Category Archives: Illiberalism

lamar smith

Lamar Smith is Everything Wrong with Today’s GOP

Lamar Smith, Republican representative from Texas’s 21st congressional district, which covers parts of San Antonio and most of its northern suburb/exurbs, showcases the vast ignorance and hypocritical desires for censorship of ideas it dislikes that has corrupted today’s Republican Party and turned it into an illiberal organization of national embarrassment and worldwide disrepute.

Somehow, Lamar Smith ascended to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology despite having no scientific background and standing athwart the tide of scientific progress.  He’s used his chairmanship to harass scientists and promote conspiracies, delusions, and outright lies to the American people.

Lamar Smith Denies Science

A prolific climate change denier, Lamar Smith claimed that an Obama-administration report on climate “intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions.”  A whopping 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans have caused climate change.

Smith believes in the so-called “global warming pause,” a theory which cherrypicks data to argue that temperatures haven’t actually risen in the years since 1998.  Of course, this theory is utter bogus and finds support only among the scientifically illiterate buffoons hell-bent on promoting pseudo-science and undermining the intelligence of the American people.

lamar smith pseudo science
What pause?

He thinks peer-reviewed scientific findings using methods he cannot begin to comprehend have actually been fudged with public scientists “altering the data” to “advanced [the Obama administration’s] extreme climate change agenda.”  Again, 97 percent of all climate change scientists disagree with Lamar Smith, who has received more than $700,000 in campaign contributions from energy companies.

Speaking of peer-review, Lamar Smith isn’t a fan of the system that verifies scientific findings and maintains the high-quality of published research.  Smith wants to overhaul how the National Science Foundation (NSF) applies for and is awarded grants for scientific research.

Politically-Motivated Scientific Censorship

Currently, the NSF has two existing criteria for grant applicaitons: Intellectual merit and broader impacts of the research.  These two prongs encourage research freedom and promote ideas that benefit all fields of study.  Politics do not influence grant application and awarding, a clear must as politically-motivated science will never have rigour and credibility.

But Lamar Smith wants all research grants awarded solely by what the House of Representatives — a chamber dominated by Republicans entirely resistant to science and its findings — defines as in the national security interest or which help boost the economy.  This will naturally preclude most social science research and other explorations into important subjects that help us understand our society and guide policymaking in ways unrelated to what Lamar Smith finds useful.  Research into climate change would of course be stopped.

To boost his lost cause, Smith had committee aides go to the NSF and review its grants and research, ostensibly to find wasteful use of taxpayer money, but obviously to exert political review of the scientific process.  Quite clearly, this entire affair reeks of attempted political censorship on science simply because Lamar Smith and his unenlightened colleagues detest the results of peer-reviewed, high quality science.

Authoritarian Inclinations

Such desires for political censorship have continued, with Lamar Smith, at a conference held by the Heartland Institute, which prides itself as being the organization most resistant to climate science, expressed support for punishing “scientific journals that publish research that doesn’t fit standards of peer review crafted by Smith and the committee (although he didn’t say how that would be accomplished).”

Lamar Smith wants science to be beholden to political interests.  NO science should be conducted that may challenge his bizarre worldview; no research can be of merit if doesn’t align with what Smith finds important.  Authoritarian and totalitarian countries try to control science and its findings.  The Soviet Union infamously did so to further its propaganda.  No country benefits when science must be politically correct and controlled by ignorant bureaucrats — no society remains free when the government controls all it dislikes.

In what way is this anything other than an attempt to limit the intelligence and knowledge of man to the doctrines the Republican Party finds acceptable?

trump press fake news

More Shameful Attacks on the Free Press

A whopping 86 percent of Americans do not know that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of the press.  Apparently Donald Trump, in whose presidential oath of office he swore to uphold the Constitution, falls in that group.

His repeated attacks on the free press, routinely and incorrectly calling it “fake,” have always reeked of authoritarianism.  Now, though, he’s extended his authoritarian leanings by specifically floating the idea of cracking down on the press simply because he dislikes or is angered by its reports.

For those wondering, the First Amendment specifically forbids the government from silencing the press.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press.

The Burden of Proof Falls on Trump

Donald Trump’s talking about an unconstitutional policy borne from his hatred and anger that accompanies each leak about his train-wreck of a presidency.  He has yet to identify a single instance of fake news and doesn’t seem to realize that basic logical concept that when making such outrageous claims, the burden of proof falls on him.

The burden of proof to show his views are the truth, the failure to provide which shows he’s but a goof.

Elite Cues and Political Beliefs

Unfortunately, voters don’t particularly care about logic.  Political scientists have long argued that the power of elite signals — popular politicians explicitly supporting or even winking at certain ideas — leads to partisan acceptance.  Voters take signals and incorporate those views into their political beliefs.

As partisanship increases, so do the value of these signals as they increasingly define and coalesce the party tribe against its adversary, the opposition.

Such virtue signaling helps the competition of ideas and is only bad for democracy when leaders attack its fundamental underpinnings.  Donald Trump has routinely done this, especially with the press.

The Press’s Virtue

The press plays an invaluable role in a democracy.  It enables the electorate to make educated decisions while also holding power accountable.

Our mainstream press outlets do just that.  Unfortunately, Trump bristles with negative accounts and so lashes out at the institution without realization his words have profound consequences — people take seriously attempts to undermine faith in the press and come to doubt honest outlets.

It’s yet another indication of Trump’s efforts to backslide our liberal democracy by eroding faith in institutions and encouraging the ultimate political sovereigns to run from reports and facts that in any way harm their leader.

nfl's taxes

Trump’s Completely Wrong about the NFL’s Taxes

Donald Trump, lover of all culture wars and hater of the National Football League (NFL) ever since his failed attempt to start a rival league, denounced NFL’s taxes, claiming that no organization tolerant of protest should receive “massive tax breaks.”

Trump Doesn’t Understand the NFL’s Taxes

There’s one major problem with Trump’s tweet (aside from the grammar), however: The NFL no longer receives these tax breaks and hasn’t for two years.

In 2015, the NFL’s taxes situation after the organization voluntarily gave up its 501(c)(6) tax-exempt trade organization status, which it held since 1942.

Even that status didn’t stop the NFL from paying taxes.  The 501(c)(6) status, shared by the Chamber of Commerce, the NHL, and PGA Tour, did not exempt the NFL’s taxes on revenue from sponsorships, broadcast deals, and ticket sales.

Only office income remained untaxed and the NFL did not generate any such profit (a requisite for taxation) until 2012.  From that point, the exemption saved the league an average of $10 million a year.

Furthermore, whereas the NFL had limited tax exemption, individual teams — those against whose toleration for political speech Trump rails — have no tax exemption.

Using Taxes to Silence Opinion

Though Trump’s fell flat for want of facts, his intent remains clear (and authoritarian): He wants to politicize taxation and tax exemption to coerce organizations into abiding by his moral and political standard.

Trump dislikes free speech, especially when the arguments presented challenge his worldview.  Now that he’s president, he wants to wield the powers of the state to punish any organization, business, or individual that challenges him (see his attacks on the Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos) or the status quo.

This is a worrying precedent as it threatens ideological coercion.

Political viewpoint has no bearing on whether the IRS grants an organization tax-exempt status.  This is incredibly important as it means that a conservative (or liberal) government cannot muzzle opposition by making it unduly expensive (or unprofitable) for, eg, think tanks to disseminate ideas.

The free and equal opportunity to share viewpoints — to compete in the marketplace of ideas — maintains a liberal society.

But Trump doesn’t understand these normative issues and instead contributes to the further degradation of democratic values by signaling to his followers that it is just and legitimate for the state to punish dissidents by withholding tax-exempt status for those who tolerate protest.

So much for small-government conservatism.

fairness doctrine donald trump

Donald Trump Wrongly Supports the Fairness Doctrine

Donald Trump, who spends a disproportionate amount of his time watching and raging over news and late night television (versus, say, reading about policy or the origins of North Korea’s aggression), has suddenly latched on an antiquated idea that he thinks will force the press and media to fawn over him: The fairness doctrine.

The fairness doctrine mandated that holders of broadcast licenses present issues in what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deemed “honest, equitable, and balanced.”  Ronald Reagan rolled back this requirement for obvious reasons – it trampled on the First Amendment, wrongly created two sides to every story, and allowed the government to restrict criticism of it.

Free Press and the Fairness Doctrine

Obviously, the fairness doctrine conflicts with the First Amendment.  The very nature of a free press mandates that the government cannot in any way shape or control published content.  With the fairness doctrine in place, the government, whether through a genuine commitment to perceived fairness or simple malice, can wholly alter coverage and exert control over the press and media.

Coverage can be altered by curtailing government criticism and instead forcing outlets to have on their shows administration cronies offering little more than predictable propaganda.  Similarly, using the coercive power of the state to enforce fairness threatens outlets and bullies them into government control.  A malicious FCC encouraged by a reckless president could interpret the fairness doctrine as necessitating that the administration get more time than its dissidents – a true authoritarian move.

Bizarrely, Trump not wants to bring back the fairness doctrine, he wants to extend it beyond traditional news outlets and into the realm of late night television.

Late night television is not news.  No people – and not responsible voters – get their information primarily from the likes of Jimmy Kimmel (against whom Trump’s likely railing).  People of intelligence, and I realize this removes Trump from the mentioned population, watch shows for laughs and a good time.  So even the theoretic idea behind the foolish fairness doctrine – that all sides have the equal time to make their cases – doesn’t hold up here.

Instead, it’s a clear desire for Trump to tamp down on criticism.  He wants to restrict the time comedians can spend attacking him and instead mandate that he, or one of his cohorts, can defend him in front of millions (millions who would then turn of the television and grow even more frustrated with the administration).  Trump wants the government to have the unfettered ability to shorten criticism and spew its nonsensical defenses.

There are Not Always Two Sides

Perhaps the fatal conceit of the fairness doctrine is the notion that each story has two sides.  Facts and clear moral happenings do not have two sides and we should not pretend otherwise.

Climate change, a scientific fact, does not have two sides.  GMOs do not have two sides.  Bragging on tape about sexually assaulting women does not have two sides.  Assaulting a reporter because he asked a question does not have two sides.  These facts or happenings are entirely clear cut and do not warrant a defense.

However, the fairness doctrine would force outlets to air defenses by those who simply deny science or excuse predatory behavior.  These defenses, of course, have First Amendment protections and have every right to be aired, but news outlets have every right to deny lending credence to such smut (and the government has no right to force a private company to broadcast a single thing).

Trump, often on the wrong side of one-sided stories (such as a dozen allegations of sexual assault), has every reason to force outlets to empower those who for some reason defend him.  Only by calling for the fairness doctrine can Trump hope to keep mindless voices with undoubted loyalty in the news despite his existing scandals and those that are still to come.

In the end, the government controlling news coverage and the ideas that can be heard invites authoritarianism.  It enables the president and the FCC to muzzle criticism and strengthen the administration’s voice.  Control over the free press empowers those without society’s interests at heart.  It’s a step towards authoritarianism and so it’s little wonder that Trump has embraced the fairness doctrine.

donald trump rally violence

When the President Endorses Political Violence

Legitimizing Violence is Not Acceptable

Donald Trump’s temperament leaves much to be desired.  He’s erratic and prone to bizarre outburts that leave him screaming at the television or blowing smoke on Twitter.  But unlike a regular old goon tweeting demented sentiments, Trump is (somehow) the President of the United States, so his actions have meaning and many look to him as a signal of moral authority.  The actions and endorsements of the leader of the free world carry weight.

So when Trump retweets images or memes of violence against his political opposition, the norms of democracy fall.  Political violence has no place in a dignified, liberal democracy.  That means not encouraging rally-goers to assault protesters; no encouraging “Second Amendment people” to rid the nation of an alleged threat to it; no driving through protesters in your car (or urging others to do so); and not glorifying those who wantonly punch Nazis, much as they may deserve it.

Trump Sees a Violent, Hobbesian Struggle

But Trump doesn’t see it that way.  He doesn’t view politics through norms of civility — he likens the political world to a Hobbesian struggle of survival wherein (political) conflict becomes the norm until a Leviathan arises and asserts total dominance.  So naturally Trump enjoys images of him wresting to the ground the so-called “fake news media” or him hitting a golf ball and knocking out Hillary Clinton.

That’s not acceptable.  Humans may tend towards violence, but we rightly hold elected leaders to a higher standard, one in which reasoned and dispassionate discourse guide political decision making and hopefully trickles down to the laypeople — the voters — as they see logic, empiricism, and refined values trump the primal nature of ignorance.

Seeing a president so openly embrace violent imagery — having a president descend to the demos and turn legislative conflict into a more physical form — normalizes such actions.  It riles up a base eager to cultivate some sort of enemy readily used a foil for Trump, for a foil of American greatness.  And, while not to many, but to enough, seeing the president’s approval of such action — feeling a call to perceived greatness — they may actually act.

People Act When Violence Seems Accepted

Before you laugh such a happening off as ridiculous, remember that a deranged man who fell into the right-wing fever swamps came to so fervently believe the “pizzagate” conspiracy that he drove to the parlor, armed, and shot his gun in the restaurant, ready to kill anyone he thought at all connected to the fabrication.

Or see the left-wing loon who tried to massacre Republican members of Congress as they practiced for the congressional softball game.

Crazies exist and they on prejudice and emotion, especially when a revered leader signals acceptance for such action.

That’s why we can’t simply shrug off Trump’s Twitter antics.  They have no place in a civilized and democratic society.  Nothing the president does is a joke; his words can quickly devolve to stochastic terrorism.

All citizens — and especially all lawmakers — must condemn and do what they can to preserve what history has proved to be a system never more than a generation away from being flung into the throes of political violence and chaos.

trump nfl

Trump’s Authoritarian Understanding of Patriotism

Authoritarian Leanings

Donald Trump, the failed owner of the New Jersey Generals and the person who caused the U.S. Football League to collapse and be forgotten by all, spent a weekend on Twitter attacking the NFL, its owners, and its players, all while 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico suffered without power, food, and water.  His tweets, riddled with ignorance and infused with racism, show Trump’s sinister nature.  At heart, he’s an authoritarian, a wannabe tyrant.

The NFL protests started to bring attention to racial injustice, especially police brutality and the killing of unarmed black citizens.  Not once did these protests seek to impugn the United States as a whole or the values true patriots espouse.

Instead, the likes of Collin Kaepernick and other politically engaged football players used their positions of power to stir a national dialogue and raise attention to issues that plague their communities and stain America’s greatness.

Ignoring Purpose

But Trump decided to ignore the purpose of the protests – pursuing justice, equal for all, regardless of race – and wrongly accuse NFL players of disrespecting the flag and national anthem as if freely speaking about issues of grave injustice somehow violated American norms or deviated from the country’s founding proclamation that “all…are created equal with certain unalienable rights” including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (none of which are possible when juries fail to hold police accountable for wrongly murdering black citizens).

Trump’s ignorant twisting of the protest’s meaning expose himself as an aspiring authoritarian.  He wants to use the state’s coercive powers to force United States residents to pledge loyalty to a nationalistic symbol wholly removed from the country’s values, in which Trump himself clearly does not believe.

Fighting for Values, Not a Flag

Courageous patriots – those who didn’t run away from the Vietnam draft because of “shin splints”; those who risked capture and torture and we now recognize as war heroes even if they were prisoners of war – fought for American values, not the American flag.

No one fights for a piece a cloth.  People fight to protect that for which the flag stands.  In America, that means a liberal democracy in which all have the equal opportunity to, among the many rights guaranteed by the Constitution, freely speak.

And that’s exactly what we see black athletes doing: Speaking.

They embrace the values our military defends – the values and rights for which too many Americans have died.  We don’t risk the lives of our youth to fight tyranny only to see it imposed here under the transparent guise of patriotism.

We should also note the obvious authoritarian tendencies of a man who uses the presidency to (attempt to) bully private organizations into conforming with his foolish notion of patriotism and loyalty.  Trump believes all must follow his word and, if they don’t, feel his wrath and perhaps that of the federal government.

Perhaps most shocking, Trump believes black athletes “have the privilege of making millions of dollars,” as if he or his like simply handed to them the gift of athleticism and the blessings of money.  It’s a bizarre concept: Black athletes never earned their money – earning and working for something largely takes away its privilege as privilege connotes an undeserved or unworked for blessing.

This coming from a man who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars from his father and who relied on daddy to guarantee loans and prevent a casino (a casino!) from going bankrupt.

Obviously, these tweets show Trump’s racism.  He has never spoken about white athletes – or white businessmen – in such a way, calling them privileged for their position and demanding certain action, behavior, and an altogether submissive and grateful attitude for their perceived privilege.


In the end, Donald Trump should learn from Antonin Scalia, who decried laws that prohibited protests of the flag.  “If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag,” Scalia told CNN in 2012. “However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged ― and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government. That was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”

donald trump authoritarianism

The Alpha Male of a Chimpanzee Colony

The Primal President

Donald Trump appealed to millions of Americans through sheer primal dominance.  His bluster, his unpredictable and easily inflamed temperament, his agenda driven by extreme narcissism, and his story of (white) American warriors constantly fighting in a Hobbesian world of (racial and cultural) change made him appear as an alpha male, a force with which to be reckoned.  But really, Trump’s psychological appeal that preys on those who lust for authoritarianism makes him the alpha male of the chimpanzee colony that is now the Republican Party. 

Prestige Psychology and Statesmanship

In an ideal polity, humans embrace prestige psychology, a somewhat recent evolutionary gain that has prepared our brains to respect honor those with culturally valued skills.  These skills usually contribute to a society’s well-being and are wielded for benevolence.

Prestigious individuals apply their talents not for self-aggrandizement, but to help others.  Members of society respond by elevating these individuals to positions of leadership and revere; they seek to emulate these cherished individuals and to respect the prestigious leader’s proclivity to collaborate with other experts (prestigious themselves) and act with degrees of “magnanimity, generosity, forbearance, and dignity in their leadership roles.”

Today, we would call those individuals patricians, or statesmen.  Such qualities can be attributed to some of our best presidents, including, namely, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two men whose actions created and saved the Union while furthering liberty for all.

Donald Trump, of course, shuns statesmanship and his appeal did not draw on prestige psychology.  He won because his rhetoric appealed to primal human psychology: Social dominance.

Chimpanzee Politics

To understand Donald Trump’s appeal, we have to look at chimpanzees.  Chimpanzee societies are dominated by a single top-chimp – the alpha.  He earns his position through a mix of aggression, intimidation, and threat (which will often devolve into outright violence to squash insurrections and to completely assert social dominance through physical injuries).  The alpha chimp also manages to forge coalitions of pragmatism, allying himself with other forces to maintain leadership or, once dethroned, instantly supporting the new alpha in order to keep some vestiges of power.

Humans often act in similar ways.  Affinity for social dominance hails from from our ancient history – whereas prestige psychology developed around 100,000 years ago, social dominance became engrained some 5 to 7 million years ago.  It’s this truly primal psychology that explains Trump’s appeal.

Trump’s intemperance and (mental) instability means he’s constantly at risk of exploding – he often does this while watching Fox News in the mornings or evenings.  His looming aggression and stalking during the second presidential debate show an aggressive man lusting to pounce or charge his opponent.  Early morning Twitter tirades insult opposition (often with violent undertones), vent, and relentlessly self-promote such that the uninformed are almost bullied into believing Trump’s competency.

Primal Fear

Fear, too, permeates chimpanzee politics – and Trump’s success.  Alpha chimps must instill in their potential challengers a sense of fear, a belief that any attempt to overthrow the existing regime would be futile, resulting in pain and even death.  Trump uses fear in two ways: To solidify standing among his base and to bully other Republicans into acquiescence.

Trump portrays certain minorities as rapists (Mexicans) and terrorists (Muslims) who hope to destroy the American experiment and undermine Western civilization.  By identifying entire groups – large groups, nonetheless – as existential threats to continued existence, he instils in his base a sense of fear.  They obviously want to alleviate this fear and so flock to Trump because of his harsh rhetoric towards those groups.  And, when irrationally scared, the ends always justify the means.  That’s why people supported Trump even after his announcement that he would ban Muslims from entering the country and floated shutting down Mosques and establishing a Muslim database.  Anything would be justified to make us safe.

With a solid base unwavering in their support, Trump can bully Republican lawmakers by the implicit (or explicit) threat of a primary challenge.  Politicians are cautious creatures.  They fear losing and will go to great lengths to avoid real challenges, even if it means compromising on principles (as with most Americans, politicians don’t understand statistics and thus greatly overestimate the probability of losing to a primary challenger).  Trump can threaten to endorse and campaign for a rubber-stamp challenger and his base, so the argument goes, will follow him.  To avoid that, Republican legislators, in fear of the chimpanzee base, rally behind the president.

Transactional Coalitions

This same alpha will also be willing to enter coalitions so long as they benefit himself.  He views all relationships as transactional and will end any connection once it ceases to be useful.  Hence why Donald Trump ran as a Republican despite having little in common with the party – he needed its resources.

Similarly, after spending months denigrating the RNC and his competitors, he gleefully accepted their endorsements and help; most notably, after claiming that Ted Cruz’s father had been a part of the JFK assassination, Trump accepted Cruz’s endorsement when Cruz ignored his own “vote your conscience” convention speech.  It also explains why Trump abandoned Jeff Sessions after the latter’s recusal from the Russia probe: Sessions no longer had anything to offer Trump.


Trump’s appeal, in its primacy, relied on authoritarianism.  As mentioned, Trump’s hostile rhetoric towards minorities created a good versus evil false choice in which members of the proposed in-group – (white, Christian) Americans adhering to traditional values – came into conflict with the out-group, bad people (Mexicans and Muslims) who wanted to end the American way of life.

At worst, authoritarianism results in the utter dehuminziation of the out-group.  This is how violence and genocide happen.  The out-group becomes a subhuman with no natural rights and which must, by all means, be destroyed.

As humans think about conflict with out-groups – whether naturally or at the prompting of a malicious actor – support for highly dominant, authoritarian leaders increases. 

Authoritarian Personalities among Voters

Authoritarianism defines the alpha as well as his followers.  The (right-wing) authoritarian personality – the best predictor of Trump’s electoral support – desires nationwide values that revolve around traditional norms, submission to (strong) authority figures to either embody or reinforce those norms, and virulent antipathy to those who dare challenge the existing social order.

Trump perfectly fits the needs of those with authoritarian personalities.  His extraversion (social dominance, gregariousness, reward-seeking) and low levels of agreeableness (humility, altruism, care, empathy) cultivate a strongman image seemingly dedicated to a strict and traditional social order.

With no political philosophy, Trump acts out of pure narcissism.  He wants, above all, to promote himself.  This plays into the authoritarian dynamic as those looking for salvation and safety in an authoritarian figure feel vindicated in their choice when the leader believes himself to be a savior, that his “his superior intelligence, his charismatic dominance, his single-minded devotion to a grandiose self will triumph in the end.”  That, of course, perfectly defines Trump, a man who constantly (and wrongly) brags about his intelligence.


Donald Trump is the primal president, a man whose support and ascent to power can best be understood by studying chimpanzee politics.  He’s an authoritarian who seized the fascination of those with authoritarian personalities and expanded that solid base through fear, intimidation, and coalitions of practicality.  His support does not come from political philosophy or long-held ideology.  It’s not because of his prestige and skills or natural statesmanship.  It’s because Donald Trump tapped the tribal dominance that we evolved millions of years ago but thought we had left behind after the Enlightenment and with the embrace of civil, democratic societies.

what is democratic socialism

What is Democratic Socialism?

What is Democratic Socialism? Lipstick on a Pig

A new mania has gripped the American left: Democratic socialism.  The ideology embraced and popularized by Bernie Sanders has seen rapid growth, predominately among young political actors who hope to fundamentally overhaul the American economic system, but recognize that the traditional “socialist” label only polarizes.  So, to dress the dead ideology, they’ve conveniently stuck a loved word — “democratic” — in front of it and have taken their anger to the internet to commence a “political revolution” (whatever that means) one meme at a time.  With that said, what is democratic socialism, really?

Even democratic socialists struggle to answer that question.  The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) lauds “our socialism” as a means to “a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution” of goods, presumably, and “non-oppressive relationships.”

That sounds wonderful until you realize it’s the meaningless collection of buzzwords that drive masters of the English language insane.


What is democratic socialism’s goal and how is it implemented?

What does this mean?  How does a government implement the popular control of resources and production?

Herein lies the rub.  Democratic socialism organizes around a core belief that the people should control resources and production through democracy.  But, at best, this is impossible, and, at worst, it’s a sure road to oppression and tyranny.

Democratic ownership and allocation of resources and production immediately cannot naturally happen because, in a nation of any size, considerable disagreement about the control of resources will arise, making any sort of popular, or democratic, agreement impossible.  But that assumes democratic socialists want all individuals to equally participate in incredibly complex decisions, naturally a terrible idea and an impossible feat of coordination.

So perhaps democratic socialists don’t mean an active democratic control but rather democratic control through free and fair elections in which various candidates submit proposals for how state-owned/centralized resources and capital should be distributed among the population.  Except this would also fall to pieces immediately.

Minimal-winning coalitions explain why.  The theory, introduced by William Riker, contends that any political party or faction would expand to a size just big enough to win an election or ensure passage of a desired bill.  Doing so enables the coalitions members to compromise as little as possible.

democratic socialism what is it

Take a simplistic example in which a five-member legislature debates a stimulus bill that needs majority support.  The legislators have ideal points (the amount of spending they believe to be most effective for the economy) as follows: A) $100 billion, B) $75 billion, C) $60 billion, D) $40 billion, E) $25 billion.  Lawmaker A introducers her $100 billion spending bill, but no one signs on.  So she proposes an admit to lower spending to $75 billion and lawmaker B then supports the measure.  They still need one more to guarantee passage and so offer another amendment bringing the number down to to $60 billion and achieve the minimal winning coalition.  If the coalition tried to attract more support, they could only do so by lowing the stimulus and moving the successful package further away from their ideal points.  In short, a minimal winning coalition (versus an expansive supermajority) ensures legislation that maximizes ideal points for its members.

Of course, that problem can be alleviated by mandating supermajority support for bill passage, but that moves away from the proclaimed goal of popular control.

This logic extends to any number of issues a polity faces.  Coalitions seek maximum benefit even though it my displease others.  Consider, too, that across a broad range of issues, some coalition members might care little and simply support the proposals offered by concerned members.  Such logrolling (to be a bit unfair) helps establish “long coalitions,” or parties (see “The Party Decides” for an in-depth explanation) that exist to win elections and deliver ideological goals to its constituency without necessarily turning outside of itself for the support needed to pass legislation (action that would necessarily require compromise and thus a deviation from ideal points).

A democratic socialist society in which each election became a referendum on the distribution of society’s resources and goods would naturally incite many arguments about optimization and result in displeasure for some, perhaps many.  Any given coalition could become malicious, recognizing that by establishing a minimal winning distributional coalition it could monopolize government resources and simply ignore the needs of its opposition.  Democracy and democratic control could actually exacerbate the very inequality against which democratic socialists rail.

So if direct and indirect democratic control won’t work, perhaps DSA members would prefer the traditional socialist central planning in which the state controls the means of production and unelected technocrats distribute goods based either on contribution or need, both of which are purportedly democratic.

Except that’s not democratic and it invites corruption and kleptocracy.

Those are the best case scenarios: It simply doesn’t work and the system collapses or enacts market-based reforms to salvage itself (some argue that democratic socialism embraces the market so long as all needs among the citizenry are met.  If we classify those needs as solvable by welfare benefits, we’ve described social democracy, not democratic socialism.  Scandinavian countries, heralded as democratic socialist utopias are actually market-based social democracies).

democratic socialism

At its worst, the democratic ownership of the resources and production simply invites tyranny.  Democracies already invite corrupt actors who seek, largely through democratic means, to assume and consolidate power for their own vanity or profit.  Add to that natural incentive borne from the inherent corruption of humankind the spoils of state-owned resources, and demagogues have every incentive to gain power no matter the cost because its payoffs are so high.

Controlling the means of production means controlling society.  The leader and her political party can reward loyalty while punishing opponents into poverty.  They can skim from the state and, by starving opposition of economic life, nip their ability to meaningfully compete in elections.

Democratic socialism’s implementation by any of the means outlined above simply enables and invites tyranny through centralized economic control.

So, what is democratic socialism?

In short, a disaster waiting to happen.  The ideology relies on lofty dreams that ignore human reality, as evidenced by the entirety of our history.  It assumes a level of beneficence amongst all people that simply does not exist and dreams of utopia without outlining the steps needed to get there.  Like any fairytale, it arouses the imagination, but could never be implemented.

What is democratic socialism?  A resuscitation of a failed ideology that either could never exist or, if brought into existence, would quickly devolve into tyranny.

illiberal democracy

Ascendant Illiberalism

Illiberal democracy is on the rise

Across the globe, illiberal democracy has emerged as a potent force.  The discontents caused by the Great Recessions, coupled with other structural economic issues that exacerbate inequality while failing to lift the incomes of the middle and working classes, have left many yearning for change of any sort.  That desire has manifested itself in a resurgent populist movement, both from the left and the right.   Unfortunately, most so-called populist candidates have a decidedly authoritarian bent that challenges liberal democracy, though not democracy itself.

Liberal democracy refers to a representative democracy in which a constitution bounds the actions of lawmakers and preserves the fundamental liberties of individuals to protect any given minority from the possibly tempestuous whims of a majority coalition.  Citizens choose lawmakers in free and fair elections in which all who qualify have the equal opportunity to participate.  The system thrives of vibrant discourse and national unity largely free from identity politics and grievances.  It does not refer to a government controlled by a left-wing political party.

Illiberal democracies have the opposite values: Lawmakers rarely feel meaningfully constrained by a constitution which can be easily amended or simply ignored and that does not guarantee the rights of all residents.  Instead, minorities can see liberties abridged by the majority.  This typically happens for easily defined groups based on ethnicity, but can extend to religion, economic status, or any other discernible characteristics.  Though such polities have elections, they are not typically free and fair.  Citizens may find it difficult to vote either because of limited polling access, voter intimidation, or brute voter suppression.  At worst, elections exist for show only with the outcomes already predetermined by the in-power party (who, in most cases, acts to consolidate and preserve attained power).  It’s a system that can quickly devolve into authoritarianism.

Yet politicians who believe and embrace such illiberal principles have recently seen electoral success in western democracies (or democracies that, in recent decades, have sought to be considered western).  Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and the United States all exemplify ascendent illiberalism.

In Turkey, President Erdogan has transformed a liberal democracy into an increasingly autocratic state.  He’s done so through a variety of reforms that strip powers from the prime minister and instead place them in the president (ie, himself), a position that’s traditionally been ceremonial.  Though a national referendum supposedly endorsed these reforms, many critics have complained about electoral irregularities, claiming that Erdogan fixed or manipulated the vote to ensure the desired outcome.  The referendum itself took place under conditions of fear: In the year since the failed military coup, Erdogan has jailed some 45,000 oppositionists (and 150 journalists), purged around 130,000 from the civil service ranks, and shut down around 160 media outlets.  Erdogan supports such actions by claiming the jailed or fired individuals supported the coup and thus posed a threat to Turkey, a ridiculous lie few believe.  Together, the referendum and ongoing state of emergency point to a country partially embracing illiberalism and partially having shoved down its throat.

Hungary has seen a popular lurch towards authoritarianism, with Prime Minister Orban winning a “landslide” reelection despite his known illiberal attitudes.  Orban himself, inspired by the likes of Russia, China, and Erdogan’s Turkey, declared he will build a new, “illiberal state” in Hungary to lead the nation “in the great global race for decades to come.”  His tenure has seen “an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the packing of courts with political loyalists, a wholesale political purge of the civil service and the chief prosecutor’s office, new election rules that advantage the governing coalition and the intimidation of the news organizations (who can be issued crippling fines for content deemed “not politically balanced” by a government-appointed panel).”  When stopped or challenged, he’s simply used a large parliamentary supermajority to amend the Constitution.  Freedom House proclaims the upcoming 2018 elections to be a critical juncture for Hungary: If Orban emerges victorious, Hungary may become the illiberal state once thought to be confined to Europe’s dark past.

Poland, too, has moved in an illiberal direction under the leadership of the far-right populist “Law and Justice” party.  The party, legitimately elected, has broken “the constitution, both in letter and in spirit,” by undermining the constitutional court, politicizing the civil service, and subverting public media.  These actions create cronyism and a government that serves the party, not the people.  Once all institutions have been coopted, they can be successfully turned against opposition, thereby creating a de facto one party state.  Luckily, Poles have not bowed down to such illiberalism.  While a large percentage of the country supports Law and Justice and its illiberal aims, a large, liberal sect of the population widely protested laws that would fundamentally overhaul the constitutional court’s composition, subserving it to the will of the ruling party.  The Polish president vetoed both bills because of the popular backlash.  More judicial reforms, however, have been promised.  Poles need to continue resisting illiberal intentions and not let Law and Justice create an illiberal state.

Lastly, America, democracy’s shining beacon, has moved in an illiberal direction with Donald Trump’s election.  Trump campaigned on a variety of illiberal themes and identity politics that relied on vilifying an ever amorphous “other” — in his case, illegal immigrants and Muslims comprise that villain/enemy group.  He’s attacked the judiciary and questioned its legitimacy.  His belief in US intelligence agencies remains doubtful.  He fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation and has sought other methods to curtail its scope and authority, even threatening to fire special investigator Robert Mueller.  Trump’s routinely attacked the press and even labelled them “enemies of the American people.”  Many of his campaign positions would violate the constitutional rights of minorities.  And yet he retains the support of almost the entire Republican congressional caucus and most Republicans in the nation.  His clearly illiberal bent should worry Americans, but thankfully, unlike in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland, our institutions have thus far been resilient to Trump’s illiberalism.

Illiberalism is ascendent.  The above cases only mention the most obvious — other examples of illiberalism include UKIP’s influences in Britain, Alternates for Deutschland in Germany, and the National Front in France.  Across the western world, these populist movements manifest themselves in illiberal forces that all traverse the road to authoritarianism.  We must resist these populist temptations and instead stay committed to the long-standing liberal values that promote and defend our natural liberties.

sheriff joe arpaio pardon

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Pardon is an Abuse of the President’s Power

Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Pardoned, to the Detriment of Civil Rights

And the Rule of Law

As a category 4 hurricane – Harvey – barreled down on Texas, threatening some 8 million people with catastrophic flooding, Donald Trump decided to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his contempt of court conviction.

Sheriff Joe routinely violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by specifically targeting them for their skin color and presumed ethnicity during traffic stops and other raids throughout the Arizona county.  Further, in a ruthless crackdown on illegal immigration that could only be successful by tossing constitutional rights aside, Arpaio illegally detained hundreds for presumed illegal immigration status (presumed because of skin color) and no other reason.

Of course, no distinguishing characteristic marks illegal immigrants; a presumption of illegality can only be gathered by race and racial profiling violates the Constitution.

And yet even after a 2011 court injunction ordered Arpaio to stop his holding “individuals solely on the belief they were in the country illegally” (requiring those held to be “accused of a state crime”), Arpaio continued his unconstitutional practice.  Over the following 17 months, Arpaio’s office illegally detained (again, based only on skin color) and turned over to ICE 171 individuals, in “flagrant disregard” to the court’s order.

That led to a conviction for criminal contempt of court.

American Values

Our country cannot be about jailing individuals because of their skin color.  That’s not who we are.

But it’s who Donald Trump is.  While campaigning, he promised, at various times, to deport all illegal immigrants within two years.  Again, on appearance, nothing differentiates an illegal immigrant from a legal immigrant.  Without justifiable reason to detain someone (ie, a crime committed), they only means by which Trump could achieve his goals would be to indiscriminately round up all who look like illegal immigrants — that is, Latinos.

Obviously, that’s unconstitutional (law furthered by Melendres v. Arpaio), but it is reminiscent of Arpaio’s actions in Maricopa County.  Trump sees a kindred spirit in Arpaio.  The pardon reflects Trump’s harshest immigration rhetoric and clearly says to other corrupt actors: If you violate the Constitution by routinely using racial profiling and illegal detentions as a means of cracking down alleged illegal immigration, President Trump will offer his support, support that could culminate in a pardon.

Law and Order

That last point also runs in the face of Trump’s “law and order” campaign and presidential theme.  Arpaio pointedly stated that “nobody is higher than me.  I am the elected sheriff by the people.”  Clearly, Arpaio thought his election elevated him to a position of being the law.  He – not the courts – would declare which laws should be followed and, as sheriff, only he could enforce the laws.  It necessarily follows that the law would not apply to him since no one had authority to apply it to him.

In no way does that align with a “law and order” pledge.  “Law and order” must apply to everyone, including elected officials.  The second it ceases to do so, authoritarianism can easily arise.  Unrestrained officials can enforce and assert policies of their choosing without fear of legal retribution.  People live in perpetual fear knowing that while laws apply to them, it does not apply to the enforcers – the enforcers would not be held accountable for any of their actions.

Trump seems to think government works in that outlined authoritarian fashion.  He bristles at the Russia probe and has long-sought to undermine it through whatever means necessary, generally through obstruction of justice or assaults on the separation of power.  It comes as little surprise, then, that a president with such disdain for the rule of law, despite his campaign rhetoric, would pardon someone with a similarly authoritarian political philosophy.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s pardon is yet another instance of Trump’s disregard for fundamental civil rights.  He doesn’t believe that one’s race should not be a determining detention factor and he doesn’t think the rule of law should apply to elected officials (at least to those whose ideology aligns with Trump’s).  This move undermines the rule of law and shows that Trump neither understands nor cares about American values.