Jonathan Swift explains the latest presidential debate

Summary: Rather than I add to the countless and pointless commentaries on the debate, here is a note from Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest political observers the West has ever produced. The politics of early 18th century Britain were much like ours. He describes our process for electing presidents — which produced our two weak candidates — better than anything I have seen in Campaign 2016.

Gulliver's Travels
Available at Amazon.


Across the gulf of three centuries, Jonathan Swift’s insights still provide us with a clear perspective on America.  His observations, cloaked in metaphor, can help us understand the mess we have made of our elections.  This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Gulliver’s Travels, A Voyage to Lilliput. Here Gulliver learns how they choose the King’s officers and advisers.

Is it so different than the 18+ month ordeal to which we subject our candidates for the presidency? Is the obstacle course we require any more rational?


“The Lilliputians, being of a civilization less advanced than our own, accept this bizarre selection method as normal.  This is their way, justified by tradition and that it has not utterly failed (yet).

“I was diverted with none so much as that of the Rope-Dancers, performed upon a slender white Thread, extended about two Foot and twelve Inches from the Ground. Upon which I shall desire liberty, with the Reader’s Patience, to enlarge a little. This Diversion is only practiced by those Persons who are Candidates for great Employments and high Favour, at Court. They are trained in this Art from their Youth, and are not always of noble Birth, or liberal Education.

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An anthropologist looks at Brexit: The World Changed Overnight

Summary: Anthropologist Maximilian Forte looks at aspects of Brexit seldom mentioned by the news media, and its long-term significance (beyond the immediate tantrums by institutional investors and traders). This is a follow-up to yesterday’s Brexit was logical, neither racist nor irrational.

EU flag burned


The World Changed Overnight

By Maximilian C. Forte
From Zero Anthropology
Posted with his generous permission.

The European Union is now to be written as a postscript. Thanks to British voters, who were given an extremely rare chance to have a say on one of the biggest issues affecting their lives, who were allowed a rare vote on the fate of globalization and neoliberal practice, we are treated to the celebration of a world where sovereignty still matters. Far from a thing of the past, self-determination will now remake the world of the immediate future. The stern advice, dire warnings, commanding lectures, and even threats offered by a plethora of financial elites, economists, a whole range of academic experts and European and US political leaders, came to naught.

When it comes to taking back local control, for citizens to decide on which systems should be allowed to determine their life chances, when it comes to self-determination the UK has now gone to the front of the queue.

The status quo is the status quit. The key words are: out, leave, exit. Globalization’s tense is increasingly becoming past tense.

Convention has been up ended, and what was deemed unlikely, even impossible, just a few short months ago has instead come to pass. Elites, experts, commanders, and opinion-shapers of the ruling strata have all failed. They have been rejected. What was presumed to be inevitable about a global future, has now been proven false. The distrust and disdain of disillusioned voters, long sold false promises and told to suck it up when bitter reality struck, has finally taken the form of a decisive counter punch.

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Brexit was logical, neither racist nor irrational

Summary: The campaign against Brexit featured fantastic predictions of doom (but seldom with much supporting fact or logic) and assertions that it was racist and irrational. Europe’s elites resorted to these barrages of fear for good reason: the EU does so much for them. Here’s a look at the costs to Europe’s people, which journalists seldom report.

“Simple Brexit lesson: When people are pissed off about mass immigration address their concerns — don’t call them racists.”
Mickey Kaus (conservative gadfly).

The voice of the ruling elites in the US & EU, united.
But too much of a good thing is disruptive.

Obama on Immigration

Will Brexit begin the End Times? While the result will not be a box of candy for Europe, I doubt the results will match the hysterical anti-Brexit propaganda of UK (& US) elites. But the responses of most journalists and columnists, as usual, faithfully parrot the establishment’s views.

“With a single vote, England just screwed us all. …The result is that we are now entering a world in retreat from progress…”
— Felix Salmon (financial journalist), boldly speaking for UK and US elites. He lividly fantasizes about the horrors in the future if we dare to disobey.

Slate’s headlines today provided a full suite of elitist anti-democratic advocacy. Elections & courts are good only when they endorse elite opinion! This is the dumbest (as if investors are the global economy, and their happiness is the top goal of public policy: “The Brexit Just Gave Us Global Financial Turmoil, Just as “Remain” Supporters Warned” by Henry Grabar (a hysterical reaction to one day’s market action — which wasn’t extraordinary).

A close second is “Old England’s Overthrow” by Gabriel Roth — “The doughty British establishment conspired with voters to bring about its own destruction.” Any bets on UK elites still in the saddle next month? Next year? In 20 years?

Seldom mentioned in the news were calculations of Brexit that contradicted the narrative of doom. For example, in Au Revoir, Europe: What if Britain left the EU? David Charter (a Times journalist) reported that if the UK and EU negotiated a bilateral trade treaty (likely, the medium-term effects would be small. Despite the confident predictions of certain catastrophe, the overall effect depends on the speed of the Brexit and how the UK and EU implement it.

Massive immigration is a box of candy for a nation’s elites. It forces wages down (supply and demand). It boosts aggregate economic growth, although not necessarily per capita growth (nor does it usually “trickle down” to the average Jane and Joe). The combination of these two factors boosts profits. If done on a large scale, it can destabilize a society — making organization against its elites less likely (e.g., unions).

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Stratfor: The Refugee Crisis Redefines German Politics. It could get ugly.

Summary: Stratfor looks at this week’s regional elections in Germany. Much of the value of Stratfor’s analysis is their top-down analysis provides a window into the thinking of the West’s ruling elites (essentially their clients). Stratfor’s analysis suggests that German’s leaders remain delusionally complacent about the rising anger at their open borders policy and its resulting flood of immigrants. This suggests a great future for Germany’s far Right parties. Bet on increased social and political turmoil in Europe.


The Refugee Crisis Redefines German Politics
Stratfor, 14 March 2016


In Germany’s March 13 regional elections, voters revealed their disenchantment with mainstream parties. The elections, held in three of the country’s 16 regions, resulted in a record performance by the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and waning support for most of the traditional political forces. Since taking over the government more than a decade ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not faced a bigger challenge than the refugee crisis. Within six months of its start, the crisis considerably strengthened the anti-immigration opposition, divided the ruling coalition and weakened Berlin’s role in the European Union.


The election results suggest that some German voters are fed up with their leaders. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won in only one of the regions (Saxony-Anhalt) but with fewer votes than in the last round of elections held four years ago. The CDU’s campaign was marked by contradiction and internal conflict as some of its candidates criticized Merkel’s refugee policy. The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) also won in one region (Rhineland-Palatinate) but was relegated to fourth place in the other two. Finally, the Greens managed to win a region (Baden-Wurttemberg) but saw negligible results in Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Conversely, AfD {Alternative for Deutschland} performed well in all three regions. The party traditionally has been strongest in eastern Germany, where unemployment rates are higher and nationalist parties tend to be relatively popular. The March 13 elections confirmed this trend as AfD received 24.2 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, only 5 points fewer than the CDU. But AfD also saw record performances in Baden-Wurttemberg, with 15.1 percent of the vote, and in Rhineland-Palatinate, with 12.6 percent. The party’s success there is an important development because it shows AfD has managed to expand its presence beyond its traditional strongholds in the east.

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Stratfor: Iran’s Hard-Liners lose the election. Big changes ahead.

Summary: We tend to see the complex politics of America but assume Iran’s mullahs rule a tyranny. Last week’s elections prove otherwise. Here Stratfor describes Iran’s politics and the election’s results. The new leadership team will have to sail through these troubled waters. Iran’s fragile economy is under incredible pressure from the collapse of oil prices — while the military struggle continues for dominance in the region and the agreement with Obama gives Iran new opportunities.


In Iran, a Fragile Coalition Defeats the Hard-Liners

Stratfor, 1 March 2016


Over the weekend, 33 million Iranians went to the polls to vote in historic dual elections, and the results suggest that an important change is underway in Iranian politics. According to the latest reports, the country’s parliamentary elections yielded a rough three-way split among reformists, moderate conservatives and hard-liners. Of the 285 seats up for grabs, 70 will be contested in a runoff vote in April. Meanwhile, the Assembly of Experts elections resulted in a landslide victory for allies of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as moderate politicians walked away with 15 of Tehran’s 16 district seats.

For Iran’s hard-liners, these results are discouraging. Hard-line politicians lost ground in both the parliament and the Assembly of Experts. Moreover, substantial wins by reformists and pragmatic conservatives in both elections suggest that moderate candidates’ strategy of cooperating across the ideological spectrum has proved successful. But with no guarantee that unity among Iran’s moderate factions will hold once the final votes have been tallied, the outcome says more about what Iranian voters want than about what the newly elected bodies can actually deliver.


While Iran’s Interior Ministry has yet to release the official voter turnout, it is no surprise that many polling locations had to extend their hours to accommodate long lines of voters in this round of elections. Iran’s reformist factions, which comprise secular and Islamist politicians promising to adapt to an ever-changing world, typically capture many votes, especially in urban areas. However, these factions boycotted elections in 2004 and 2008 in response to the clerical Guardian Council’s disqualification of hundreds of their peers from the elections. As a result, voter turnout was much lower in both years than it was on Feb. 26.

In the face of potential disqualification and tight controls by the highly conservative Guardian and Expediency councils, Iranian politicians tend to form coalitions and secure endorsements before the elections are held to try to ensure seats. However, these marriages of convenience do not always hold up once the vote is over. Before the reformist-moderate coalition can be considered a newly cemented political force that will lead Iran toward pragmatic change, it is important to consider the issues dividing it and the challenges that lie ahead for the country as a whole.

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Populism carries Trump to the nomination. He’s completed 1 of 4 steps to victory.

Summary: With Trump leading in polls for most of the coming primaries, let’s review his success in the four keys to winning in November. Equally important is the reaction of Democrats to his success, and what it tells us about the potential for a new broad coalition (like the New Deal) that can defeat the 1%.

The New Deal is as dead as FDR. But a new coalition can be built for the 21st C.

New Deal Button

On January 7 I listed four keys to a possible Trump victory.

  1. Build political organization that gets votes — Done.
  2. Craft a message that appeals to majority of Americans.
  3. Strike a deal with America’s ruling elites. Now they see Trump as a disruptor of a political game that they own. But Trump is both one of them (2nd generation) and a consummate deal-maker (his big book is The Art of the Deal). The necessary alliances will come easily if he wins the nomination.
  4. Luck, such as a recession in mid-year, which could easily happen.

Trump has completed the first task (as I expected). Now he’s working on the second, to more effectively tap the resurgent populism that catapulted him to the top of the GOP.

CNN says that “Trump has hammered Wall Street in recent speeches, wants to raise taxes on the rich and has embraced policies that will hurt many multinational companies.” Michael Tesler (Asst professor of political science, UC Irvine) describes the results as showing “economically progressive positions, combined with Trump’s harsh rhetoric about minority groups, seem to have created a powerful populist coalition that has made Trump the front-runner…”

Polls show the result: broad appeal among Republicans and independents. Even the good liberals at Slate have noticed (“Think Hillary Clinton Will Crush Donald Trump in the General Election? Don’t Be So Sure“). RAND’s Presidential Election Panel Survey (PEPS) shows his success. Slowly our political gurus see this. Bernie Becker in Politico writes about “Trump’s 6 populist positions“. Even more insightful is Jonathon Chait in NY Magazine

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Why the Left is missing the rising populist movement

Summary: While journalists mindlessly cover Campaign 2016 (playing Trivia Pursuit, Gotcha, and “who’s on first”), the structure of American politics might be shifting. This series explores how and why. This post looks at the Left, so far the big loser in this transition, and what this means for the shape of the rising populist movement.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Seeing the future
Ron Chapple/Getty Images.


To understand a key aspect of Campaign 2016, Compare the issues of Trump with those of the Left. The major issues of Trump, who we’re told is a crazy right-wing extremist, are (from his website)…

  • Tax Reform,
  • Immigration Reforms,
  • US-China trade reform,
  • Second Amendment Rights,
  • Veterans Administration reforms.

These are all mainstream center-right policies. What are the issues that excite the Left, that distinguish them from the center, as seen in the headlines? Here are a few of them…

These are not issues that build a majority political coalition. No wonder so many politicians in the Democratic Party have fled to the center and center-right — as Obama and Hillary have. The Left’s obsession with fringe issues has helped unbalance our politics, tilting them to the right.

The left has popular and potentially powerful issues. Fighting to preserve social security. Fighting to stop our overseas wars (except that many on the left love overseas wars; our “Responsibility To Protect“). Fighting to stop rising inequality (although the left has few specific effective policy proposals). None are very radical. All have deep roots in US history,  appear in Sanders’ platform (to varying degrees; he’s supported most of our recent wars), and are the key to a possible progressive-populist alliance that could reshape America.

Most interestingly, Trump agrees with all of these (also to varying degrees) — and is moving towards greater emphasis on populist themes. National Review, a defender of conservative orthodoxy, has worried about this since Trump began to rise in August: “Sanders and Trump: Two Populist Peas in a Pod?“, and followed this with similar whines in December and last week. This week the commentariat suddenly saw Trump’s populist appeal, producing articles by Jonathan Chait, Bernie Becker in Politico, and in the NYT.

"Change" signal


The very ground is moving in US politics. A few, such as Sanders and Trump, are homesteading this new political terrain. A movement to either or both candidates could redraw the coalitions that have run America for a century. The Left can watch this from the sidelines, or join. If they do not, the resurgent populist movement will have a decisively conservative character.

We can only guess how this transitional period will end. It’s too early to break out either sackcloth or champagne. It’s an opportunity for each of us to cast aside our preconceptions, try to see events clearly, and get involved to shape them so that they turn out well for America.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For ideas about what you can do see Reforming America: steps to new politics. See these posts about Campaign 2016 and especially these about why the left loses…

  1. Why liberals lose: weak strategy — by Chet Richards.
  2. Why the Left loses: incompetent marketing.
  3. Why the Left loses: we see their vision of a new America,
  4. Krugman shows us why the Left loses, despite its advantages.
  5. Look to the Left to see the force powering Trump.
  6. New York shows how Democrat-run cities & states contribute to the rise of Trump.