Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Polarization End Game

Myra Adams, who created the John Kerry "windsurfing" ad, looks to the future of her beloved GOP and isn't happy. She writes "Could George W. Bush Be The Last Republican President?" She concludes it's possible because:
  1. Demographics are destiny: Minorities are rising and they all vote Democrat for some reason.
  2. The education system is infested with liberals
  3. The population is ever-increasingly dependent on a handout.
  4. The mainstream media are a buncha communists.
  5. Hollywood is a buncha communists who make it 'cool' to be a communist too.
  6. Unions. Unions EVERYWHERE.
  7. Sexual deviance is mainstream (she says 'non-traditional' ... but read her bio)
  8. Republicans are hated and blamed "for the mess."
  9. A Republican Party that is growing increasingly white, old, Southern, and male, which alienates majorities of younger voters, Hispanics, African Americans, gays, teachers, young professionals, atheists, unmarried women, and even suburban married women. [ I quoted that verbatim ]
  10. The Internet (and social media) is for porn. Also: Democrats.
She concludes that:
President Millard Fillmore who served from 1850–1853 as the last Whig Party President might some day share a historical footnote with George W. Bush as the last presidents elected from their respective parties. That is, if current trends continue.
She maybe kinda sorta has a point ...

Winter Polarization Is Coming
Polarization is on the rise say the numbers. Although the MSM may tell you it's both parties moving to extremes? Really? It's the Republicans.
Don't Pretend You Didn't Know (the Graph is also unreadable)
It's not just our politicians. It's us. And it's stupid. We are getting more prejudiced against "those other guys" and more my-team/your-team than ever before.

What Is Causing This?
To understand "where this all ends up" you have to figure out why it's happening in the first place. If the drivers for extreme polarization are amenable to system-shocks then it stands to reason that the trend may not continue. If everyone's already made up their minds ... Well ... that's a little harder.

Let's see the candidates:

Income Inequality
Our first theory is that the engine driving polarization is income inequality. It makes some sense: if there is an ever-widening income-gap parties would spring up on both sides. While everyone on both sides claims to be the party of the middle class, I think it's clear that the Democrats are identified with poor minorities and the Republicans are identified with ... well ...
Here's the Inequality Graph:
The Takeaway Here Is That Inequality Expands Around 1987
It's Obama ... JUST Obama
Frank Luntz, genius marketer of the right (he turned scary 'global warming' into harmless 'climate change.' He's proud'o that--but right now I bet he wishes he stuck with Global Warming) is unhappy:
It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn't listen to each other as they once had. They weren't interested in hearing other points of view.  ...  Haven't political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? "Not like this," he says. "Not like this."
Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. ... . Having spent his career telling politicians what the people wanted to hear, Luntz now believed the people had been corrupted and were beyond saving. Obama had ruined the electorate, set them at each other's throats, and there was no way to turn back.
Certainly a lot of people think it is Obama, driving his class warfare and divisive racial politics into the American mind. Ginning up a phony War On Women while waging a very real War On Religion. What if he's the dark* genius behind all this discord?

It's The South / Racism
Demographically Republicans are everywhere--but they are nowhere like the South. And you know what else the South is? Racist. That's right--they were the original slavery states. They were ardent Democrats and ... uh ... now the Republicans have ... uh ... anyway. What if it's racial attitudes that are causing these problems with the electorate? What if having a black president has whipped all the closet racists into a frenzy and that's what's driving us apart.
Now You're Cooking With ... Butter!
Big Government / Small Government (Policy)
What if the battle is over the role of government, gun-policy, and so on? What if this is all about spending and the military and stuff like that? Isn't it possible for two grown adults to have legitimate disagreements about which one should pay for the other's health care when the other guy is playing Xbox all day long?

Something Else?

What if it's just the natural way of things and we had a good run but ... hey? The American expiration date ran out? What if it's eeeevil liburals? What if it's space aliens? The Illuminati? Okay--sure it might be. But let's stick with what we can analyze.

The End Game
The truth is that the polarization is a combination of factors. It looks like this:
  • Income Inequality: A symptom of a perfect storm of bank-deregulation, culturally enabled credit habits, predatory lending (and aided and abetted by the financial services sector), and wage stagnation (aided and abetted by relentless increases in automation and technology-driven productivity) have created a widening gap in wealth levels. As America moves from a three-tiered society to a two-tiered one, the drawing of some kind of battle-line is inevitable.
  • The fault-line for battle-zones--the weakest-link or the "first part to break"--is along tribalist / racial lines. Racial issues (which I'll distinct, slightly, from outright KKK-style racism) has been a political reality in America since the creation of the Constitution. It was articulated with the launch of the 'Southern Strategy.' Racial perceptions correlate with (some) regional voting patterns. The divisions of the Civil War have not gone away. When pressure is put on a demographic, Us-vs.-Them breaks first. Racial animus is the first and most visible crack. NOTE: Whether "The Republicans / Democrats are racist / the-real-racists" is a separate issue from this observation. The point here is that where racial tensions exist we will see them 'flare up' or 'become part of the conversation' when pressure exists.
  • Barack Obama's policies (we'll get to those in a moment) are secondary to the fact that, iconographically, he is a black man. This doesn't mean "everyone who hates him does so because he is black." It means that he is more-divisive-than-he'd-otherwise-be as his blackness plays into the fault-line of racial tensions. Anyone who thinks that a white male president doing exactly the same things would be "as divisive" across the great swath of America that finds him divisive and with the same emotional energy in the division is desperately lying to themselves.
  • His polices provide grist for the mill. Exactly which of his polices are divisive (ooh! Ohh! I know--the Drone War: the Left hates that ... AMIRITE?) can be a matter of discussion. What's unquestionably true is two things: (a) his polices are used as the excuse / talking point for the division conversation (he's a-grabbin' arh guns!) and (b) almost no human being in existence has the emotional investment in policy to get truly het-up about [ Whatever people are het up about ]. In other words, the policy and the carefully crafted talking points and framing around them ('Drone Murder'), are used as a tool to prey on your emotional weaknesses by giving you permission to be upset without having to resort to actual (often baser) human emotions. Okay, well, not you. Your objections to Obama are fully logical, unemotional, and principled. But that's only you. Everyone else is an emotionally driven human animal with a thin veneer of logic scattered atop that.
No One Else But You Is Seeing This Picture
So these things feed each other.

What's the end-state? The end-state is Sweden. Eventually, as America divides into two different categories of people: the wealthy (either by financial manipulation or by the possession of increasingly rare special, valuable skills) and everyone else (the service industry which will become less and less relevant, non-producing skills, etc.) the role of the government will be to prevent chaos. This will mean larger welfare nets, increased social services, and so on.

It'll mean a fundamental change in the American perception of citizenship and the work ethic. This will make a lot of people very, very angry--but they will mostly be older and will eventually die off as government panels deny them critical health care.

There will be attempts to create the America of old--either through secession (watch what happens in 2 decades as Texas goes Blue-Purple), subterfuge (expect several 'Gulches' to spring up running on rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, and AR-15s, and local legislation). Succession will never succeed. Local legislation will create bizarre across-the-state-line laws where adults are jailed for cyber-sex activities that, really, would turn your hair white in one zipcode and elected to state office one county-line over. Most of the enclaves will go the way of Biosphere 2. A few will soldier on waiting, hoping, and quietly praying for TEOTWAWKI.

If The End Of The World As We Know It ever does come though, these remaining enclaves will gun down the tired, huddled masses (of Takers) trying to get in and steal their stuff. See who's laughing then, smart ass. I got my Eagle Gold certificates right here.

Once the inequality pressure comes off (but not the underlying inequality) and Obama is out of office (expect lilly-white Presidents until the 2030's at least) things will simmer down as the emotional engine will have been set to 'idle.' Americans will get back hating each other over sports teams and microscopic religious factionalization. In other words? The good-old-days.

* OMG, He Went There. DOG WHISTLE!


  1. Good post, and agree that it's a combo of items. While this might mean the end of the "Republican" party, I think coupled with other trends (Internet of _Everything_, resulting identity/privacy/security issues, future of (no) work, etc.) we will see a shift in the orientation of political parties. Today, the main organizing principle is "the proper role of government" in citizens lives. What would it mean for politics if this shifts to "the proper role of technology" in our lives? The Rand Paul Libertarian/tin foil hat crowd becomes ascendant? Democrats become more and more populist and fight for "human" rights over technology? Republicans become the party of the ultra wealthy and move to Elysium? Interesting times...

    1. I think it's more about the emotional resonance than the organizing principle. If the emotional issues change from fear / anger to something else (exuberance of the late 80s?) we'll see politics change.

      People don't like the surveillance state--but they like terrorists a lot less. We may see party issues around privacy but I'm not sure if that'll ever be the issue jobs are, for example.

      I do think that we'll see both parties grapple with long-term unemployment in the near future. I expect that within a decade the work-scape will look quite different and the politics of that will be painful.

      That reminds me: I should do the Politics of Elysium ...

      --The Omnivore

  2. Although I'm not a Republican, I wanted to hate you for some of this....but you actually have some good points, lol. (shrug)

    Do you foresee a more productive America in the next couple of years?

    - N

    1. I will strive to be more hate-able. I feel I have under-performed here.

      As to "productive" it depends on what you mean. If you mean actual economic productivity? The graph has gone ever-upwards (unstopped by recession, high unemployment, and bursting bubbles). So, yes--America will get ever more 'productive' as automation and improved supply-chain techniques drive it.

      If you mean "Congress passes legislation you like" I don't think 2 years is going to change anything there. Even if the GOP holds both the House and the Senate after 2014 Obama will still be president and nothing we see now bodes well for a super-majority in 2016 (in fact, the opposite: 2010 was so good for the R's that many of them will be up in 2016 and it'll be hard to hold everything).

      The Omnivore suspects that both immigration and the debt ceiling will present additional feet both to stick in their mouths and open fire on (2nd Amendment Rights!) for 2014 despite having a excellent and well-deserved lead today.

      Let me know which parts of the article you wanted to hate me for: I *must* know!

  3. First, let me say this is as well thought-out and poignient a piece as I've seen on this subject. Some thoughts:
    1) The internet is also for kitten pictures. SOOOOOO adorable.
    2) I am running on the Whig ticket in '16. Service and Solutions!
    3) Without getting all Krugman and junk, the hands on the regulatory tiller are rich people rigging the game to not just stay rich, but ensure a future plutocracy veiled in the Constitution.
    4) The 1% and the GOP are inextricably linked, and this created and will create the Dem executive branch and - likely - Senate (since they are actual populist elections, to the degree the constitution allows), the GOP HoR with virtually intractible gerrymandered districts, and gridlock for the foreseeable future.
    5) The demographics of the South are decidedly GOP, but let's not forget the very real and looming diabetes epidemic lays almost precisely on the same map.
    6) There is much gnashing of teeth and grouching about jobs "gone overseas" which is true to a degree, but the reality is: they went to a machine. Machines overseas took them, and we can get back machine-based labor jobs, but they are a fraction of the economic underpinnings we once enjoyed. The service class is huge, poor and will continue to swallow large portions of the populace.
    7) So, yeah, Elysium.