? Exit polls are literally done by asking people walking out of the polls. Now, mail-ins and walk-ins in my area were pretty much evenly split along party lines as they related to a percentage of voters, but it’s probably a safe bet that exit poll numbers are going to favor Trump.

He’s going to claim victory based on that. You know he is. Why wouldn’t he? When we get the real final numbers in 2 (maybe 3 or even more) weeks, Biden is likely to be the winner, and he’ll claim victory. Now we have a problem. Think Trump will concede? He has adamantly refused to accept the results of an election that he won, what do you think he will say if he loses? That was always the plan, though. He was tweeting about how there was already fraud happening around mail-in voting, despite not a single ballot being sent out when we didn’t even know who was running. Fraud, in an election process that hasn’t started.

Thing is, mail-in voting isn’t rife with fraud. We have plenty of data on that from states that have been doing it. But that doesn’t matter – Trump has been spinning reality from his delusions because there is a significant segment of the population that believes everything he says, no matter how outlandish.

But now we have malicious manipulation of the postal system for the express purpose of stymying the mail-in voting process. We have the Trump campaign blowing millions to fight the placement of ballot drop boxes. On the whole, though, I expect that the system will work correctly. But that won’t exactly matter when the losing candidate starts launching lawsuits in every state he loses. I expect lawsuits in all 50 states. Legal teams are going to be thick on the ground in the swing states, though. And when it comes to states like Pennsylvania, where the results could take weeks, don’t expect to know by Thanksgiving who the actual victor is. That won’t stop the lawsuits, though. The first lawsuit challenging the results will likely be filed before the polls close.

What happens in between election day and final certification is going to be a lot of crazy. Trump is no stranger to whipping up his base with totally ludicrous statements that somehow people believe. Say 40% of the electorate votes for him. Say 25% of those people believe when he says the election has been stolen. That’s still 15 million people who are convinced that the election is illegitimate. Let’s say just 1 tenth of 1% of those people are willing to do something about it. You know what I mean. That’s still 15,000 people.

Do you think I’m speaking in hyperbole here? Wake up, it’s 2020. We’ve had people in the streets for months protesting actual injustice. We’ve had actual Nazis willing to kill out there. In Portland, we’ve had right-wing agitators aided by the police attacking locals for years. Those are the 15,000 people – the ones who are already on the street looking for targets. The political violence is going to get a lot worse.

Trump is already blaming Biden for all of this political violence, which is some egregious doublethink. What happens when he takes to the airwaves to make the case that unless the election is decided in his favor, violence will only intensify? He praised a 17-year-old who murdered protesters in cold blood. Do you really think he will ever go on television and ask for calm? At this point, if he did, do you think anyone would listen?

Any violence is going to be attributed to left-wing radicals and government forces are going to be brought to bear on them, despite repeated data that shows the violence is almost always instigated by right-wing provocateurs, sometimes with the implicit or even explicit aid of law enforcement. We’ve had waves upon waves of protests against injustice going for months now, and it’s just going to get more intense as those protests morph into protests against a stolen election.

Blue state governors are going to wind up in open opposition to the federal government. It won’t be talk anymore. We’re already seeing that in places like Washington and California, and even here in Philadelphia where the DA put federal law enforcement on notice. The federal system is going to get some serious strain the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1861. We already have a federal law enforcement apparatus that is acting as a political wing, issuing favors or reprisals against political allies and enemies at the behest of the President. What happens when that gets turned up to 11?

Out in the suburbs, it might feel a little tense, but in population centers, it’s getting close to civil war. Government institutions are breaking down and are being used for overtly political purposes. This election isn’t going to be fair and free, and it’s going to lead to even more political violence. That violence is going to persist after the election, regardless of who wins.

The question is how much, and can we survive it intact? I really hope I’m wrong. I hope that if Biden wins, Trump gracefully concedes in a manner that doesn’t sow discord, and we have a peaceful transition of power. I think there’s well more than enough evidence to suggest that isn’t going to happen, though.

Just a bit late

I usually do this in May each year, and what do you know, the fifteen years that was May just flew by. So here’s my Political Compass update:

Yep, that’s:
Economic Left/Right: -9.5
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -9.08

I’m sure current events may have something to do with that being the first time both of those numbers have hit -9, but it’s really right in the ballpark for me.

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

There was no chance that Senate Republicans were going to acquit Trump, but they definitely did their level best to come off as dictator-state-running goons in the process. The worst part about at least one of their justifications is that it isn’t a bad argument. Marco Rubio had a compelling point when he said “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.” That’s actually a solid point. It’s a rebuke, an admission that the conduct was not above-board, but a plausible deferral to an appeal to stability. I disagree wholeheartedly, but I appreciate the merits of the argument, because they accept the basic facts of the case and reduce it to a point of opinion.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Rubio, they went hard into the defense that If The President Does It, It’s Not Illegal. Literally – Alan Dershowitz’s core argument wasn’t that Trump was not guilty of the thing that he was charged with, but that such a thing is not thing that a President can be impeached for. He literally argued that “maladministration” was something that the framers rejected, something that they thought was in the normal course of things. The President cannot abuse his power. Not only is this argument wrong, it’s dangerous.

Once the vote is done and Trump is acquitted 53-47 (or maybe, if Mitt Romney does the right thing when it doesn’t matter, 52-48), it will be a matter of record that It’s OK To Enlist The Aid Of A Foreign Power To Help Sway An Election, Because The Senate Said So.

James Madison, speaking in favor of writing impeachment of the President into the Constitution, argued that “some provision should be made for defending the Community [against] the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.” It should be noted that Madison was debating people who were arguing against the entire concept of impeachment. It would be logical to assume that Madison won that point. Yet, 233 years later when that exact thing happened, the winning argument was “the framers absolutely meant the exact opposite of what they said and wrote.”

(Of course, in the next breath from my previous Madison quote, he said “It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of the members of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray, their trust.” So maybe a bit naïve there, Jimmy, considering the Republicans hold a majority and were proud of the manner in which they betrayed their trust.)

Therein lies the crux of the issue. There was a way for all parties to conduct this in a manner that would not prove to be absolutely destructive to the Constitution yet still end with Trump acquitted, but Republicans chose the path of obliteration. This isn’t a slippery slope sort of argument, this is the reality. The argument of record about checking an out-of-control executive is that there is no Constitutional remedy. That elections are the only way to remove a President.

George Mason argued against this point when he added the words “high crimes and misdemeanors:” “Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?” Dershowitz has successfully argued that the answer here is “yes.” “Sure, if the President wins an election by engaging in corrupt manipulation, the only way to remove that President is through an election, which they would be free to corruptly manipulate.”

The framers, at least the ones who had their ideas persist into the document itself, were very clear: elections are not the only recourse to a corrupt and dangerous administration. There is a built-in ejection seat, specifically for the purpose of removing a President who is abusing his power. Article II was not intended to be a suicide pact.

Marry this argument with unlimited money in politics thanks to Citizens United, and the Supreme Court affirming partisan gerrymandering as a thing that the framers (who wrote the document devoid of references to political parties), and you have a perfect recipe for a single-party dictator state. Once one part of the Constitution has been altered to remove parts that were inconvenient, there is nothing to stop other parts from going the same way.

We have witnessed a clear violation of multiple parts of our founding document, and the response was a collective shrug. The facts are not even in dispute: Trump did the thing. He admitted to doing the thing. His legal team says he did the thing. The thing is wrong. The thing is against the rules. The referees have viewed this evidence and decided that since it’s their guy, that means it’s OK, the rules don’t apply, and therefore, the Constitution is now a meaningless piece of paper, to be discarded when it is inconvenient. Article II has effectively been rewritten L’etat, c’est moi. Which part goes next?

Blowing the Whistle

It’s late one early summer evening, and I’m sitting on my porch, minding my own with a glass of iced tea. The traditional summer sounds are in the air – crickets, birds, children playing… are those gunshots? I live right on the suburban/rural split, so it’s not like I’ve never heard gunshots before, but they are very rare. The town I used to live in, we had a game called “Gunshots or Fireworks,” so I know they can sound very much alike. But no, those are definitely gunshots. And screams. Coming from the synagogue around the corner from me.

I grab my phone and call 911. “I’m hearing shots fired at Beth Or, you need to get officers over there immediately!” I tell the operator. I’m barely done saying that when I hear sirens. Police in these parts have some good response times.

I turn on the news and hope it’s not bad. When all is said and done, it turns out, it isn’t. Some racist asshole shot the place up and only managed to wound one person, who has already been released from the hospital. The local custodian, who barricaded a study group into a supply closet quickly before being forced to run himself. The shooter tried blasting his way through the door, but it was reinforced. There’s damage to the building, but that will heal. Of course, the shooter, being a heavily armed white guy, is taken peacefully into custody.

Mine turns out to be the first 911 call. Luckily for the DA, Beth Or has a pretty good surveillance system, so the shooter is clearly seen in the act. He didn’t even cover his face. The DA offers a ridiculously good plea deal, despite the suspect’s many ties to White Nationalist groups and racist comments they have made online, but the shooter and his crack legal team don’t take it – they want a trial. Their defense? He’s not guilty of a hate crime or 15 counts of attempted murder, because he didn’t actually kill anyone. He was just redecorating. He is actually a great friend of Jews and was helping with a Holocaust remembrance, and how dare you suggest otherwise? He can’t be guilty, because he’s such a bad shot that it’s inconceivable that he could even hit anyone. And even if he did, he has the right to keep and bear arms. What he did wasn’t even illegal. This whole process is a sham.

Moreover, the first witness they want to call is the person who very anonymously tried to get him in trouble by blowing the proverbial police whistle. Very malicious of that caller, who they hear is terribly biased against white people. They want me to testify, publicly. The shooter has the right to face his accusers, you know.

Except, that’s not even remotely the case. I am not “an accuser.” I am a third-hand witness who alerted proper authorities to what I perceived as a possible crime. Actual witnesses are willing and able to testify. Actual evidence shows the crime in progress. No only is there no legal basis to compel me to testify, there is no need. The evidence speaks for itself.

This scenario is, of course, fiction. Any even mildly competent DA would get a conviction in front of any jury, and the shooter would spend (not nearly enough) time in prison. More importantly, any judge in the country would take the suggestion that a 911 caller reporting shots fired could be compelled to testify as an accuser as complete idiocy and dismiss the motion out of hand.

The entire notion seems rather stupid, doesn’t it? Almost like all of the people involved with the shooter have no concept of or respect for the Constitution or the rule of law?

Free Market Democracy

Among a subset of the various and sundry candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination that I have already discussed, there’s an opinion that filing FEC paperwork entitles one to direct, unfettered access to the marketplace of ideas.

Michael Bennet, one of the useless Joe Biden clones with no actual ideas who does not belong in this race, said “The DNC process is stifling debate at a time when we need it most … rewarding celebrity candidates with Twitter followers.’’ No, asshole, they’re not doing that. They let you and 19 other people on the stage at one point, which is more candidates who have been taken seriously enough to be invited to a sanctioned debate than ever before.

The DNC’s criteria for the September debate were pretty basic: have 130,000 individual donors – that is, separate people who have pitched at least $1 into your campaign – and show 2% in four approved polls. Most of those polls are state-level polls that focus on the early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. That’s it. Of the 23 candidates still in the mix at the deadline, 10 of them qualified. 10. 10 candidates is still a largely unprecedented number. In 2016, there were five. Yes, Republicans had 16 at one point, but that was an outlier. And of this crop of 10, only three have cracked double digits.

Now, the margin of error on these polls is ~+/-2%. That means that a number of the qualified candidates could actually be polling closer to zero. And candidates like Bennet, who are actually polling at zero, well, the might be negative. That’s probably not how polls work, but if I’m answering one and Bennet’s name comes up, I’m not just registering my lack of support, I’m registering my antipathy for him.

Then we get Tom Steyer, who is under the impression that the presidency is for sale (probably because it is). This guy jumped into the race halfway through the September polling period, spent literally millions of dollars to get 130,000 donors who all gave a dollar, and then had the nerve to complain that he didn’t make the stage because he couldn’t buy polling.

But then he did. He made the thresholds for the October debate, which are, for some reason, exactly the same as September but with a longer polling period. So this buffon who has no idea other than “Impeach Trump” is going to get on the stage. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but at this point it’s basically like running on the “Hawai’ian Pizza Is Good, Fight Me” platform. Just because you’re right about one thing does not mean you have anything to add to the discussion.

Steyer managed 2% in four polls, and I’d really like to know who those people are. They saw 25 other people running, and picked a random jar of warm mayonnaise from the warm mayonnaise shelf. These are where the margins of error happen. I can’t believe that anyone legitimately supports Tom Steyer, because he has no discernable platform. He says nothing of value. He adds nothing to the debate. He is simply a walking pile of cash.

We have a DNC that is willing to let pretty much anyone on stage, and a crop of useless idiots who are complaining bitterly that they couldn’t walk over a bar that was effectively on the floor. And then we have a small subset of people who can’t even answer a poll correctly allowing some of those idiots to trip over the bar and onto the stage.

Back in the dawn of the nation, calling someone a small-d democrat was a duel-worthy slur, because small-d democracy was roundly derided as akin to mob-rule anarchy. They weren’t too far off base. There’s a mob, alright, but most of them couldn’t find their own asses with both hands, let alone actually rule anything.