Tag Archives: Steven Livitsky

“Trumpocracy” by David Frum + “How Democracies Die” by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt

[David Frum is an ardent ideologue, historian and political scientist. Frum is a Bush era Republican from Canada. The following is in no way supportive of the current US President. Any statement to contrary is intellectually deficient.]

Frum’s Argument: Being Unpredictable = Bad Governance: David Frum says that Trump skipped a portion of a speech in which the writer has positive things for Trump to say on NATO therefore Trump is Putin’s lapdog or Trump is a fool or he doesn’t want to be told what to do therefore Trump is a bad politician. Trump does not defer to democratic convention which is what Frum would prefer as a prerequisite to leadership. This is not in anyway support for Trump but there is a logic to being unpredictable as a means of empowering.

Counter-Argument: Being Unpredictable = Bad Governance: Frum fails to recognize the reality that being unpredictable is a way to wield power. In the entertainment world, being predictable is boring. In the media coverage of Trump, the unpredictability sells copy. Doing what no one expected in order to gain advantage is a law in the 48 Laws of Power for example. For Frum, Trump is non-ideological and therefore not reliable and as a result Trump’s staff could get cut down at any moment because they say one thing and Trump does another. The requirement that the government have one voice is a fallacy that stifles debate. David Frum is yesterday’s political analyst here. This view is why in Canada the PMO controls the PM so tightly, at the expense of real engagement. The old school model is one where, you back a candidate and then have to follow that candidate over a cliff if she or he decides that cliff jumping is a good idea. Trump is however a non-ideological and more importantly not subject to political science categorization much like the debate about whether Fascism is social democratic or totalitarian or right wing…it’s complicated and non-rational therefore academics freak out about such scenarios. Trump drives Frum crazy for the same reason.

Frum’s Argument: Trump Cultivates Extremism: Frum is saying that Jeremy Corbyn is also a dangerous force in British politics for similar reasons because Frum does not like social democratic principals and populists of some sort. Bernie Sanders just the same. So these politicians are just freakish but the trend is worrying for Frum. David is concerned about the Democrat Party nominee for 2020, worries that it might be a Sanders-type leading to further extremism and or things he does not support.

Counter-Argument: maybe the Democrats will have a leftist…but maybe they will find be the most bland anti-Trump centrist that the Democratic Party can find?

Frum’s Argument: Lament for Cruelty and the Strong Man to Cut Through Representative Democracy: It is true that Trump cultivates extreme views in some topic areas, cruelty and brutishness is something that people are fascinated by and Trump uses that to his advantage, so that’s a legitimate concern. It is also true that Trump exhibits the strong man tendencies that promise to cut through representative democracy’s tendency to have deadlock.

Counter-Argument: Lament for Cruelty and the Strong Man: with Obama, there is no cruelty but no body paid attention. Obama was not able to get what his soaring rhetoric demanded. He was a lame duck president almost as soon as he was in office, the Republican’s refused to give him a single victory. There is something wrong with the way human beings are entertained and cruelty gets our attention. With Trump, he’s name calling was cruel and it suggested that he could shake the box. Trump’s hard line positions seem to be getting whittled down to limited legislative accomplishment. Democracy is more robust then people appreciate, and part of democracy is deadlock.

Frum’s Argument: Democracy Should Not Be Direct or Voting From Home Is Bad: Stopping certain people from voting is wrong and that democracy can be undermined by having people vote on a Tuesday in 14 hour window called election day. Conservatives supported suffrage because women would crack down on alcoholism and bash unions, according to David Frum. So the idea amongst conservatives that certain people, with no assets, should not be allowed to vote is just wrong headed and that the Republicans have become white and wealthy at their own peril.

Counter Arguments: Democracy Should Not Be Direct or Voting From Home Is Bad: Of course, the theory of democracy should be everyone should be allowed to vote. Frum is a political theorist at times, bouncing from abstraction to abstraction. But Frum is against voting electronically for example. Sounds like Frum is a bit annoyed that the uninformed and misinformed have the vote….so he is taking a nuance view here. So I give him credit here.

Frum’s Argument: Collaborators with Trump: The people lie for him because they think that Trump can effect change. Frum is concerned that they will get mullified in the end. The Republicans support Trump and may do so to the point at which it is too late.

Counter-Argument: Collaborators with Trump: will either get book deals or eventually break away if Trump loses in ’20. 

Frum’s Argument: Authoritarianism is Growing and Democracy is Dying: Frum thinks democracy can be extinguished quickly and easily. He also thinks that it will be too late to stop its collapse when the end is near. It’s a sanctimonious point to be sure, but certainly resonates with lawyers and others who stand to gain the most from the status quo mindset and don’t like things that are different.

Counter Argument: Authoritarianism is Growing: I just wonder if Frum is exaggerating a bit? Analogies aren’t effective arguments. Germany 1933 does not equal US 2016….Trump is not really a threat to democracy, in fact, we can see that he is flouting convention with the effect of garnering more and more media attention. He appears to get viral because he thinks democracy is ineffective *and many people agree with him* and there is ample evidence that American democracy is not a high functioning model from the electoral college to the gerrymandering, from extremist media to extremist partisanship.

Frum’s Argument: General Mattis is the Defence Against Trump: Frum thinks Trump has no faculties of reason such that only Mad-dog Mattis is the only guy protecting the US against Foreign policy disasters because Mattis not fire-able by the president…Mattis is a four star general.

Counter Argument: General Mattis is the Defence Against Trump: even if Trump makes a ‘good’ appointment, Frum finds a way to argue in a way that undermines Trump. Counter of a counter to Trump’s marketing tactics.

Frum’s Argument: Confront the Alt Right or any Extremist Groups: You need to meet them, isolate and then address the underlying concerns they have. Frum also points out that telling white men that they are privileged because of their skin and gender while living in their parents basement and weighing 300 lbs is counter productive for sure.

Counter Argument: Confronting the Alt Right or any Extremist Groups: There is a logic to telling people they have white privilege. It’s the nuance of understanding that it is statistically likely that a white person will get different treatment from a black person in the US or anywhere, that is due to pattern recognition that people internalize and use to predict how X person should act as a member of an identifiable group. The better solution is to give each other the benefit of the doubt and look for the positives in each other. Frum is anti-identity politics. 

Frum’s Argument: Facebook Should Control Its Users: Unlike the Washington Post, Facebook as a publisher does not have responsibility for the content of its users. Like WordPress, Facebook is able to avoid that responsibility. Frum suggests that it is not the individuals on Facebook but rather Facebook itself who should editorialize everyone’s posts on its platform.

Counter-Argument: Facebook Should Control Its Users: Well, this is a trending topic based on the Russian Gov’t Interference investigations. Frum must know he is saying something very unrealistic here in terms of logistically controlling Facebook users like the Washington Post editorial staff control their writers. Frum totally misses the point. It’s $ad Revenue that is at the heart of Facebook and the Washington Post…in both cases i.e. keep those eye balls coming back for those advertisements on the sidebar, folks! It’s not realistic to impose editorial rules without harming Facebook’s business model and hinderance.

Frum’s Argument: Trump’s Business Partnerships: Disassociation between Trump and his commercial interests has not been satisfactory according to Frum. Trump is driven by greed, he’s doing this in part so he can gain access to the best commercial deals for his company….Trump is in the payroll of foreign leaders. Putin is the obvious one but then there is a list of other countries that Frum doesn’t like and Trump is aligned with.

Counter-Argument: Criticism of Business Partnerships Assessment: While I know that we are all walking-talking contradictions, and hypocrisy is easy to find, it’s still legitimate to point out that Frum downplays the Israeli “Jerusalem capital” issue, based on his other writing as an advocate for Israel over the years. Trump has wanted a tower in Tel Aviv according to the New York Times article Trump’s Business Ties to Middle East Precede Him and has close connections to the Jewish business community in New York, Toronto etc. So where does the line get crossed for Frum? Only when Trump does business with other ethno-religious groups is it a conflict of interest? It seems at a minimum disingenuous to not mention the Israeli connections here, although you’d have to appreciate the nuance of Israel as a heterogeneous, complex political society. Frum does not give Trump the benefit of the doubt elsewhere in the Middle East, but never touches on Israel because that would make Trump look good which exposes Frum’s partisanship. How does he know that Putin (ruler of a 2nd world country) controls Trump if Frum is not willing to admit the legitimacy of the Pro-Israel stance that Trump has taken?…He just can’t accept one thing is positive of Trump’s presidency because that would validate someone here hates. A second point here is that basically anyone who is successful in business or even moderately successful should not be able to hold public office, especially if we think we know this person to be corrupt looking or we feel they are corrupt. In other words, Frum just doesn’t like Trump and is rationalizing his dislike by suggesting this particular individual is corrupt.

[Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are Harvard professors and political scientists with some partisan leanings towards the Democrat Party in all likelihood. The following is in no way support for the current US President. Any statement to contrary is intellectually deficient.]

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt and $ad Revenue: Trump is a threat to democracy. Remember that just like $ad Revenue from any online publications (ie. click here to see a toothpaste add + look at this controversy! and look at this direct rebuttal to the current president), book sales are also tied to drawing intense readership, ie. willingness to buy their book. So say Trump = devil will sell a lot of books indeed.

Ziblatt and Levitsky’s Argument: Trump Acting Like an Authoritarian = Being an Authoritarian: Trump encouraged violence at his rallies, threatened to jail Hillary Clinton etc. Trump is attacking the media because of unfair reporting. While some might think those are just words, to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, this is all too real.

Counter-Argument: Trump Acting Like and Authoritarian = Being an Authoritarian: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt underappreciate the level of deadlock in the Obama era. While deadlock was not Obama’s fault for the most part, Obama was not able to get much done (ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank) and therefore was not all that effective in translating his ideas and rhetorical poetry into action. The Republican party had become a party of the economic individualist anti-Democratic majority veto (fillibuster)….Trump was saying, he would smash the deadlock by circumventing democratic norms. Well, that’s different. It is possible that he might turn the US into a dictatorship if he is able to murder most of the Republican party and the Democrat party + burn down Congress + trigger a terrorist attack on US soil + perhaps a nuclear detonation in an a major urban centre, but that might be a stretch. It’s more likely that Democrats will fight hard in ’20 to replace him. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt do not go into HOW Trump would destroy the robust institutions that exist in US democracy as flawed as those institutions may be…The critical error Stephen and Daniel are making is that being crass, direct and non-presidential = authoritarianism, when it obviously is something else, something that academics can’t categorize. Ever ask an academic to categorize Fascism both on the left and right? Political scientist academics are weak at these kinds of categorization because ideologies defy logic, there is no generalizable theory and in reality this is more partisan persuasion than logical entities.

Dan and Steve’s Argument: Best Way to Stop Authoritarianism…Stop Them From Getting Elected: You need to prevent a democracy from allowing an authoritarian. George Wallace ’64s, McCarthey in the ’50s, Barry Goldwater ’64s, these are authoritarians according to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, getting about 35% of the vote. Just like the Trump approval ratings in February 2018. To draw that analogy is weak and is using analogy to explain and then predict the future (ie the only reason the US is not in a dictatorship now is that those guys never got voted in….ie. vote Trump out). Trump is a demagogue. When do we (the Republican enablers) draw the lines in the sand to prevent Trump from doing what are authoritarian policies? Hugo Chavez was released from jail by the Venezualan president who wanted to get Chavez’s supporters. Same with Mussilini in Italy.

Counter-Arguments: Best Way to Stop Authoritarianism You have Stop Them From Getting Elected: The obvious problem here is analogies do not explain different circumstances. Trump is uniquely not beholden to political donors and is thus his own leader, perhaps purely self-interested, but not owned by any one interest group. Authoritarians often have financial sources from book sales but not like Trump. Another analogy failure is that the approval ratings do not measure support accurately while Stephen and Daniel seem to believe that 35% approval rating = accurate polling, check the ’16 pre-election day polling guys! Then the political allies from the establishment think they can control the authoritarian, true. The only issue here is that Trump has yet to do overt and significant authoritarian shit like restricts freedom of movement, shutdown this/that and shutdown newspapers. In fact, the Republican enablers as Stephen and Daniel see it, can’t really just fire their president, that doesn’t really work unless Trump were to do something totally criminal….words don’t count in that category….None of the authoritarian actions in other context have happened and the logic that it will be too late to stand up against him when it does happens is really silly, you do know that Clinton had 3 million more votes right? Like the American public can fire Donald Trump obviously IF the Democrat candidate kicks-ass. Trump has done little in terms of pure authoritarianism, it’s a stretch here obviously. Meanwhile these academics are avoiding being too overt in their predicting the future because academia frowns upon that kind of behaviour…because they get it wrong more often than not.

Steve and Dan’s Argument: The Constitution Will Not Save Us: Forbearance and Legitimacy: Constitutions don’t actually work without the people’s support. You need to accept your opponent in public and private as having a legitimate claim to the job you are both competing for…. Institutional forbearance; under utilization of power. Trump could pardon anyone and could expand the Supreme Court to 11 members. Congress can shutdown the government. Politicians can exploit the democracy into hardball mechanisms to screw democracy. But a shared forbearance is what soft guard-rails of democracy. There were partisan impeachments in Bill Clinton. Politicians in the 2008 election questioned Obama’s loyalty to the US, so the Republicans are to blame for decline.

Counter-Arguments: The Constitution Will Not Save Us: Republicans were not the only ones to abandon the forbearance. Republicans refused to let Obama appoint a Supreme Court justice. The truth is that the Republicans are more hardball yes, but Bush was also not super popular with the Democrats either. Basically losing the majority ethnic vote, Daniel suggests that immigration didn’t start to be diverse until the 1960s… Extreme polarization is not the underlying cause.

Steve and Dan’s Argument: Fight Like Republicans = Democracy Will Collapse: They need to fight like Democrats, not like the nasty Republicans according to Stephen, instead Democrats need to deliberate freely. If they build hard ball tactics Democrats need to not be drawn into a partisan spiral and it can be even worse. Abraham Lincoln was not democratic, so there was an erosion of trust between politicians. The norms of mutual tolerance is not possible in an ethnically diverse country where the Democrats are mostly multi-cultural and Republicans are mostly white and religious.  Republicans have churches and NRA associations, but the Democrats don’t have that infrastructure according to Stephen so the Democrats should be careful how they tread….

Counter-Argument: Fight Like Republicans = Democracy Will Collapse: It seems that the Democrats in the current model, really have to fight back and hard. Or they can work with Trump to push forward policies that Democrats really want like infrastructure spending. Co-operation does not mean supporting Trump, co-operation means getting things done in Washington. But obstruction is obviously what Obama had to endure so it seems like retaliation. Stephen Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt clearly are over emphasizing the minor value of ideology and playing up identity politics as the core issue that drives the democratic process. Primaries are more homogeneous in recent years according to Stephen which is probably one of the weirdest claims. Both political parties are big tents for many different values. If anything the diversity is growing as more information is more easily available.

Criticism of “It Doesn’t End Well for America”: this is what they say every time they get to the logical conclusion of their views. The issue here is that, it’s more sophisticated than that, they can’t really maintain intellectual credibility AND predict the future because that would not be academically viable.

Criticism of “US Democracy Created Most Democratic Norms”: ever heard of Britain? France? Stephen and Daniel are Ameri-Centric or at least for their audience.

Criticism of The Media Has Been Very Effective in the Last Few Years: Daniel Ziblatt believe the media has been very effective in its holding politicians accountable because the New York Times has 3x the number of subscription at 51:00 in the video above…Um, the media is obsesses with click bait in order to drive viewership. Do you think that might be why Trump has to spend almost no money on campaign advertising? The media is not objective, Ziblatt. This statement is pretty ridiculous; that’s not a partisan statement, US media is too commercially debilitated to reliably provide citizenry with non-partisan information.