Kevin Drum

Are Liberals Responsible for the Rise of Donald Trump?

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 1:26 PM EST

Five-time Jeopardy! champion Tom Nichols1 writes today about why so many people are attracted to Donald Trump. Nichols is a Republican,2 but he makes it very clear that he deeply loathes Trump ("hideous," "narcissistic," "creepy," "stupid," etc.) and will never vote for him. So what's his take on Trump's popularity? Is it due to economic insecurity? Inchoate anger? Bubbling racism and xenophobia? Hatred of the Republican establishment?

Nah. He says Trump's rise is basically the fault of the left:

To understand Trump's seemingly effortless seizure of the public spotlight, forget about programs, and instead zero in on the one complaint that seems to unite all of the disparate angry factions gravitating to him: political correctness. This, more than anything, is how the left created Trump

Uh-oh. That's not going to go over well. For what it's worth, Nichols is clear that he isn't referring to garden variety political correctness, which is basically little more than avoiding terms that are obviously insulting or exclusionary. At worst, that stuff is annoying but well-meaning:

Today, however, we have a new, more virulent political correctness that terrorizes both liberals and conservatives, old-line Democrats and Republicans, alike…The extremist adherents of this new political correctness have essentially taken a flamethrower to the public space and annihilated its center…Any incorrect position, any expression of the Constitutional right to a different opinion, or even just a slip of the tongue can lead to public ostracism and the loss of a job.

…Gay marriage is a good example. Liberals wanted gay marriage to win in the Supreme Court, and it did. Leftists wanted more: to silence their opponents even after those opponents completely lost on the issue…I could reel off many other examples. When the New York Times tells the rubes that it's time to hand in their guns, when The Washington Post suggests that Jesus is ashamed of them for not welcoming Syrian refugees the week after a terrorist attack, people react not because they love guns or hate Syrians, but because their natural urge to being told by coastal liberals that they're awful people and that they should just obey and shut up is to issue a certain Anglo-Saxon verb and pronoun combination with all the vigor they can muster. And if they can't say it themselves, they'll find someone who will, even if it's a crude jerk from Queens who can't make a point without raising his pinky like a Mafia goon explaining the vig to you after you've had a bad day at the track.

…For the record, I despise Donald Trump and I will vote for almost any Republican (well, okay, not Ben Carson) rather than Trump....But I understand the fear of being silenced that's prompting otherwise decent people to make common cause with racists and modern Know-Nothings, and I blame the American left for creating that fear.

…How long this will go on, then, depends on how long it will take for those people to feel reassured that someone besides Trump will represent their concerns without backing down in the face of catcalls about racism, sexism, LGBTQ-phobia, Islamophobia, or any other number of labels deployed mostly to extinguish their dissent.

This is hardly a new critique. Conservatives have been complaining about "being silenced" forever. The only difference between Trump and the rest of the GOP field is that Trump's complaints are a little earthier than Rubio's or Bush's.

Still, even if I think Nichols is overstating things, it's not as if he doesn't have a point. Even those of us on the left feel the wrath of the leftier-than-thou brigade from time to time. I don't generally have a hard time avoiding objectionable language myself because (a) I'm liberal, (b) I'm good with words, and (c) I write rather than talk, which gives me time to get my act together. But even at that, sometimes I cross an invisible line and get trounced for it.

But for someone without my advantages, I can easily see how it might feel almost impossible to express an unpopular opinion without tying yourself in knots. And let's be honest: We liberals do tend to yell racism a little more often than we should. And we do tend to suggest that anyone who likes guns or Jesus is a rube. And the whole "privilege" thing sure does get tiresome sometimes. And we do get a little pedantic in our insistence that no conversation about anything is complete unless it specifically acknowledges the special problems of marginalized groups. It can be pretty suffocating at times.

For the most part, I don't mind this stuff—and conservatives do themselves no favors by harping on supposed PC idiocy like the "war on Christmas." But the reason I don't mind it is that I can navigate it reasonably well4 and I mostly agree with the aims of the PC police anyway. People who have trouble with navigation obviously feel a lot more constrained. So while I don't really buy Nichols' argument—conservatives built the monster named Trump, not liberals—I do think he has a germ of a point. Donald Trump is basically telling ordinary people that ordinary language is okay, and since that's the only language they know, it means they feel like they can finally talk again.

1Okay, fine: He's also a professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College.

2Former Republican, anyway: "I'm a conservative independent and a former Republican. I quit the party in 2012 because of exactly the kind of coarse ignorance that Trump represents. The night Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on the thoughtful platform of colonizing the moon, I was out."3

3 I included that second sentence only because it tickled me.

4 Much of this I've learned from reading stuff by academics, who are the masters of acceptable language. As an example: If you were to call something "black behavior," you'd probably get mauled. The solution? Call it "behavior stereotypically coded as black." This accomplishes so many things at once. However, it's also phraseology that no ordinary person would ever think of. This means they literally have no acceptable way of expressing the original thought, which makes them feel silenced.

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Photo of the Day: A Cat In Every Window

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 11:59 AM EST

Why? Why not? From Claudia Massie of Perth, Scotland: "Think my mum aspires to a cat in every window. So far, she's managed just three at a time."

Did Minimum Wage Increases Hurt Employment During the Great Recession?

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 11:42 AM EST

There's a new paper out about the minimum wage. Jeffrey Clemens of UC San Diego estimates that minimum wage increases during the Great Recession decreased employment by 5.6 percentage points among workers age 16-30 without a high school diploma. Tyler Cowen comments:

I hope this receives the media attention it deserves. Will it?

Here's the problem: as near as I can tell, the world is awash in minimum wage studies. With no disrespect intended toward Clemens—whose conclusions sound reasonable—a single study just isn't that meaningful these days.

Because of this, I don't usually spend much time highlighting specific new minimum wage studies. A few months ago I broke this rule to write about a paper estimating the employment shock from the Mariel boat lift, and not much later I ended up writing a second post that basically dismantled the paper. If I'd waited, I would have ignored the whole thing. There's just too much statistical detail in these papers for a layman to gauge their reliability.

For what it's worth, I'd note a couple of things about Clemens' paper. First, Clemens compares employment across states, not counties. Those are pretty big units for comparison, so a bit of caution about the results would be sensible. Second—as with the Mariel boat lift paper—this is pretty much a destruction test. If minimum wage increases don't have an effect on employment even during a massive recession, then we might as well just bump up the minimum wage to $15 right now and not worry about it. In this case, Clemens studied the most vulnerable possible population during the biggest recession in a century, and still came up with only 5.6 percentage points. That's not nothing, but it's not huge either.

I won't be surprised if Clemens turns out to be right. It certainly seems like minimum wage increases during a sharp recession should have a disemployment effect. At the same time, it's not clear what the policy implications of this are. We never know when a recession is going to hit, so avoiding disemployment during recessions would mean never increasing the minimum wage.

In any case, I can't really judge the fairly involved math that Clemens uses to extract a signal from the employment noise, so for the moment I have no opinion about this paper. Eventually a bunch of other people will weigh in, and a bunch of other studies will be done. Once all that is done, maybe we can draw some conclusions.

Money Continues to Pile Into Self-Driving Cars

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 10:42 AM EST

It's like Uber, but for self-driving cars:

On-demand transportation company Lyft raised $1 billion in a Series F round of funding, with $500 million coming from General Motors, the San Francisco company announced Monday.

....In addition to the injection of cash, GM will take a seat on Lyft’s board, and the two companies will create an Autonomous On-Demand Network that will enable people to book a self-driving car in the way they currently hail an Uber or Lyft ride....Although self-driving cars could still be a ways off, the investment is a clear indicator that the transportation industry believes autonomous vehicles will play a big role in the future.

The amount of money going into self-driving cars is pretty spectacular, and it's a good indication that the technology is moving forward quickly. At this point, my guess is that we'll have semi-autonomous vehicles on the road in significant numbers by 2020 and fully autonomous vehicles by 2025. If you buy a new car this year, it might well be the last car with a steering wheel that you ever own.

News Media Infatuated With Donald Trump, Part 4,387

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 12:04 AM EST

Oh come on. A front-page piece about the fact that Donald Trump is airing a TV ad? Seriously? And the article itself is even worse:

The Republican presidential candidate’s long-awaited and hotly anticipated first ad, which was shared exclusively with The Washington Post, is set to launch Monday as part of a series that will air in the final month before the Iowa caucuses. Trump has vowed to spend at least $2 million a week on the ads — an amount that will be amplified by the countless times they are likely to be played on cable news and across social media.

Would the Post do this for any other candidate doing something as routine as airing an ad? Has it really been long-awaited? Or hotly anticipated? And shouldn't that last line say "cable news and print media offered 'exclusive' looks"?

I know it's tedious to complain about the mainstream media going gaga over everything Donald Trump says, but WTF? It's an ad. There's nothing special about it. It's just a narrator saying the same stuff Trump has been saying forever. It's not raising the temperature of anything. So why not just write a short blog post about it and move on?

In other news, apparently there's a crazy woman who's been following Hillary Clinton around for years in order to harangue her about Bill's alleged sexual misconduct. She did it again today. In other words, this is practically the definition of "not news." So why is it news at the Post?

The allegations of misconduct that have swirled around the former president for years have reemerged in the campaign recently, thanks to GOP businessman Donald Trump, who has said that those allegations are fair game on the campaign trail.

So there you have it. If Donald Trump writes a bunch of tweets about dogs biting men, then it's news. Crikey. And as long as we're on the subject, here is Trump once again selling the myth that he's self-funding his campaign:

Trump said his advertising blitz is being financed chiefly out of his own pocket....“All me, 100 percent me — 100 percent,” Trump said. “I’m self-funding my campaign. We do have small donors that send in $12, $25, $100, but they just send it in. We’re not asking for it.

Uh huh. Except, of course, for the fact that "Donate" buttons are the main things highlighted at the top of Trump's web page. And if you click one of them, the donation page asks for contributions from $10 to $2,700. And that's actually Trump's main source of funding, not his own pocket. But sure. Other than that, he's totally self-funded and he's not asking for anything.

I'm curious: Is Donald Trump even capable of opening his mouth without saying something untrue?

The Great Oregon Standoff Enters Its First Day

| Sun Jan. 3, 2016 12:43 PM EST

When I went to bed last night, the hot topic on my Twitter feed was the occupation of a United States Fish and Wildlife Service building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. This is near Burns, Oregon, which would probably need to be a little closer to Bend to even qualify as the middle of nowhere. As for the building itself, it's even more remote.

So, anyway, it turns out that a bunch of self-described militiamen, headed by Ammon and Ryan Bundy of Bundy ranch fame, decided to take over the building as a protest against federal tyranny. The particular tyranny at issue was the imprisonment of a couple of local ranchers who had burned some federal land next to their property. None of these details really matter much, though. The question is, what should we do about these guys? Here's David Atkins:

As with ISIS, the Bundy clowns are actively seeking a confrontation with the big bad wolf of Big Western Government. They believe that an active confrontation will spark a movement that will lead to the overthrow of Big Brother. So far, especially after the incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco, American leaders have been disinclined to give those opportunities to the domestic militiaman terrorists. Cliven Bundy and his miscreants got away with a wide range of crimes due to the forbearance of federal officials.

But the problem with taking that hands-off approach is that the treatment of left-leaning protesters is far different. Occupiers and Black Lives Matter protesters aren't met with hand wringing and gentle admonishments. They're met with batons and tear gas....So on the one hand it's understandable that federal officials would not want to make martyrs of the right-wing domestic terrorists who are actively seeking to engage in a confrontation and make themselves appear to be downtrodden victims of the federal beast. But on the other hand, it's infuriating that they receive special kid glove treatment that would not be afforded to minority and liberal activists.

I feel that if Bundy's little crew wants to occupy a federal building and assert that they'll use deadly violence against any police who try to extract them, then they should get what they're asking for just as surely Islamist terrorists would if they did likewise. As much as restraint is the better part of valor when dealing with entitled conservative crazies, principles of basic justice and fair play also need to apply. What's good for one type of terrorist must also be good for another.

And Mark Kleiman:

It’s crucial to avoid a shoot-out, but it’s equally crucial to assert the rule of law. There’s no need here to repeat the back-down in Nevada, and the ringleaders need to go away for long, long time.

It’s also crucial that Republican politicians — most importantly, the Presidential candidates — be forced to take a stand for or against acts of lawless violence. And that’s not something the President can or should try to manage alone. Everyone needs to speak out, and keep speaking out.

Gotta go with Kleiman here. I understand the gut satisfaction of fantasizing about a Bonnie & Clyde style shootout that leaves the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge soaked in terrorist blood, but that's really not what any of us should want. These guys aren't terrorists, anyway. They're just as misguided as real terrorists, but they haven't taken anyone hostage or threatened to blow up an airplane. They're just morons with guns. We can wait them out, or fill the place with tear gas, or play loud music all night like we did with Manual Noriega. I don't know. I'll leave the tactics up to professionals.

In any case, I don't really want to kill these guys, and I don't think their movement needs martyrs anyway. Just let them rot quietly away for a while until they finally come slinking out of their hole into the hands of federal officials. Then they can be put on trial. By that time, they'll just seem like a bunch of pitiful loons, and their "movement" will be dead. That's all I care about. No need to give them more publicity than they've already gotten.

But, yes, I would like to hear all the Republican presidential candidates denounce them in no uncertain terms. That shouldn't be so hard, should it?

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Modern Teenagers Not So Mysterious After All

| Sat Jan. 2, 2016 2:45 PM EST

At the New York Times today, Conor Dougherty clues us in on what it's like being a teenager today:

Teenagers being teenagers, the room was full of angst and contradictions. They love Instagram, the photo-sharing app, but are terrified their posts will be ignored or mocked. They feel less pressure on Snapchat, the disappearing-message service, but say Snapchat can be annoying because disappearing messages make it hard to follow a continuing conversation. They do not like advertisements but also do not like to pay for things.

It's nice to see that modern teenagers aren't really that hard to understand after all. Plus ça change.

2016 Has Arrived With a Bang

| Sat Jan. 2, 2016 12:35 PM EST

Huh. My breakfast exploded this morning. That's never happened before.

Carly Fiorina Wins 2016 Pandering Championship After Only 11 Hours

| Fri Jan. 1, 2016 5:11 PM EST

I wasn't planning to blog anything today, but this sort of forced my hand:

CAR-LY! CAR-LY! CAR-LY! Let's all raise a cheer for the golden cornfields of Palo Alto!

What really puts this over the top is the fact that it's so chuckleheaded. No real Iowa fan would have anything but contempt for a Stanford grad who abandoned her school just for a chance to become president of the United States.

Of course, the game hasn't started yet. There's still time to issue an emergency tweet blaming this on an intern who's been summarily dismissed. Either way, though, I declare the 2016 pandering championship closed. What could possibly beat this?

New Year's Catblogging - 1 January 2016

| Fri Jan. 1, 2016 12:00 AM EST