Council on Foreign Relations: The Future of Democracy Symposium: Session Two: Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession
BUSSEY: Well, welcome back, everybody. We’re going to—we’re going to get started. Welcome back from your coffee.
So our next panel is entitled “Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession.” That’s what we’re here to discuss: Brad DeLong from Berkeley; John Judis has written on populism and nationalism; Catherine Rampell from the Washington Post, my hometown newspaper—what we refer to at the Wall Street Journal as Brand X—is also somebody who has written on this topic extensively.
So, Catherine, let me—let me start with you. So the U.S. has had, in its history, populist and nationalist moments. This is—appears to be one of them. What got us here? What were the forces that led to this particular episode?
RAMPELL: Well, obviously, there has been a lot of discussion of economic anxiety, so much so that it’s almost become a punch line. You know, whenever a journalist gets a racist email it’s, like, oh, there’s that economic anxiety at work again. But I will say that my views on the extent to which the economy and, particularly, the financial crisis have played into the rise of populism on both the left and the right is shaped by two things. One is more anecdotal.
So I’m currently an op-ed columnist at the Washington Post but in my previous job I was an economics reporter at the New York Times and I was writing about the Great Recession as it was ongoing and its aftermath, and I interviewed during the course of my duties there many unemployed workers.
And I was frequently struck by comments that they would make that were unsolicited about the real reason why they couldn’t find a job is that—if they were young it was that employers only wanted older people. If they were old, employers only wanted younger people. If they were white, employers only wanted minorities. If they were a member of a racial or ethnic minority, they only wanted white people, et cetera.
I mean, the real problem, of course, was that there were just no jobs to be had. But that was not how people who are in this position necessarily saw the situation—that there was this great—and this, obviously, wasn’t true of everyone I spoke with but it was common enough that I felt that there was this—there was this—if not desire there was a perception, at the very least, that somebody else was winning out at their expense, and I think that that helped radicalize some people and made them feel like their group was being unfairly punished, some other group was being unfairly favored, and that helped drive some of the political polarization.
The other thing that has shaped my views, at least on this question, is more data driven—you know, a larger sample, I would say. There was a really interesting paper written by three German economists that came out a few years ago that looked at the aftermath of systemic financial crises over, I think, the last 140 years, like, 800 elections, and something like—I don’t remember how many countries—several dozen developed countries, and they found that after systemic financial crises, although not after normal recessions, there was a rise in political polarization and the fracturing of political parties.
There was a rise in both left- and right-wing populism after these kinds of crises but right-wing parties—right-wing populist parties tended to benefit much more. I think something like, on average, the vote share for right-wing parties went up by 30 percent after systemic financial crises, and there were other things that they documented including greater social unrest and greater government turnover and things like that.
BUSSEY: Similar to what’s—I mean, we’ve just heard kind of a description of what’s happening in Europe and other parts of the world—similar to what’s going on in Europe what’s happening in the United States?
RAMPELL: I certainly think that there is overlap. I mean, every country, obviously, has its own forces, as people in this audience know, that shape what happens in its domestic politics. But we have seen in lots of European countries the rise of far-right parties. We have seen the rise in populism, a desire to scapegoat ethnic minorities, elites, immigrants, amongst others, and we have seen this, I think, especially in countries that were touched by the financial crisis.
BUSSEY: Yeah. Brad, walk us through some of the economics of this. Would you—you’ve got some numbers for us. We’re going to put them up on the screen but we also have a handout.
DELONG: I do. It’s my job as the economist. OK, the numbers. Say, over the past forty, fifty years we’ve seen some alleviation of call them gender hierarchies. You know, if you look at women, even women who are high school dropouts—the red line—they’re making more money in real terms adjusted for inflation now than women were back, say, in 1981, and spreading up so that the group that’s done at least as well as anyone else are women with advanced degrees in America. For them, America is fulfilling the promise that people thought or expect to have of it.
By contrast, men who do not have advanced degrees have been getting it in the neck over the past forty or fifty years—that their incomes now are barely above or are substantially below the incomes of their counterparts back in 1980. What they expected their lives would be like their lives aren’t like, and this strikes them as a substantial disappointment of rising expectations. And so it might not be economic anxiety but it’s that somehow some promise was taken away.
And it’s not in any sense that, you know, racial and ethnic hierarchies have been overturned. If you kind of look across the racial ethnicity groups, you don’t really see any one group that’s doing significantly better than one would have expected, given patterns of and differences of forty or fifty years ago, say, for black women with B.A.s. Black women with B.A.s are doing significantly better, it looks like, than pretty much any slice you have.
It’s not that things are being overturned in terms of the gap between black and white unemployment becoming less with the exception of the gender kind of thing. We, basically, are where we were forty or fifty years ago at least in terms of the economics, not in terms of a sociology. The economics may be less important.
But the fact that people—look, I mean, people believe that they have rights to a good life. People believe they have rights to stable communities that support them and that don’t disrupt and overturn their lives. You know, look at my neighbors south of Berkeley who are horrified at the idea that they might want to tear down a single-family house and build an apartment building for students.
People think that they have the right to the income that corresponds to the profession or the occupation that they have worked hard to become part of and people believe that they have a right to continuity of employment—that their job shouldn’t suddenly vanish because some financier three thousand miles away decided it doesn’t make a cost-benefit test. And, look, the only rights the market respects are property rights and the only property rights that are worth anything are those that help you make things for which rich people have a serious and unsatiated jones.
The fact that the American economy over the past forty years has not been delivering substantially rising living standards for everybody that means that the market’s failure to deliver these other forms of nonproperty rights becomes the source of call it economic anxiety, becomes a potential problem.
BUSSEY: So let me ask you, John. That’s the economic argument. Identity is in the title of our program. Walk us through some of the other driving forces. Identity suggests race. It suggest tribe. It suggests tones of immigration. Walk us through some of the other driving forces, in your mind, and also tell us how much you buy the economic argument behind this.
JUDIS: Well, I buy the economic argument in this sense, that the process of globalization—you know, automation, trade, all these things—has produced very uneven development in the United States and in Western Europe and some extent also in Eastern and Central Europe where you have very prosperous metro areas—finance, technology, electronics, big health, all this stuff—and at the same time these very large pockets of deindustrialized America where you have, you know, Wal-Mart. You have an office economy, but things aren’t the way they used to.
Now, if you go to a—I was just in Sherrod Brown’s hometown—Mansfield, Ohio. You know, it used to be an extraordinarily prosperous town. Tappan Westinghouse, GM, Empire Steel—they’re all gone—big empty lots. The people there aren’t necessarily suffering. They’re not—you know, we’re not talking about Appalachia.
But what we’re talking about is a way of life that has disintegrated over the last thirty or forty years where people expected their children to have the same jobs that they did, where they took pride that they worked for GM or Empire, where they were members of unions, where they were particular churches, neighborhoods, knew the people there, often the same ethnic group, and what’s happened is that for people in those kinds of areas—Erie, Pennsylvania, Muncie, Indiana—I can go through all of—Greensboro, North Carolina—their identities have been stripped. And for them, what becomes most important and, again, this is not something that’s different from us but it’s more important—family, home, religion, nation.
If you go now to New York or Washington, D.C. or San Francisco or any of these places, much more prosperity but also a much more fluid identity. People who think of themselves—again, the term is they could live anywhere—they could live in London or Brussels or whatever—they have—I used to make a joke with myself when I first moved to Washington, D.C., in 1982 and went downtown to meet people how long it would take these big shots to tell me what college they went to.
You know, if they went to Salisbury State I would not hear about it. But if they went to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, within the first five or ten minutes—and maybe even after that, a prep school—what law firm they were members of, who they knew. They had a much greater—it wasn’t like they didn’t care about the nation. You know, my heartstrings plunk when 9/11—I wanted to go fight in Afghanistan. So did—you know, so does almost everybody in America. But it’s much less important to us. It’s not way at the top the way it is for somebody in this other part of America whose way of life has really been decimated.
So, again, I wouldn’t think of it narrowly in terms of economics but it has an economic foundation on top of which you have culture and on top of which you have a real culture war between these two parts of America because I think, very accurately, that people in small-town America see themselves as objects of contempt from the people in the metropolitan area—
BUSSEY: So you’re describing—
JUDIS: —and vice, you know—
DELONG: Well, Harvard Ph.D. Harvard B.A. Harvard B.A ancestors back to 1686. Sidwell Friends School and before that, you know, Cal Tech nursery school. But my wife grew up—first generation in her family to go to college—in a Portuguese neighborhood of Fall River, where everyone’s parents and grandparents worked in the textile mills. The textile mills of Fall River were stripped by Greensboro. It was Greensboro, North Carolina, that took the textile mills of Fall River away and stole from the Portuguese millworker immigrants of Fall River their identity, and their grandchildren are absolutely fine with that.
They are part of this greater Boston cosmo elite and yet they are grandchildren of millworkers and they do not think that they want those jobs, that particular identity, back. They think they have a better one. They think they have a new one. Why didn’t Massachusetts politics turn this strange weird Trumpist flavor back in the 1950s and ’60s?
JUDIS: Look, did you ever hear of Louise Day Hicks?
JUDIS: That’s a lot of—Ed King, 1980—you’re talking about grandchildren. In Greensboro now—I used to put this graph up when I would—you know, I actually sometimes do use a graph—of where the most manufacturing was lost from 2001 and 2016, and I’d say, well, what do you think was—you know, Michigan was number one but what do you think was number two, and it was North Carolina—furniture. But those are the—those aren’t the grandchildren now. The grandchildren and the children are all going to Raleigh-Durham but the people who were left there now are pissed off and those are the Trump voters.
DELONG: And 2001—the 2008—the furniture workers who lost their jobs were getting new jobs in construction building up Raleigh and Durham and no one was unhappy at all about the economic transformation of the Carolinas in the 2000s—
JUDIS: Yes, but that’s not where the Trump votes came.
DELONG: —until late 2008 when all of a sudden it turned out that a great many securities rated AAA by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s in fact had no business being sold to anyone at any price at all.
BUSSEY: So John—Catherine, John’s talking about identity in terms of the deindustrialized sections of the United States—and Angus Deaton has written on this as well quite a bit, the Nobel Laureate—and what that did to destabilize social life.
BUSSEY: You know, all of the institutions that people had come to depend upon just weren’t there, you know, any longer. And, yet, we’re in a(n) economic growth period. That’s not inconsequential. We have historically low unemployment and the discussion is very often race related. Why are these kind of racial tensions coming to the surface in the United States now when there’s fairly strong economic growth across the sphere?
RAMPELL: So I would say that the economic growth has not been equally shared, as Brad has pointed out in this chart, amongst other data points. Wage growth has been relatively weak—it’s ticked up a little bit recently—but that your typical worker for whatever reason, even though there are more jobs to be had across the country, across the country you are not seeing upward pressure on wages, and then even where you are seeing upward pressure on wages it’s, again, not equally visited upon all of the parts of the country that we’re talking about including areas that have been hollowed out because they’ve been deindustrialized or what have you.
So I think there’s, in some sense, potentially lingering resentment about the fact that, hey, why do the—why does it seem like everybody else is getting rich or at least moving up in the world except for me. When you have people who feel like they—not only did they lose a lot in the Great Recession and the financial crisis—maybe they lost their homes, they lost their jobs, you saw an acceleration of the kinds of structural changes including the decline in manufacturing, amongst other industries.
But even in the recovery, I’m still not—I haven’t recovered the ground that I have lost, and I think, to some extent, that is motivating this perception that other people are getting ahead and I’m not. Maybe those other people are Washington elites. Maybe those other people are immigrants who are either if not stealing my job stealing my wage gains because they’re flooding the market or what—you know, that’s the perception, in any case. So I think that’s part of it, certainly.
I will say that I take exception to the idea that people in, you know, Rust Belt towns have a monopoly on patriotism. I think that patriotism is more evenly distributed than perhaps John—
JUDIS: It’s not patriotism. It’s they get much more upset when Colin Kaepernick doesn’t kneel for the National Anthem. That’s not necessarily patriotism but it is—
DELONG: They get upset when he does kneel.
JUDIS: —emphasis on nation and what’s important.
DELONG: When he does kneel.
RAMPELL: I mean, maybe that’s the motivation. I think you could attribute other motivations to what’s been going on, particularly since the fact that the figurehead for Trump voters—Trump himself—likes to pick on outspoken black people, whether they’re talking about patriotism or otherwise. But that’s a whole other can of worms.
But in any case, I think that what’s interesting is that, like I said, I have been ascribing the rise in this populism, authoritarianism impulse within the country to the fact that we had this very traumatizing event—a systemic financial crisis—but even ten years out we’re still feeling the lingering effects of that and the question is why. And is it because people don’t feel like they’ve recovered? Is it because politicians have played up whatever scapegoating inclinations voters may have already been leaning towards and have sort of enhanced—you know, the temptation to try to otherize people who they think are getting ahead at their expense so even when the economy is doing better they still, you know, feel drawn to those political arguments? I don’t know. I do wonder if, as the economy continues to recover, if we see stronger wage gains will some of that effect fade, and I think we don’t know.
BUSSEY: Yeah. Brad, let me ask you a different question. Let me ask, so should we take solace in the fact that there’s been other periods in U.S. history that we’ve had this kind of sort of reflex?
DELONG: And French history, and the German—
BUSSEY: The—in the 1930s—yeah, the 1930s is a good example of that. We had Father Coughlin on radio. We had a nationalist kind of, you know, surge and yet we got through it. Should we take solace in the fact that, you know, we’ve muddled through in the past?
DELONG: No. No. No. No. I mean, Louis Napoleon used these kinds of feelings to overthrow the French Second Republic and establish himself as emperor. You know, Francis Fukuyama wrote an excellent article about how the communist kind of belief that socialism, public ownership of the means of production, and the free society of associated producers was a big idea that had crashed and that the only big idea left was that of liberal market democracy.
But he made the key mistake that there was a third challenge—that there had been a third challenge. That is the idea—you know, it’s basically a Roman idea—it’s that, like, we are—each of us is individually a stick, very weak, but if we can unite ourselves in a big bundle of sticks and if we can tie ourselves together in leather thongs, we then become a powerful force that, in the hands of our strong leaders, could bruise our enemies.
And Francis Fukuyama thought that this political movement was dead and buried, had been dead and buried by 1945, and it looks like he is wrong. You know, if you look at Hungary, as we saw before, if you look at India today, where the government seems to be trying national Hinduism, although casting the Muslims of India in the role traditionally ascribed to the Jews, if you look at an awful lot of place, the idea that we’re going to distract people’s attention from the fact that they rightly believe they aren’t getting their fair sharing of the system by pointing to internal or external enemies that you can despise or blame, this seems to be a remarkably powerful movement that shows up whenever.
You can’t guarantee rapid economic growth so that pretty much everything thinks, well, I’m living significantly better than my parents, and the fact that we’ve seen this before and come out of this before doesn’t mean we should say this is no big deal. It’s always been a big deal. So far, at least, the United States and Britain, at least, have been very lucky whenever these political movements arise.
BUSSEY: John, we are—our title of our session presumes the democratic recession—economics identity and the democratic recession. Are we in a democratic recession or is it a moment when one side is really mad at the other side for winning?
JUDIS: Well, I—you know, I’m not a public speaker but I do a lot of book talks lately and so I never look closely at titles, and I thought it was about democracies in the recession, not the democratic recession. (Laughter.)
BUSSEY: All right. Take it either way and give it your best.
JUDIS: My view is entirely the opposite. I think we’re in a period where a flowering of democracy, an efflorescence of democracy, driven largely by the internet—the development of the internet. You know, go back to the printing press, what, fifteenth century. You couldn’t have had the Bourgeois revolutions of, you know, 1688. You couldn’t have had the French Revolution without the printing press.
DELONG: You couldn’t have had two centuries of near genocidal religious war.
JUDIS: But you couldn’t have also—yes. No, just don’t interrupt because I’m about to say exactly what’s coming out of your mouth.
JUDIS: But you also had two centuries of religious wars, which were also. So what it means—again, what the printing press means, what the internet means, is a much greater participation by a much larger group in politics. The Tea Party isn’t a—wasn’t a sign of democratic decline. It was a sign, again, that people who might not have otherwise been involved in politics were suddenly getting involved. I used to do—
RAMPELL: A lot of that was astroturfed, though.
JUDIS: I used to do—no. No. No. I did—I did that work. I interviewed people. To take even the campaigns—Dean, Sanders, and, on the other hand, Trump—all, again, driven by this—by the possibility of this much larger diffusion of information. And just one final thing. I used to do trade policy. I used to write about trade in the 1980s—Gephardt, you know, all this stuff, what is—Section 301. I can’t even remember all these names.
But there were, like, five hundred people in America who even knew about this stuff. Now, you know, again, that kind of information is diffused throughout the society. You know, some of it’s fake news. Some of it’s false. But we have the possibility of a much greater level of participation in our society and in our democracy than we had before. So, again, I don’t see—I don’t see a recession of democracy. I see a boom.
BUSSEY: Catherine, Donald Trump, maybe even the Tea Party before Donald Trump, a decline of democracy or an exuberant deployment of democracy?
RAMPELL: I think there could, theoretically, be elements of both. What worries me is the claim that Trump is representing the people to oppress specific groups. Is that democracy? I would say no. He would say that he is—he is capturing the will of his voters, that he represents, you know, the essence of their democratic wishes.
But he is using that rhetoric to try to take rights away from people to vote or at least his—many of his people working on—you know, what was his—what was Kris Kobach’s election fraud commission thing? But, you know, using—I would say that that would represent the lessening of democracy. He is claiming the mantle of, you know, of democratic flourishing in service of reducing democracy, right, I mean, and taking away the right of people to vote, in trying to take away the First Amendment from people.
You know, he talks frequently about the media as being the enemy of the people, about wanting to take away broadcast licenses of news organizations, including ones that I work for, that he does not like. Does that represent a flourishing of democracy? I mean, I’m sure Trump would claim that it is. I’m sure his voters would claim that it is.
But I do not buy that argument that this actually represents a greater participation of the many people within our nation and the many voices within our nation if, in fact, the actual policies that will result mean silencing people both at the polls and in their ability to speak their mind.
BUSSEY: Yeah. We’re going to go to questions in just a minute. But I want to ask Brad one last question. So looking at your numbers, what are the longer-term consequences of that type of trend line—inequality, stagnation? Does it lead to kind of a mindset of, you know, what the hell, I’ve got—I’ve got nothing to lose if I pull this lever or if I don’t pull this lever or if the next president doesn’t let me pull a lever because there’s not a next election? Does it lead to that or does it lead to, in your mind, more engagement democratically—people feeling more need to be part of the process?
DELONG: I would say we really don’t know because it wasn’t this bad before—that it’s never been this bad and the distribution of income continues to get worse. We did have, in the thirty years before the New Deal, a very much whipsaw—the rise of the progressive movement as lot of people, even people for whom America is doing very well, begin to say, wait a minute, this can’t go on. There’s something fundamentally wrong. And so you have Teddy Roosevelt attacking malefactors of great wealth. You have Andrew Carnegie saying he who dies, dies disgraced and that in fact if you leave anything at all to your children you should be ashamed.
But then we have the whipsaw in Harding and Coolidge and the business of America is business and our real problem is we have many—too many of these Italian and Polish and Jewish and other immigrants who really are not white at all and shouldn’t be counted as such. And then the whipsaw back in 1933 with inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt and the decisive decision that wasn’t the way that we’re going to do.
It makes politics unpleasant. It doesn’t guarantee a good outcome, especially—I mean, look, we’ve been tiptoeing around President Trump so far this morning and it’s a really strange situation with a lot of if he were nots. If he were not president, Trump’s family would already have moved for a guardianship ad litem, given the quality of decisions he’s making. If he were not so authoritarian, we would be profoundly sad that someone—hate him, love him, simply be amused by him—has been such an entertaining celebrity who has left such a mark on the city of New York.
And if he were not so deranged we would be in the streets demanding the constitutional order be observed and wondering just what we should do when someone begins taking him seriously and literally when he says that the Washington Post and Catherine here are the enemies of the people, when he says what we really need to do is get rid of the judges and just have the bureaucrats kind of and law and security agencies do their thing.
RAMPELL: Not the deep state, though.
DELONG: It’s not a world—yeah, it’s not a world I ever thought that I would live in in America, I must say.
BUSSEY: Let’s go to questions. Can we start right here—right in the front row?
Q: Yes. One of the basic definitions of democracy is the consent of the governed and the knowledge of civic authority and civic tools and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights known to all, and we haven’t taught a comprehensive civic curriculum since 1980. That’s forty—almost forty years of disconnect between ourselves and what we value. We have no idea what we value anymore.
We have no idea what we stand for anymore. We have no idea if there are any gestures whatsoever that connect us to the nation as opposed to a local community or an identity politics. We ignore this completely, for some strange reason that I have not a clue about, prior to any economic decisions has to be that the people of the United States are educated to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
BUSSEY: So your question is about should we have more civics lessons?
Q: My question is why do you think this has been ignored. This has been the most important subject in America and it has been ignored for forty years.
BUSSEY: John? We’re not teaching enough civics. Is that our problem?
JUDIS: Teaching civics? No. I don’t—you know, again, the Tea Party, which actually did exist—they used to give out Constitutions at rallies—I mean, copies of the Constitution—I don’t know quite—I guess there’s some—where I would sort of reorient your question is towards immigration in the sense of one nation and how important, from my standpoint, it is in order to have a kind of advanced welfare state and the kinds of things that we are talking about now, let’s say—Medicare for anyone or Medicare for all—to recapture this view that we all are one country so that we don’t have this kind of thing that happened with Obamacare where some people think, well, I don’t like it because it’s for somebody else and not us. And what we are suffering from and why immigration, again, I think is such a big issue in 2016 and continues to be is the sense that we aren’t—we aren’t one, and that’s something that we had more of when I was growing up than we have now. So that’s—I’m sort of readjusting your questions.
BUSSEY: Let me—let me—let’s go on. We have other questions.
RAMPELL: So one comment I would have about the Tea Party passing out Constitutions, I think I got mailed at least one of these, by the way, when I was—I think when—probably when I was at the Times—you know, there’s a lot of stated reverence for the Constitution but it’s kind of like a—like almost an abusive relationship. It’s, like, I love you. You’re perfect. Now change, right.
I mean, the Tea Party was talking about the Constitution above all, and yet was calling for constitutional conventions because they thought that some of the core components of the Constitution including birthright citizenship, for example, or the lack of a balanced budget requirement—that those were major deficiencies with the Constitution. So that’s the first point that I would add that, you know, the Constitution does allow, obviously, for mechanisms for changing it. But there’s this sort of love-hate relationship with—like, it is sacred and yet we should change major portions of it.
The other thing I would mention is that there was a really interesting article a couple of days ago in the New York Times about a fight over the civics curriculum in I want to say Minnesota but I don’t—I don’t—was it Minnesota?
DELONG: I don’t remember.
RAMPELL: Michigan. Thank you. Over whether it was proper to call the United States a democracy versus a republic and that this became a very politicized fight for whatever reason. But there were also disagreements over whether the curriculum could mention major portions of American history including the gay rights movement, references to climate change, which is not squarely within the domain of civics, I realize.
But there is, I think, a very lively debate that recurs over how to teach children about how their—about their country’s history and the political underpinnings of how the country should work. Whether we have more or less attention to that I’m not sure is going to solve all the problems that we’re talking about today.
BUSSEY: I saw a question over here. One right over here. Sorry.
Q: Thank you. Niso Abuaf, Pace University.
Professor DeLong actually mentioned the notion of property rights. But property rights are not given by God. They are assigned through the political system. If we go back to the biblical story of Solomon where two mothers present themselves with one child and to whom does the child belong, to the biological mother or to the mother that has taken care of the child, Bertolt Brecht’s response to that is the mother that has taken care of the child.
So it seems to me that the Right will give the property right to the biological mother, the Left to the mother who has taken care of the child, and that’s where the system is going towards. How will this political system assign the property right—the owner or the taker care of—the caretaker?
BUSSEY: Who wants to play Solomon here?
JUDIS: No, not me. I didn’t understand a word of it. (Laughter.)
RAMPELL: I didn’t quite understand the question.
JUDIS: Yeah, let Brad do this. He’ll—(laughs).
RAMPELL: Do you want to take it? (Laughter.)
DELONG: The idea that, you know, that property rights are a convention that we assign each other for some—for social utility in some sense rather than something that is given to us by God, that was indeed the point of what Solomon was doing back there, right—that we always should take a look at how our property is divided and say, is this in fact serving our interests or not.
You go back to the Torah and you find there as one of its institutions is the Year of Jubilee, right—basically, abolish the debts and redistribute the land. And, in fact, when Jesus Christ preaches his first public sermon, he’s reading in the synagogue and he’s given a scroll from the Torah which has this verse about how God has sent me to bring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, and to bring the acceptable year of the Lord or the year of the Lord’s favor.
And, actually, what that means in the original Greek—and we think of the Aramaic behind it—is foreclosure relief, and yet, somehow, that Jesus’ first public sermon involves Jesus saying, God has sent me to bring, among other things, foreclosure relief this day—is this verse fulfilled in your hearing—not something that usually makes it into the American Evangelical view of the world.
BUSSEY: Other questions? Yes, over here, please.
Q: Is this working? OK. Charlie Landow.
Thanks for the discussion. We’ve heard a little about economic discontents from some of you so far. I would imagine, although I could be wrong, that one of the economic discontents among some folks in the country in the last several years has been not only do I not have as much as other people in the country but because of that or related to that I also don’t have as much political influence. So the system is working in favor of the people who have more resources.
To what extent do you think that is true and, if so, what does that say about campaign finance or other types of things that might be helpful to look at in the context of democracy in this era? Thanks.
DELONG: It’s not—it’s not clear to me that pretty much anyone who thought they had a lot of political influence twenty years ago now thinks they have more save, possibly, for Sheldon Adelson and save possibly for our strange modern analog of the Earl of Warwick, kind of Rupert the king maker. But even Rupert—that is, look, the basic—the basic business model of Fox News is there were a lot of people in America whose view of the world was not being validated by any of the major networks and there was a market opportunity here and so Rupert Murdoch pursued this market opportunity. The form in which Roger Ailes and company pursued it basically took the form of scaring the piss out of old people so their eyeballs would stay glued to the screen so they could be sold fake diabetes cures and overpriced gold funds. (Laughter.)
But, you know, it’s not clear to me that even Rupert the king maker thinks he’s in control now if only because of the fact that there are other people willing to play the game more so with other alternative channels.
DELONG: That Fox News tried to go in against Trump and found itself very quickly reversing course in the last election.
BUSSEY: John, does it—if you have more money does—you have more political influence and that’s the destabilizing force here?
JUDIS: It’s an important influence and it’s one of the reasons, oddly, again, that we have so much political activism in the country. You know, the breakdown—after Watergate we had campaign finance reform and that effort, beginning in 1976 with the judicial decision, has just completely broken down. But in response to that, you have things like, you know, what, three of the Democrats now are not accepting donations from political action committees and, again, kind of the Sanders revolution in terms of financing campaigns.
So it is an enormous problem in our society. I mean, we do have something resembling an oligarchy in terms of our campaign finance system and we need a, you know, political revolution if we are going to accomplish certain kinds of things, especially having to do with providing more economic security for our people. So yes, a huge problem but, again, the source of a lot of activism right now in response to it.
RAMPELL: Well, so I would say this—that there is plenty of political science research to suggest that people who are well off their views are much better represented by policymakers or in the actions of policymakers than people who are not. I think Marty Gilens at Princeton has a whole book on this, if I remember correctly.
And to some extent, Trump ran on harnessing their frustration and resentment about that, and there’s a bit of an irony in that he ran saying he was going to represent the forgotten man against this rigged system, and yet with the exception of certain areas including trade, for the most part he has continued to perpetuate the same kinds of policies that that supposedly rigged system that helped the very wealthy was oriented toward.
Like, I can’t imagine that the forgotten man was really agitated for big tax cuts for corporate jets, right, or was really agitated about we really need tax cuts for pass-through corporations or, you know, we really need to repatriate all of this money from abroad so we can have big share buybacks. Like, I don’t think those were the populist issues that Americans cared so much about, and yet, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was—is to date the biggest and, basically, only major legislative achievement that Trump has under his belt.
So he’s a guy who ran against this rigged system, who said, I’m not going to be controlled by these big donors. Remember, at one point, he said he was going to self-finance his campaign and then, of course, he changed his mind quite abruptly. But that was the narrative he ran on. Of course, if you look at his actual record, again, with some exceptions, pretty much he’s still doing the bidding of Sheldon Adelson and Rupert Murdoch and others who were, you know, controlling the purse strings before.
BUSSEY: Other questions? Yes, right back here in the middle.
Q: Hi. Dan Slater, University of Michigan.
So I think as with a lot of these conversations there’s maybe a conflation of the marginal Trump voter from the average Trump voter and we’re focusing a lot on the marginal Trump voter. I’m sort of wondering, given that the average Trump voter was wealthier than the average Clinton voter, how does that fit into our story of economic anxiety decline and the rise of Trump.
JUDIS: I can talk to that a little. Again, if you’re talking about 2016, my back-of-the-envelope breakdown based on, you know, polling—there’s a woman at Cato, Emily Ekins, who’s terrific on this stuff—the core activist Trump voter who cared a lot about his immigration, trade, and stuff, maybe 25 percent of—20 percent of the electorate.
A lot of his vote came from Democrats—I mean, from Republicans who did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton. Again, very traditional Republican base. Or, again, the Evangelicals who were worried about the Supreme Court and issues like that and the promises that Trump had made to him—made to them.
So, again, this core is not that—I don’t think is that large. It’s 20, 25 percent, and in the 2018 election you could see Trump’s problems in terms of the—and the Republicans’ problems because they’re losing some of those voters that voted for him just because they couldn’t stand Hillary. Now they are worried—you know, now they can’t stand him so they’re shifting away to the Democrats.
BUSSEY: Yes, right here.
Q: Thanks very much. Matthias Matthijs—I was on the previous panel—Johns Hopkins.
If we can believe demographers, by 2040 they predict about 70 percent of Americans are going to live in fifteen states and the other 30 (percent) are going to live in thirty-five states. So that’s—is that a problem for American democracy, going forward?
DELONG: It doesn’t have to be a huge problem.
RAMPELL: I don’t have a strong opinion on this. So I’m happy to turn it over to Brad.
DELONG: You might well say that the thirty-five states that will elect seventy senators and yet have a decreasing share of the population, that these are overwhelming communities in states that are being left behind by the economic engine of American world globalizing value chain whatsit and that for a political logic to over represent those people to offset the fact that the economic logic is grossly under representing them might be something that is not totally unfair.
BUSSEY: A bit of a stretch. A bit of a stretch.
DELONG: But this requires—this requires that the senator from Nebraska, say, actually be interested in policies that tend to bring money and wealth into the state of Nebraska rather than the senator from Nebraska cheering the nominations of Herman Caen and Steve Moore to the Federal Reserve Board on the grounds that it owns the establishment.
BUSSEY: So it sounds like—it sounds like, Brad, you’re saying in answer to Matthias’ question, yes, it is a problem?
DELONG: It could well be a problem. If we had normal politics, if we had normal interest group Theodore Lowi polyarchy politics, it could be fine. But if it, indeed, becomes some kind of identity politics in which Ben Sasse wins reelection by owning the libs, in which whoever the current governor of Kentucky is—I forget—wins reelection by taking Medicaid away from his own voters, then it will be a serious problem.
RAMPELL: I think—so I don’t have fully articulated views on this question. But I would say that my inclination is to agree in the—
DELONG: Thank you.
RAMPELL: You’re welcome—(laughter)—in the sense that I think it’s already problematic for a democracy that, as a New Yorker, my vote does not count as much as it did when I lived in Florida, right. Like, why is that the case? We’re currently having a big debate about the future of the Electoral College. I’m not sure I really genuinely believe it’s going to change anytime soon. But this is a major issue in the Democratic Party, partly, maybe, because Democrats have now lost multiple—won multiple popular votes at the presidential level and still lost the Electoral College.
So some of it, you know, may be some bitterness about that. But I do think it’s a fundamental question about democracy. Why is it—why is it that because I don’t live in a swing state my vote doesn’t count? I don’t think that enhances democracy to, basically, tell people in, you know, deep red or deep blue states that their votes don’t matter, which is, effectively, what happens now.
BUSSEY: Yes. Right in the back there.
Q: Thank you. Mark Hannah, the Eurasia Group Foundation.
The political sociologist Michael Mann wrote about the dark side of democracy when one part—one essential element of democracy, namely, majority rule, overtakes the other—respect for sort of minority rights, tolerance, pluralism, and that’s a big fear right now in the Trump era.
I wonder whether there is any concern that you might have for the inverse of that occurring where the respect for—sort of appreciation of tolerance, inclusion, pluralism, all those things, overrides majority rule, to some extent, and I’m thinking about the kind of identity politics happening in my Democratic Party and some of the ways in which the Tea Party seems like a response to the, you know, their voices not being heard or their ideas not being represented by political elites. Thank you.
JUDIS: I didn’t understand the question.
BUSSEY: So are we too focused on identity politics—race, gender, other aspects of identity notably in the Democratic Party—to the exclusion of majority interests?
JUDIS: Well, you know, there’s a political question. I mean, I think that the problem with the Clinton campaign, if we’re going to get into this, in 2016 was that they really did count up—I’m partly responsible for this. Ruy Teixeira and I wrote this book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, and I think people have drawn certain conclusions—you know, you wait for minorities to become the majority and then automatically you’ll have—you’ll win the election.
And the Clinton people really did calculate that there were going to be these X group here and Y group here and if you appeal to all of them you would win, and they did win a popular majority. But they didn’t go to Wisconsin. They didn’t go to—they ignored, again, parts of Michigan that were crucial and they lost the election.
So, you know, our—the test of our elections and successful elections in this country have been who can—who can speak for the, quote, “common man”—the average person—and Trump won that battle in 2016. Again, we can go into this whole election debate at length but I’m not sure if that’s what you want to do.
BUSSEY: Other questions? Yes, right over here. Yes, sir?
BUSSEY: Yes, please.
Q: Bo Cutter is my name.
I’d like to go back to the democratic recession and as the title implied, not the way John thought it might mean. There was a clear tendency in the last panel to talk about democracy and the democratic recession somewhat more in institutional terms and in this panel, particularly Mr. Judis has talked about it a little bit more as a—the capacity for self-expression to flourish, and I’ll grant that that is an aspect of it.
But I’m interested in the panel’s view about what the economic issues, as Brad underlined, the identity issues that may emerge in part from that, as the panels discussed, and then the sort of hyperization of it by our president has implied for the actual institutions of our democracy. What do you think is actually happening?
DELONG: Again, I think you have to separate out—need three different meanings of democracy. And the first one would be Alexis de Tocqueville’s democracy is where everybody can kind of stand on their own two feet and look everyone else in the face—that so and so was not a peasant who’s supposed to put his eyes down because he’s face to face with de Tocqueville—the lord of Tocqueville—about how during the French election of 1849 the villagers of Tocqueville said, you have to be at our head because you’re the lord, and he said, no, no, no, this is a democracy.
And then there’s kind of John’s thing, who has the ability to speak with a megaphone in the public sphere; who can stand up and actually be heard in the public sphere, and then there’s the third—to what degree are the material and ideal interests of the people properly represented and aggregated in the kind of decisions that we collectively make as we govern our own destinies.
And I think that overwhelmingly the first two, right—social inclusion, on the one hand, and the ability to speak on the other—you know, are important and are valid but that the first panel and I think this panel and the next panel, too, really should be devoted to the third, right.
I mean, it was eighty blocks south of here in November 1787 that Alexander Hamilton wrote to the middle class of New York saying the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy produces feelings of horror and disgust. Small intervals of felicity are overwhelmed by the tempestuous waves of sedition and party rage. And that is how the rest of the world looks at us now in the age of Brexit and Trump.
Few among middle classes abroad, certainly, and maybe not that many among middle classes at home think that Anglo-American democracies have it right with respect to this third properly bringing the arguments and interests into the governments. Now, Hamilton and Madison, they had plans. They had plans for republican remedies to the diseases of republican government. It’s pretty clear to me that their plans are running out. We need new plans. What are our new plans going to be?
BUSSEY: Bo, does that answer your question? Does that get to it?
RAMPELL: I have some thoughts on what’s happening to our U.S. institutions. I missed the first panel so I apologize if—
BUSSEY: Please do.
RAMPELL: —if some of this territory was already covered. But I think that we are seeing a systematic hollowing out of our institutions in the name of representing the people and I think, again, in the same sense that I was talking about before—you know, claiming the mantle of democratic flourishing to attack various kinds of out groups—I think you’re seeing the same kind of thing happening with our institutions including the—you know, the judiciary, the Fed right now, which I have a lot to say about.
Not that the Fed is, you know, a high example of democracy. It’s, literally, delegating very important policy decisions to a bunch of technocrats, right. These are not democratically elected officials. But Trump is trying to hollow out the Fed in the name of, you know, of his—of helping the forgotten man or what have you, when in fact what he wants to do is just impose his will upon the Fed in the same way that he wants to impose his will upon the judiciary, upon, you know, various apolitical civil servants.
You know, he’s trying to hollow out the deep state, which has come to mean people who are trying to both undermine the president and, you know, hurt America somehow—that they’re all conspiring against real Americans because these are, like, career civil servants who want to protect the environment or they speak foreign languages or what have you. I mean, there’s been a huge hollowing out of lots of very apolitical jobs.
BUSSEY: But, Catherine, the last panel said—Dan, Matthias, I’m not sure whether it was either of you two—that said that the hallmark of a great democracy is that you don’t let leaders do too much and by that they seem to be suggesting that the rule of law is the ultimate parental supervision. You don’t think that that’s happening here in the United States?
RAMPELL: Say it again.
BUSSEY: You don’t—you don’t think that there are hedges against the president going too far? That our system doesn’t allow our leaders to do too much—it protects the system?
RAMPELL: I think to the extent that Trump has not been able to do a lot of the things that he has said he wanted to do including, you know, bar asylum seekers altogether from seeking asylum, I think that reflects upon the fact that we do have—we still have rule of law. We still have some checks and balances.
That said, it is a constant battle. I mean, Trump is purging his entire DHS right now and a lot of the reporting—which I have not done, to be transparent—but a lot of the reporting that’s come out from my paper and from others has suggested that part of the reason why he’s trying to get rid of all these people is because they have told him, you can’t do X, Y, and Z because it would be against the law, and he’s saying, off with your heads, essentially.
So to what extent—you know, so who’s going to replace this group of people who have now been purged? Are they going to be people who are no longer willing to hold the line and maintain rule of law and say, we’re not going to violate a judge’s order, for example? I don’t know. I think it speaks well of our institutions that they have managed to last throughout Trump’s authoritarian impulses and maintain a check against them. But I am not so confident that if we had four more years of Trump that they would persist.
BUSSEY: I have to be mindful of the time. We’re going to have to make that the last word. Brad, Catherine, John, thank you so much. Join us for coffee. (Applause.)
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