A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked several colleagues the following question: “What does it tell us about the state of political discourse, or, indeed, of the state of the country itself, when the largest issue of the week between the two officially nominated major candidates for the presidency of the United States is whether or not former Miss Universe gained too much weight?
It seemed the presidential campaign had hit rock bottom. Then, just when we all thought we had seen Trump do it all, he outdid himself and the videorecording was uncovered. Are there any apologists left for US politics?
Trump is a symptom. Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo, was right: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Political scientist Morris Fiorina’s observation about congressional elections applies as well to presidential elections: Candidates will avoid discussing real issues at any cost and will happily discuss red herrings instead because this avoids accountability and controversy. As H.L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Mencken could have left out the adjective “common.” The fact is, in the early 1970s, the American people called for so-called “reforms” to the electoral process in response to numerous events: 18 year olds could not vote, yet the country sent them off to Vietnam; In 1968 and 1972, neither party addressed the Vietnam war with any seriousness despite the protests of our young people; minority voting rights were still imperiled; Richard Nixon had been elected and had relied upon a small number of powerful, wealthy campaign supporters; Congress was controlled by an oligarchy of ageing, powerful committee chairs (most of whom happened to be conservative southern Democrats) that obstructed social and racial justice legislation. The list goes on.
So, what did we do? We “democratized” the political process by decentralizing its process of control. We passed campaign finance legislation that emasculated the party organizations. We replaced the traditional convention system of nomination with the direct primary. Congress replaced a small number of committee chairs with dozens of subcommittee fiefdoms.
The result? We suffer endless, increasingly costly primary and general election cycles; a proliferation of the number of candidates vying for the presidential nominations; an inability of the party organizations to control who represents them (so, characters such as David Duke and Donald Trump are able to hijack the nomination process); unbeatable congressional incumbents who are gerrymandered into office essentially for life; abysmal voter turnout; an, presidential election processes that become mired in discussions about how much weight Miss Venezuela put on…or worse.
Perhaps the best summary of this process and the mess it got us into is by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August Atlantic Monthly. In an outstanding piece called “How American Politics Went Insane,” Rauch documents the small-d democratization of our political system that led us to our current situation. In short, we destroyed the political middle-managers such as political party chairs who are necessary for good politics
Millennial critics might poo-poo this in favor of the mass, democratic models of politics embodied in the Occupy movements, the Arab Spring or, more recently, protests on college campuses. But, how effective were they? Such movements have proven to be better at dismantling political systems than building or repairing them.
There is no doubting the sense of justice and/or frustration that informed small-d democratic impulses running from the American reforms of the 1970s to the Arab Spring, contemporary campus protests and, perhaps, the Brexit revolt in the UK. But, absent strong, wise leaders, populist impulses can lead to disastrous, if not unintended consequences. Thus, the Brexiteers awoke to discover that they had won the referendum, but had no plan or strategy to implement the exit. Americans now suffer costly, unending election cycles that produce candidates with terrible approval ratings and governments that are unresponsive.
One shortcoming to Rauch’s analysis is that he offers little in the way of concrete suggestions for repairing American politics. In part, this is extraordinarily difficult because it is hard to advocate reforms that would be based on a call for less democracy. But, in reality, less democracy is what the U.S. political system is all about. This is a constitutional democracy. The people’s power—however final–was supposed to be attenuated.
Alas, the 9/11 attacks did not inspire us to improve our politics; nor did Hurricane Katrina. One wonders what sort of political disaster it will take. Is the 2016 election close enough to work?
I offer here a list of links to my 2016 Baseball articles. Some were pretty solid. Others, not as solid as I’d like (apologies to Baltimore and Toronto, whom I underestimated).
The columns received differing levels of play in several different venues. The Studs and Duds columns did quite well. My early season analysis of player rankings and dollar values also score a lot of hits.
This really is a great deal of fun and gives me the opportunity to dedicate some time to the analysis of a sport I love. Many thanks to my colleagues at Major League Fantasy Sports for the chance to trade notes and work with them. Check out the site. It’s a great source of commentary, snarkiness, humor and fine analysis of all sports. Some of the writers are superior analysts of really granular data and trends. My stuff moves back and forth between macro level analysis of players and the league as a whole (see the historical trend pieces) and more granular analysis of pitching. Heck, they even let me put on my professor’s hat and edit. Nothing worse that good sports analysis marred by a split infinitive, gerund without a possessive or dangling modifier…
Anyway, it’s awesome to be able to do this. Baseball is a fantastic sport that appeals to the romantic as well as the geek. If you want to understand Americans, strip away politics and other stuff and talk sports. Even folks who can’t stand one another will be upset if they know that even a sworn enemy is eating turkey and watching football alone on Thanksgiving… Sports get us through long winters and hot summers. Noah Syndergaard said it poignantly in an epic tweet after the Mets lost to the Giants:
Baseball has a way of ripping your out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself just in time for Spring Training.
“September Studs and Duds”–a reflection on who paid dividends and who killed our rosters
“Strategic Stat Categories and Late Season Moves“–An historical analysis of trends in key counting stats–Saves, Quality Starts, etc.
“Go Big or Go Home: A Rumination of Midsummer Baseball Trends”–a little ancient Greek navigation, some stellar metaphors, and baseball…
Mid-May Musings on Pitching Prowess and Proficiency–An alliterative analysis of Pitching stats. More than any other aspect of the game, pitching stats tell you an incredible amount about pitchers. Other stats are harder to parse.
Lucky Charms and (un?)Lucky Pitchers–oh…just a little anger-inspired analysis of a pitcher who was killing me. I included several other early season duds to provide cover and credibility. I hope Chris Archer was not upset…
Statistical Analysis of Pitching–rant early and rant often. Seriously. Why wait till July to complain about fantasy baseball. Early-season rants will enable you to refine your venomous words so that the pro players get REALLY upset at you later…
“Ailing Aces“–A pretty insightful analysis of what was going on with three stud pitchers who were underperforming.
Week 3 Analysis of the American League East–Wow. Someone must have misread my c.v. They handed this analysis over to a Red Sox fan.
Week 1 Statistically Unsound Assessment of the AL and NL East–OK. You want analysis with virtually no useful data? I can do that…
2016 AL and NL East Predictions–Spring Training is over, the season is not under way. So, predict… Actually, not half bad. Apologies to Toronto and Baltimore. Well, not really…
Preseason Analysis of the San Diego Padres. Waiting for Todd Gurley…
Preseason Analysis of the Philadelphia Phillies. Not so sunny in Philadelphia. Waiting for a year or two. Lots of good baby pitchers here.
Preseason Analysis of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When Fantasy is better than Reality…
Preseason Analysis of the Baltimore Orioles. Wow. They did better than I anticipated. Where did that pitching come from?
Preseason Analysis of the Boston Red Sox. OK. I may have been a homer…but I was right on this one–David Price’s underwhelming performance notwithstanding. Ojala que las estrellas nos bendiguen..
Preseason Analysis of Starting Pitchers–Part n. OK. SO, they wanted me to come up with a tag line. Jettisoned (along with the platinum blonde soul patch) later…
Preseason Starting Pitching Analysis–some pretty decent wisdom and preseason here.