Wednesday, November 23, 2016

SOTU address 2017

My fellow Americans. By the way, that is the cue for all you illegal aliens, immigrants with green cards, visitors from foreign countries and descendants of former slaves to turn off your televisions and stop using electricity provided by your nearest coal-fired power generating facilities. And how about those coal miners, folks? Aren’t they terrific? They love me. They voted for me. Let’s give those terrific coal miners a round of applause. [Wait two seconds for applause] OK, my fellow Americans, that’s enough for the coal miners. Save your applause for me. I don’t want for your hands to get sore, because believe me, you’re going to be clapping your hands a lot when you hear what I have to say in this, the first State of the Union Address of my amazing presidency. And by the way, your knees will get sore rising up every time you give me a standing ovation, so you might as well just remain standing for the rest of this speech. See how I’m always thinking of your knees? I want you to keep them in good shape for the genuflections you’ll be doing later as I make my spectacular and dramatic presidential exit.

My fellow Americans, this has been an amazing presidency, following an amazing election in which I won by an amazing landslide victory in which my opponent was able to get only two million more votes than I did, despite all the lies the nasty media were paid by my opponent and the Canadian government to tell about me. But that’s alright. Nobody watches CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC or ABC anyway, and nobody reads those third-rate newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, because everyone knows all they tell is lies told by losers paid for by my opponent. Folks, I think that’s the longest sentence I have ever spoken. It was almost forty words long, several of them two or three syllables long. It was an amazing sentence, spoken in this, my first State of the Union speech, three days after my amazing inauguration, which by the way, more people attended than were at the inauguration of President Franklin Pierce on March 4, 1853. And how about that terrific son-in-law of mine, Jared Kushner? He’s an amazing scholar. He looked up President Pierce’s inauguration date on Google for me. He’s an incredible scholar. He’s Jewish, you know. The people of Israel love me, and nobody loves Israel more than I do. Jared is also a terrific son-in-law, because he let my daughter Ivanka keep her maiden name. He agreed with me that Ivanka Kushner sounds horrible. It doesn’t sound daughter-of-the-presidential. And speaking of Ivanka, how about that beautiful necklace she is wearing tonight just above her breathtakingly beautiful cleavage? Replicas of that necklace will be on sale for a staggeringly high price through her incredible website immediately after tonight’s show. Also available on Ivanka’s amazing website are replicas of the tiara that our beautiful First Lady, Queen Melania, is wearing tonight. I don’t mind calling her Queen. Members of the LGBTQ community love me, and nobody loves them more than I do—in a wholesome and proper way that Mike Pence would approve of, of course.

But that’s enough about other people for now. Let me say a few words about how great I have made this country again. Take a look at the Members of Congress sitting in the box seats here at Yankee Stadium—the Capitol Building was much too small to hold all the people who wanted tickets to see this, my first State of the Union address. By the way, I heard that scalpers are selling tickets for up to ten scalps. That’s how much people want to be here on this amazing occasion. Unfortunately, the previous owners of those scalps were unable to be here tonight, but I have sent their families red baseball caps as mementos, just like the red baseball caps you see on the heads of all the Senators, Representatives and Supreme Court Justices who are here tonight. This I can tell you, every one of them is so proud to be wearing the new national uniform. Stand up, all you Members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices. Let the people see your red baseball caps and the almost matching yellow jerseys that say “Make the Washington Redskins Great Again.” Let’s give the members of the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch a big round of applause. [Wait two seconds for applause] OK, folks, let’s not overdo it. Save your applause for me.

One of the things that makes this amazing nation so great, especially since I became President, is the spirit of forgiveness. That’s why I have pardoned Crooked Hillary for all her hideous war crimes and for selling state secrets to those who wish to destroy us. I have also pardoned former director of the FBI, James Comey, for his criminal negligence in failing to charge Hillary with all the horrible crimes she committed. He has sent word to me that he is very happy in his new home in Tierra del Fuego, where he moved after discovering that he just didn’t fit in in this country. And because Hillary is a terrific person, and because she appreciates my magnanimous forgiveness so much, she has taught me how to set up my own private email server. It’s very secure. I have been assured that it is by far the most secure server in Moscow. Eat your heart out, Julian Assange.

One of the vicious lies the crooked media told about me before I repealed the First Amendment by executive order on my first day in office was that I was insensitive to the feelings of people of color in this country. That was such an unfair thing to say. Colored people love me, and nobody loves darkies more than I do. And that is why I have changed the name of my residence in Washington, DC. What kind of message was it sending the American people to have the President of the greatest country in the history of the world living in a place called The White House? What an insult to all those people who made this nation great by coming all the way from Africa to pick our cotton, and to all those folks who kindly moved to Oklahoma so the rest of us could build shopping malls and Interstates and oil pipelines on their former hunting grounds. So on day one, I changed the name of the President’s residence. People in central Virginia can read their newspapers by the light of the big sign at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that says Trump House. And how about those terrific people in rural Pennsylvania? They love me in the great state of Pennsylvania, and nobody loves Pennsylvannikers more than I do. That’s why I have signed an executive order to change the name of their state to Trumpsylvania. What kind of a message was it sending the rest of the world when the country with the most powerful military in the history of the galaxy had a state named after William Penn, a Quaker pacifist?

There are so many things to say about my amazing first three days in office, and we only have four or five hours to say them, but one of the amazing things that needs to be mentioned is that next week I will be announcing the winners of the new Medal of Fairness award, which replaces the Medal of Freedom award that former Presidents handed out like candy. The Medal of Fairness will be awarded to patriotic Americans who have heaped the most fulsome praise upon their President. I’m going to keep you in suspense about who the first recipient will be, but I’m going to tease you by giving you a hint. It’s going to be Kellyanne Conway. What a terrific lady. She just can’t find enough positive things to say about me. And what a beautiful smile she has. And so sincere. Let’s give her a big round of applause. [Waits one second for applause] OK, folks, let’s not cut into my time too much. I have so much more to say.

I would like to conclude this, my first State of the Union address, by talking about what a terrific job I have done streamlining legislation. The old way of drafting new bills was a total disaster. Legislators would draft laws that were billions and billions of pages long. Nobody could possibly read all those words. Members of Congress were voting on laws that were so verbose and full of adjectives that no one could possibly know what was in them. Besides, they had so much legal gobbledegook in them that the average unemployed ranch hand in Wyoming couldn’t understand them. So one of the first seventy-five executive orders that I signed during my first hour in the Ovaltine Office in the Trump House was an order saying that no bill in Congress can be more than 140 characters long. I figure if a bill is any longer than my attention span, I don’t even have to look at it. Send me a bill with 141 characters and I get out my veto pen. It’s that simple. Just think of how much money that will save all the taxpayers, not to mention paper. Tree-huggers love me, and nobody loves trees more than I do.

There is just one more thing to say before I conclude this, my first State of the Union address. A lot of people have been worried about how they will get affordable health care now that I signed an executive order repealing every word of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. There is absolutely nothing to worry about, my fellow Americans. Before repealing Obamacare, which by the way was a total disaster, by far the worst law in the history of the universe (which my terrific Vice President Mike Pence tells me is five thousand years old)—before repealing Obamacare, I signed an executive order banning all diseases and injuries from this great land of ours. What kind of nation allows diseases and injuries inside its borders? A nation of sick people, cripples and losers, that’s what kind. But America is a nation of winners. So there will be no more disease or injury in this nation. And I have also banned tooth decay, myopia and deafness. And therefore we do not need hospitals, clinics, dentist offices, opticians or veterinarians, which is why no one will need health insurance—unless they travel to some socialist country such as Canada or Norway. Medicare also been consigned to the ash heap of history. We are now a country of healthy, able-bodied winners.

And that concludes this, my first State of the Union address. There is just one more amazing accomplishment I want to tell you about before we leave the stadium. For years I have been deeply concerned about our catastrophic national debt, and I was determined to do something to remedy that disastrous situation. When I looked into the matter, I learned that the cause of the national debt was the huge budget of the Library of Congress, which was costing every man, woman and child in this country trillions and trillions of dollars every hour. So I signed an executive order turning the money-losing library into the biggest used bookstore in the nation. When all the books, magazines, newspapers and archived documents have been sold, the building will be renamed The Trump Library, which will house the book I read in college, all the books ghost writers have written in my name, and terrific dioramas that will inform the American people about my amazing presidency.

And that is all I have time to say, my fallow Americans. But just before we go gentle into this good night, I think it would be good to explain why I signed an executive order to invade Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the lies being circulated by the nasty media, which nobody pays attention to, because they are all a bunch of losers with worthless degrees in journalism from third-rate universities, there has been some confusion about why I ordered our military to make Saudi Arabia a colony of the United States of America. And some people are reportedly worried that I might order a nuclear strike. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, my reason for taking over the Arabian Peninsula has nothing to do with oil. It’s not about the oil at all. It’s about the sand. I need that terrific Arabian sand for the traps in all the golf courses I am planning to build in Russia, Kazakhstan, North Korea and Burkina Faso. And that’s why there’s absolutely no worry that I will order nuclear strikes in the Middle East. Nuclear explosions would wreck the sand. That would be a stupid thing to do, and I don’t do stupid things, because I am the smartest President in the history of the Milky Way.

My fellow Americans, I am going to stop now so I can spend some quality time with my comb and mirror. If I have more to say, I’ll send out a few hundred tweets. And this concludes my first State of the Union address. God bless us, every one—by which I mean all the members of the amazing Trump family and even our Jewish son-in-law, Jared Whosit. God bless you all. And God help the United States of America.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

To see or not to see

During the 2015–2016 election cycle, it was not unusual to see Donald J. Trump characterized as a fascist or as a Nazi. Such labels rarely help clarify what is happening, because in stressing similarities they overlook important differences. One important difference between Trump and the Fascists, to give just one example, is that the Fascists had a clearly worked out ideology and an agenda for carrying it out, which they did with brutal efficiency, whereas Trump does not. People who have worked with him say that he has a remarkable ability to “read” people and to know what to say to persuade them or intimidate them or play to their basest instincts, but having the ability to spot people’s vulnerabilities and to take advantage of them is not quite the same thing as having policies for a nation and a plan for how to implement them. Donald Trump is no Nazi. He is much too capricious and unstable for that epithet.

While the candidate who became the president-elect cannot accurately be described as a Nazi, he can be described as being one who does not see. This squib will outline a few of the ways in which Donald Trump and the Trumpistas do not see.

  • Trump apparently does not see that his broad-brush negative characterization of some sectors of the population sets an example that others feel justified to follow. All over the country since the November 8 election there have been reports of Muslims, Hispanics and Asians being singled out and heckled, humiliated and told to leave the country. When this was pointed out to him by Lesley Stahl in an interview broadcast on the program 60 Minutes, Trump said he had no idea that such things were going on and was very sorry to hear it. One cannot help wondering how he could not see that his inflammatory rhetoric, repeated loud and often for more than a year of campaigning, would enflame people and encourage some of them to act out on the implications of what he said.
  • Trump apparently does not see that by kindling the fiery passions of his followers, he has made a substantial segment of the population feel less safe, less welcome, less included, more fearful, more unwanted and more vulnerable.
  • Trump evidently does not see how his frequent remarks on the appearances of women, his characterizing them as either “hot” enough to be ranked as a “10” or as not being capable of satisfying the sexual needs of their lovers or as “not looking presidential” has the effect of trivializing women, making them feel their only value is in their most superficial characteristics and overlooking their real accomplishments.
  • Trump clearly does not see that the underemployment or unemployment and the consequent precariousness of thousands of industrial workers has less to do with “disastrous” trade deals and an influx of immigrants “taking jobs” away from citizens than with increasing mechanization and reliance on robotics. He does not see that even if tearing up NAFTA and imposing high tariffs on American corporations that manufacture goods abroad resulted in those corporations returning to Ohio and Michigan and Indiana, only a fraction of the people who used to work on assembly lines and in mills would regain employment. If one observes a modern automobile assembly plant and compares it with films of assembly lines in the 1950s, one sees that a process that used to take hundreds of human workers now takes hundreds of robots programmed and maintained by a handful of highly specialized technicians. Trump does not see that he cannot possibly fulfill his promise to bring jobs back to the rust belt.
  • Similarly, Trump does not see that the former workers in the extraction industries have not lost their jobs because of burdensome governmental regulations aimed at protecting the environment, but because of a variety of other factors. As long ago as 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was meeting with coal miners in West Virginia about increasing unemployment following in the wake of increased mechanization. Slowdowns in the fossil fuel industry have far less to do with environmental regulations than with increased technological efficiency that has resulted in overproduction; when supply exceeds demand, prices fall, and when prices fall, production slows down.
  • Trump does not see that abandoning, or refusing to enforce, the many environmental regulations that have been in place for the past few decades will surely result in the further degradation of a planet, the consequences of which will be both immediate and enduring for generations to come. He apparently does not see that a healthy biosphere is of inestimable value and surely far more important than the short-term financial superabundance of a handful of shareholders.
  • Trump apparently does not see that the focus on “Law and Order” (which is usually a euphemism for “Surveil and Punish”) has rarely produced the desired results. Prisons are already overcrowded and woefully inept at providing inmates with the resources needed to prepare them for being reincorporated into society on the outside. When the emphasis is on being tough on criminals and punishment and isolation rather than training and reintegration, it is no wonder that the recidivism rate in most American prison systems is unacceptably high when compared to prison systems in Europe. Very little in the American prison environment is either physically, emotionally or psychological healthy. (I will never forget one prisoner writing to me, “I cannot imagine hating anyone so much that I would make him eat the food we are served in this prison.”)
  • There is not yet reason not to believe that Trump does not see that being President of the United States is nothing at all like being a king, that a presidential cabinet is not a collection of loyal courtiers, that cabinet posts are not sinecures for one’s friends and relatives and that firing off angry tweets is no substitute for fielding questions from seasoned political reporters in a press conference. He also apparently does not see that newspaper and television editorials can provide valuable feedback that can help the captain of the ship stay a good course. Unless the future president can escape the gravitational field of his own ego, he will not see how much he, and the country he governs, stands to benefit from the humble act of listening to others.

In many ways it is not surprising that the United States is about to find itself being governed by a Not-See executive branch and a Not-See Congress, for all those people in office have been chosen by a Not-See electorate. The privileged too often do not see how life is for the poor, the marginalized, the different. Americans as a whole society as a rule do not see how people in other nations and the indigenous people of their own nation experience the world, and far too many Americans do not see that there is much to learn from the way that the overlooked peoples in their own country, and neighbors in the rest of the Americas, and Europeans, and Asians, and Africans and Antipodeans have found to make life sustainable and fulfilling for their populations. There are far too many Americans who do not see that the United States of America is not the greatest country in the history of the world, or even the greatest country in the present world, or even that the very idea of any country being the greatest country is an absurdity, a bankrupt conceit that precludes the possibility of being great, good or even adequate.

The time is still here—it has been here for my entire life—for the United States to stop being a Not-See empire and to open its eyes and minds and hearts and to join the rest of the human race.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Confession of a Libertarian Socialist

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
—John Woolman (October 19, 1720 – October 7, 1772)

William James observed that most of us human beings preserve and defend the same framework of beliefs and views we learned as children and that we change them only when, in his famous phrase, “experience boils over.” That is certainly true of me, at least in the area of political views and social attitudes. In those areas, my beliefs have not changed much at all, and like reasonable creatures, I have managed to find reasons for maintaining the prejudices I acquired from my parents and grandparents. I do not expect my reasons to persuade anyone whose inheritance of bias was different from my own, but it is an interesting exercise to spell those reasons out from time to time.

Up for rationalization today are two convictions, namely, 1) that government interference in the lives of private citizens should be kept to a minimum and 2) that government regulation of corporate entities is necessary. This constellation of issues is what the On the issues website calls a Hard-core Liberal position. The view that individuals should tolerate everyone’s freedom, since different people make different choices on moral matters, deserves to be called Liberal, since the word “liberal,” after all, comes from the Latin word meaning “free.” But what On the Issues website calls Hard-core Conservative, the view that markets should be free and unrestrained by governmental interference, has historically also been called Liberalism. When Ronald Reagan was President, Americans tended to call him a conservative, while European (and French Canadian) newspapers labeled him an ultra-liberal. While such labels are interesting, at least until they become confusing and cumbersome, what I find more interesting is the reasoning that leads to one of these positions. Allow me, therefore, to make a case for Hard-core Liberalism, or what I prefer to call Libertarian Socialism.

The defense of Hard-core Liberalism or Libertarian Socialism requires defense on two fronts. The first thing to defend is belief in government-managed economy. Second, since this political stance rejects the totalitarian authority that state communism holds over individuals and thus rejects attempts to legislate personal morality, it requires a defense of the policy of keeping governmental intrusion into the lives of individual citizens at a minimum.

The principal reason for having some regulation of corporate enterprises designed to make a profit is that corporations are not persons and do not have as part of their nature a tendency to consider a full range of consequences of their decisions. Corporations, of course, do not make decisions at all. The people who manage them make the decisions, but when people who manage for-profit corporations make decisions, the only consequences they are charged to take into consideration are those that have an impact on the profitability of the corporation. They are not charged with taking into account the effect that their decisions may have on employees, on members of the community in which they are situated, on animals, or on the environment. Given that decision-makers for corporations are not expected to take consequences other than profits into consideration, someone other than the decision-makers for corporations need to be appointed to consider the consequences that the corporation’s pursuit of profits has on employees, the community and the environment. In most nations, governmental agencies are assigned the task of monitoring the engines of the economy, and that system usually works out rather well, especially when the governmental agencies are not corrupted by the vested interests of the corporations they are charged to monitor.

In the United States, as in most other countries, corporations have resisted being monitored. They have tried to weaken or even to eliminate regulatory agencies that are designed to make sure that the drive for profits does not have an overly negative impact on the community and on the earth itself. In the United States, perhaps more than in most other industrialized nations, this effort to evade effective monitoring has been successful. The results for the environment and for the human beings who must share the world with corporations have been, predictably, largely negative. The drive for profits that has been the raison d’ĂȘtre of the corporations has been a significant factor in the degradation of habitats for both wildlife and human life. That drive has also been a factor in the creation of an economy in which a handful of families have accumulated far more wealth than they can possibly use, while far too many families (and individuals who no longer have families in any real sense of the word) struggle to find adequate nutrition, shelter, healthcare, safety and education.

There is a deep and abiding injustice in the American economy, and no one—even those who are apparently doing well in this system—is served well by injustice. Injustice is unsustainable, and when the imbalance of resources reaches a tipping point, the result is often violent revolution and its ensuing chaos. It is really in the interest of the wealthy to live in a society in which no one lives in grinding poverty of resources and amenities. So long as the wealthy do not take the responsibility of looking after their own interests, there is a place for governmental agencies to look after the welfare of both the very wealthy and the very poor, and of everyone in between those two extremes. The so-called Hard-core Liberals tend to realize that, while the so-called Hard-core Conservatives tend not to.

Having made a case for government serving as the conscience of essentially amoral for-profit corporations, let me now try to make a case for government not serving as a conscience of essentially moral individual human beings. When I say that human beings are essentially moral, what I mean is that human beings are strongly inclined to form opinions about what kinds of deliberate actions are acceptable and what kinds are not. About many kinds of conduct—taking or damaging property that belongs to others, embezzlement, extortion, various forms of physical violence, taking the life of a human being who clearly wishes to stay alive— there is a broad consensus, and those proscribed behaviors become the basis of criminal law. There are many other kinds of behavior, however, that some people disapprove, while others do not, and about which no amount of argument is likely to change the minds of those who have an opinion. It is folly for laws to be passed making behavior in that category criminal, as was made abundantly clear soon after Congress passed the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within the United States and its territories and the importation of intoxicating liquors into and their exportation from the country. That amendment was finally repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933, after the experiment in prohibition led to the thriving of organized crime, which supplied the goods that many people desired and found inoffensive. Attempts to prohibit or severely limit access to firearms, abortion and recreational drugs have had, or would have, similar results. Trying to legislate the prohibition of disapproved substances, services and items is rarely successful, as is legislation against sexual behavior that only some people strongly condemn.

During the administration of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Canada (in office 1968—1979 and 1980—1984), a phrase that one often heard was that government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation; during those years the Canadian government largely got out of the business of regulating the sexual conduct of individuals and of saying who could and who could not marry whom. It also greatly simplified divorce laws. Any couple who lived together for a year and wished to declare themselves as a married couple were considered married in the eyes of the law. Any couple that separated for a year and declared their marriage over was considered to have met all the requirements for a no-fault divorce, and whatever assets they had accumulated as a couple during the time of marriage was divided evenly between them, as was responsibility for supporting any children born into the marriage. Trudeau was leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and his attitudes in such matters were liberal and indeed libertarian. I lived in Canada during Trudeau’s years in office and came to appreciate the non-invasive nature of his policies.

In Canada, unlike the United States, marriage and divorce fall within the purview of the federal government, whereas the United States Constitution explicitly states that matters not made federal matters by the Constitution fall within the jurisdiction of the individual states; marriage and divorce are not made a federal matter, so they are left to the individual states to legislate. The jurisdiction, however, is immaterial to my position. The liberal position is that no government at any level should be in the position of imposing on all its citizens a particular decree in matters of marriage and divorce, consensual sexuality, abortion or recreational use of intoxicating substances. Those are all matters of individual taste, and taste cannot be successfully legislated any more than it can be settled by an appeal to reason or evidence. De gustibus non est disputandum.

As Jane Mayer has chronicled in her book Dark Money, a number of extremely wealthy families in the United States—families with the surnames Koch, Bradley, Olin, Mellon, Scaife—have for many decades sought popular support for their resistance to taxation and to environmental and safety regulations and to laws stipulating minimum wages for workers by suggesting, without evidence, that governmental regulation of the economy is necessarily linked to the limitations of individual freedoms. Any government that limits where an oil company can drill or what safety conditions a company must provide for its workers, they have argued, is also necessarily dedicated to enslaving its citizens and dictating every possible detail of their personal lives. In the view of these billionaires, there are exactly two kinds of society: laissez-fair capitalist economies in which individuals have maximal personal freedom, and regulated communist societies in which individuals labor under the burden of oppressive authoritarian governments. The very idea of a libertarian socialism, they have insisted, is a contradiction in terms. And despite the fact that a good many nations in Europe, Asia and the Americas have managed to cultivate successful libertarian socialist societies, a good many Americans remain convinced that such societies are logically impossible.

Some eighty years of billionaire-supported propaganda has been very effective in limiting the imaginations and perceptions of the American public. There are, however, signs that perceptions are beginning to change and that the Libertian Socialist or Hard-core Liberal view is being distinguished from the policies of authoritarian state communism and is being perceived by many as a viable form of government for the United States.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The US political landscape in 2016

Historical preamble

The people of the United States tend to decide that after eight years of one political party being in the White House, it is time for a change. Since George Washington took the office in 1789, it has happened only eight times that one party has headed the executive branch for more than eight consecutive years. Washington’s Federalist Party was in power for a total of twelve years, but after John Adams was defeated after one term by Thomas Jefferson, the Federalist Party never again occupied the presidency. Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans held the presidency for the next twenty-eight years, as Jefferson, Madison and Monroe served two terms each, followed by John Quincy Adams serving a single term. Since Adams left office in 1829, no political party has retained the presidency that long, and no Democratic-Republican was ever elected again. After that, the Democratic Party has occupied the White House more than eight years just twice. Andrew Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, led the executive branch for a total of twelve years (1829–1841), and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman held the office for a total of twenty years (1933–1953). The Republican Party has done somewhat better. They were in power for sixteen years from 1869 until 1885 with the presidencies of Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur, and for another sixteen years from 1897 until 1913 with the presidencies of William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The Republicans had two further twelve-year runs through the presidencies of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover (1921–1933) and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (1981–1993). Since the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951, limiting a President’s tenure to a maximum of two terms, the election of Bush after Reagan is the only time a non-incumbent has been elected from the same party as his predecessor.

Applying the Pattern

If the 2016 election follows the pattern that has predominated since 1951, the Democratic Party will most likely lose to the Republican Party. If any one of the three candidates still actively vying for the nomination of the Republican Party as of March 18, 2016 manages to become the next President of the United States, the country’s change in direction will be noticeable. All three Republican candidates are promising to reduce or even eliminate most environmental regulations, measures that protect consumers from unscrupulous banking practices, and federal social programs aimed at providing aid to the poor and opportunity to marginalized. One candidate, Ted Cruz, has promised to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service altogether. These promises to “reduce the size of government,” if carried out, would fulfill the dreams of such anti-government billionaires as the descendants of Andrew Mellon, Fred Koch, John M. Olin and Lynde and Harry Bradley, who for decades have been generously funding lobbying campaigns against taxation, social security, welfare programs, and the regulation of the business sector, and pouring money into education programs that emphasize the values of a free-market economy. These lobbying and “educational” efforts have managed to convince numerous politicians, and the voters who vote for them, that taxation is a form of theft (or of punishment of the industrious and successful) and that welfare is immoral because it weakens those who avail themselves of it by making them dependent on handouts rather than industrious and self-reliant.

Although the incessantly repeated mantra of this year’s Republican candidates is reducing the size of government, there are some areas of life in which increased government is being called for. All of the candidates, for example, want to make the military significantly stronger and to deploy personnel and materiel to politically unstable parts of the world. The military is part of the government. Moreover, there is a shared will to expand the size and the powers of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and to “secure our borders,” and to enhance the ability of various other agencies to surveil and detain known or suspected “bad guys,” all in the name of making America safe. Some, but not all, of the current Republican candidates seem to be in favor of increased governmental regulations against same-sex marriage, although this effort is now being marketed as an effort to reduce government-imposed restrictions on the freedoms of religious people to manifest their biases against people whom they deem to be offensive in the eyes of God. There also seems to be a consensus that restricting the use of marijuana, even for medical purposes, is a desideratum; doing so everywhere in the nation, including states in which marijuana use is now legal by state law, would require increased power at the federal level. At the risk of oversimplification, the Republican theme appears to be less governmental control of non-human entities such as corporations and more governmental control of human citizens in almost all areas except their absolute and untrammeled right to bear arms.

Political plotting

Some time ago I wrote a post about an alternative to the outdated characterization of political views as left or right, and liberal or conservative. The so-called Political Compass plots political views along a horizontal and a vertical axis. The visitor to that site can take a quiz that then plots the visitor’s overall political philosophy on a Cartesian graph. The horizontal x-axis shows the degree to which one favors governmental regulation of the economy, with heavy regulation to the left and no regulation to the right. The vertical y-axis shows the degree to which one favors an authoritarian government, with heavy authoritarianism at the top and libertarianism at the bottom. On that way of plotting political views, a libertarian socialist (such as Noam Chomsky, Nelson Mandela or Dennis Kucinich) would fall in the southwest quadrant, while a more authoritarian laissez-faire free-market capitalist (such as all the Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton) would fall in the northeast quadrant. The Political Compass provides a graph of the 2016 Presidential candidates still in the race. On that graph, Hillary Clinton is almost as far to the right on the economic scale as the Republican candidates but significantly less authoritarian. (Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is near the top of the authoritarian scale; he is, however, somewhat to the left of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio on economic matters.) It is noteworthy that only two US presidential candidates (Kucinich and Bernie Sanders) who have run as Republicans or Democrats in the 21st century fall outside the northeast quadrant.

There is another way of characterizing political views on a website called On the Issues. The visitor to that site can take a quiz of twenty questions, the responses to which will show the visitor’s overall philosophical views on a diamond-shaped grid. It will also show the degree to which the visitor agrees with each of the political candidates from the two major parties, including those who have dropped out of the race or suspended their campaigns, and of other parties such as the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party. When I took the quiz, for example, the website calculated that I am 98% in agreement with Jill Stein of the Green Party, 90% with Bernie Sanders, 78% with Elizabeth Warren, 75% with Hillary Clinton, 63% with President Obama, and 3% with Donald Trump, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz.

Like the Political Compass website, the On the Issues website scores the visitor’s quiz answers in two categories, which they call the Personal or Social Score and the Economic Score. A high Personal Score indicates a strong belief in personal and social freedoms, which manifests as a belief in tolerance for different people and different lifestyles, while a low score indicates a belief that one’s standards of morality and safety should be enforced by government. (My score was 100%.) A high Economic Score, on the other hand, indicates a strong belief in markets free of regulations, tariffs and other factors that limit free enterprise. A high Economic Score indicates a belief in personal responsibility for financial matters and a conviction that free-market competition is better for society than a planned and regulated economy, while a low score indicates a belief that a good society is best achieved by government redistributing wealth and making decisions about which programs are good for society. (My score was 0%.)

By taking both scores into account on a graph, a political label is generated. At the limits, a score of 0% on both the personal and economic scale—minimum personal and economic freedom—indicates what the authors of the website puzzlingly called a Populist view. Both National Socialism and Fascism are sometimes characterized as populist movements, so it might be more accurate to call the zero-freedom stance Fascism. The website’s authors call high score of 100% on both scales—maximum personal and market freedom—a Libertarian view. 100% personal/social and 0% economic is called a Hard-core Liberal position, while 0% personal/social and 100% economic is called a Hard-core Conservative position.

Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, both of whom scored 100% personal/social and 0% economic are labelled Hard-core Liberals. Hillary Clinton, with a score of 80% personal/social 10% economic, is also labelled Hard-core Liberal, as is Barack Obama (80%, 20%). In fact, every Democratic politician at the actual or aspiring presidential level discussed on the website is called a Hard-core Liberal, the differences in their scores being relatively minor.

There is somewhat more variety among the thirteen Republican candidates. Among Republican presidential candidates who have suspended their campaigns, Chris Christie is labeled a Moderate Libertarian Conservative (50%, 70%), while Rand Paul (60%, 90%) is called a Libertarian Conservative; Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson (both 30%, 80%) are Libertarian-leaning Conservatives; and Marco Rubio (10%, 80%), Rick Santorum (10%, 90%), Bobby Jindal (20%, 90%), Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and Mike Huckabee (all at 20%, 80%) are all Hard-core Conservatives. Of the Republicans still actively contending for their party’s nomination as of March 18, John Kasich (40%, 90%) and Donald Trump (30%, 80%) are labeled Libertarian-leaning Conservatives, while Ted Cruz (20%, 100%) is the only remaining Hard-core Conservative.

That only two candidates from either party, Republicans Chris Christie and George Pataki, fall in the sector that the website labels Moderate is an indication of how polarized this year’s presidential campaign has been.

In a future post I will make an effort not only to describe but to defend the position that the On the Issues website designates Hard-core Liberalism.