Saturday, August 6, 2016

Stepping back to appreciate the weirdness of 2016

One of the books I keep referencing is Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment.  Haven't you picked up a copy and read it yet?  Anyway, a central problem that Tetlock observes in our ability to make predictions is that sometimes, an event is just so outside our normal experience that nobody can be expected to predict it.  To the degree that history is driven by such events, we find ourselves in the territory that philosophers call "radical skepticism."

Yet, the 2016 election cycle keeps getting so weird that we can forget just how weird it has been all along.  So, let's put this week's weirdness in perspective, by reminding ourselves of how we got here.

1.  Donald Trump was a reality tv star with sketchy business credentials, sketchier conservative credentials, and no political or military experience at all.

2.  He rose in the Republican polls, not by embracing any conservative or Republican policies, but by embracing absolutely batshit crazy conspiracy theories about the President's citizenship.

3.  Upon entering the race, he steamrolled a field of popular senators and governors through schoolyard insults, while hardly anyone attacked him directly for fear of reprisal.

4.  The only candidate who ever caught him in the polls, even briefly, was Ben Carson, and that was a blip.  Do I have to explain how weird that is?

5.  The party establishment, such as it was, cowered in fear of Trump, and despite thinking of him as both completely untrustworthy and a sure-loser, never lifted a finger to stop him, not through endorsements, and not through financial backing of a single party-preferred opponent.

6.  Throughout the contest, Trump made comments, not only about Mexicans and muslims, but about McCain's war record, feuded with Fox News, and even THE FUCKING POPE!*  None of this hurt him.

7.  During the contest, though, there was open speculation that party leaders would attempt to force a brokered convention, unlikely though the scenario was, to deny the nomination to the delegate leader because the delegate leader was... that guy.

8.  The alternative in the contested convention scenario was Ted Cruz:  the second most hated person in the Republican Party.

9.  Past presidents and party leaders are jumping ship left and right, so to speak, to avoid being connected to the Republican nominee.

10.  On the other hand, the Republican nominee has been enthusiastically praised and endorsed by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, who sees the rise of Trump as a sign that it is time for him to get back into politics.

11.  There has been open debate among scholars about whether or not it is appropriate to use the term, "fascist," in reference to Trump.

12.  The ghost-writer of the book that Trump loves to tout has called Trump a dangerous sociopath.

13.  Donald Trump openly, publicly, called on Russia to hack his opponent's computer system.

14.  This, after Russia actually did hack the DNC right before the convention in what looks like an attempt to help Trump.

15.  This after Trump announced his willingness to abandon our NATO allies should Russia invade them.

16.  Trump's political advisor, Paul Manafort, worked for Putin's pawn in Ukraine.

17.  Trump is the only modern candidate who won't release his tax returns.

I put 17 last, and many will connect 17 to the Russia thing.  That's a bridge too far for me at this point, putting us into conspiracy theory territory.  There are two other reasons he wouldn't release them.  a)  He's not that rich, and b) He's cheating.  Take Russia out of the equation, and he still wouldn't release his tax returns.  So, no, that isn't dispositive of anything.  It's just one more thing that makes this election really fucking weird.

OK, so that's off the top of my head.  Yes, Trump has been in a stupid feud with the Khan family, another with Paul Ryan, and he's talking about rigged elections and all sorts of other crazy shit.  But let's remember-- this election has been really, really weird all along.  Is this week any weirder?

*OK, the Pope probably doesn't fuck.  Does it count if it's just alter boys?  What, am I not supposed to say that?  You read the title of the blog, right?


  1. #8 is wrong. Ted Cruz IS the most-hated person within the GOP. That's part of the story; they couldn't blow Trump up, because the alternative was worse. That's saying something.

    1. Would Republicans be leaving the party if he were the nominee? Would the NYT have published the letter they published today if he were the nominee? Would the party be tearing itself apart the way it is if Cruz were the nominee? Personal dislike is one thing, but there are large swaths of the party who can't accept Trump as president, period. That wouldn't have been true of Cruz, even if they want to give him an atomic wedgie.

    2. Interesting counterfactual.

      However, you'll note that all this sturm und drang comes AFTER the polls soured on Trump. The rats are leaving the sinking ship. If it was Cruz, he'd actually be higher in the polls right now, and the party would grit their fucking teeth and live with it.

      So, with Cruz you don't get a test of loyalty. With Trump, you get a test, but given his interloper status, one could argue that jumping ship IS remaining loyal.

      Is hate driving them away? I'm less sure on that front. Self-preservation drives the rats off the ship. The foreign policy hacks: that's hate.

      Let's use Lindsey Graham as our example. Clearly hates all of Trump, Cruz, and Hillary. Endorsed Cruz, then went to Trump after it was over, THEN backed out and asked everyone else to un-endorse Trump. Has essentially gone silent for 2 months now, as near as I can tell. I can't see any explicit endorsement of Hillary.

      Cruz is a guy who agrees with you that you hate.
      Trump is a combination of the Joker and Charlie from Sunny in Philly: Do you hate them? Not as much. Do you get the fuck out of a van they're in? Yes.

    3. Foreign policy is a big part of the coalition at the elite level, though. Trade matters to the Chamber of Commerce types, and even the most militaristic don't just want to go around nuking everyone the way Trump apparently does. Foreign policy is big at the elite level. The mass level? Not so much, but the Bushes aren't just fuming over Jeb(!). They're part of that NYT foreign policy establishment group. George Will, that National Review issue, there's a lot that isn't just rats leaving the sinking ship. Part is, sure, but you have plenty who just see through Trump's shit, and while they don't like Cruz, they wouldn't see Clinton/Cruz as a choice between a heart attack and a stroke. They'd see it as a choice between a heart attack and scabies.