After Science and Democracy, Perhaps the World is Regressing to a Mean

  • Latest examples of Republican values: letting migrants in Texas drown; and how Trump wants his followers in Iowa to vote even if it costs them their lives;
  • How Trump voters prefer a strongman, never mind democracy and law and order; and how this may be a regression to the mean, in world history;
  • How Trump’s “lost cause” is a kind of gangster cult; and yet, despite the evidence of human psychology, writers keep dreaming of rationalist, democratic utopias.

Latest on Republican values.

Joe.My.God, 14 Jan 2024, from The Texas Tribune: Texas State Troopers “Physically Barred” Border Patrol Agents Trying To Rescue Drowning Migrant Children


Yesterday Heather Cox Richardson expanded upon this: January 13, 2024

Last night a woman and two children drowned in the Rio Grande that marks the border between the U.S. and Mexico near Eagle Pass, Texas.

U.S. Border Patrol agents knew that a group of six migrants were in distress in the river but could not try to save them, as they normally would, because troops from the Texas National Guard and the Texas Military Department prevented the Border Patrol agents from entering the area where they were struggling: Shelby Park, a 47-acre public park that offers access to a frequently traveled part of the river and is a place where Border Patrol agents often encounter migrants crossing the border illegally.

They could not enter because two days ago, on Thursday, Texas governor Greg Abbott sent armed Texas National Guard soldiers and soldiers from the Texas Military Department to take control of Shelby Park. Rolando Salinas, the mayor of Eagle Pass, posted a video on Facebook showing the troops and saying that a state official had told him that state troops were taking “full control” over Shelby Park “indefinitely.” Salinas made it clear that “[t]his is not something that we wanted. This is not something that we asked for as a city.”

The Texas forces have denied United States Border Patrol officials entry into the park to perform their duties, asserting that Texas officials have power over U.S. officials.


What about Trump and the frigid temps in Iowa today?

Boing Boing, Carla Sinclair, 15 Jan 2024: Trump tells Iowa voters to face life-threatening weather today — it’s “worth it,” even if you “pass away”

Iowa is facing “life threatening cold weather” today. But Donald Trump told Iowans to drink the Kool-Aid. In other words, they should brave the historic cold weather — minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the state — to caucus for him, even if it kills them.

Individuals are expendable, he’s saying, as long as the tribe wins.


NY Times, Opinion by Zeynep Tufekci, 14 Jan 2024: A Strongman President? These Voters Crave It.

Something matters more to Trump voters than democracy or rule of law.

“You want someone strong, globally, so that it creates mutual respect with other countries, and maybe a little bit of fear,” she told me. “Yes, it’s true, not everyone likes him. It’s good not to be liked. Being strong is better.” Sharp readily conceded that not everything Trump said was great, but she saw that as part of the right personality to be president. “You gotta be a little crazy, maybe, to make sure other countries respect and fear us,” she said. “And he can run the country like a business, and they will leave him alone.”

Three days later, inside a Trump rally in New Hampshire, Scott Bobbitt and his wife, Heather, also brought up Trump’s strength. “He commands respect and fear around the world,” Scott Bobbitt told me. “Many people may be driven by fear of him because he’ll do what he says he’s going to do, and he’s not afraid to talk about it. And I think that that’s very powerful. That does protect our country, and he’ll stand up instead of rolling over.”

My impression is that other countries think Trump is an ignorant buffoon, and downright dangerous, and commands no respect at all — only anxiety about what crazy thing he’ll do next. But Trump supporters, I suspect, live in a different world.

The writer wonders, like me,

What I wanted to understand was, why? Why Trump? Even if these voters were unhappy with President Biden, why not a less polarizing Republican, one without indictments and all that dictator talk? Why does Trump have so much enduring appeal?

One recurring theme is that people thought the economy was better under Trump. Have they forgotten about the pandemic? That’s what Biden put up with as he came into office, and all the data suggests the economy has recovered remarkably. All Trump did was pass tax cuts for the wealthy.

But mostly this is about motivated thinking: coming to a conclusion (reached on emotional, not rational, grounds), and explaining away (by cherry-picking) counter-evidence. The essay ends:

It’s easy to see why Trump’s political message can override concerns about the process of democracy for many. What’s a bit of due process overstepped here, a trampled emoluments clause there, when all politicians are believed to be corrupt and fractured information sources pump very different messages about reality?

Politicians projecting strength at the expense of the rules of liberal democracy isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States, or the world. Thomas Jefferson worried about it. So did Plato. Perhaps acknowledging that Trump’s appeal isn’t that mysterious can help people grapple with its power.

I have to suppose that at no time in history, even when dominated by leaders we regard in retrospect as abominable, that many, even most, people at the time didn’t think things were going just fine. Put another way, as I did a couple posts ago, the ideals of rationalism and science, democracy and rule of law, have only ever appealed to a minority.

This could be considered regression toward the mean. The Enlightenment, America’s experiment with democracy, may well be outliers in world history. Temporary circumstances.


LA Times, David W. Blight, 14 Jan 2024: Opinion: Trump’s ‘lost cause,’ a kind of gangster cult, won’t go away

The writer (a professor of history at Yale) reviews the events of Jan. 6, 2021. “For the next four to five hours, in the most recorded event in American history, the world watched as a new ‘lost cause’ was born in violence and spectacular lies.” And then reviews previous lost causes.

Three big lost causes have plagued world and American history. Following their bloody defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the French exhibited an intergenerational cultural need to avenge the loss. Then, following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the Nazis gained traction by blaming Jews and leftists, who were depicted as “poisons” in the blood of the body politic. And then, of course, there was the American South after the Civil War, when the narrative of the Confederate “lost cause” yielded a potent brew of twisted history and white supremacist ideology.

With some description of the Confederate “lost cause.” Then:

To be sustained as public propaganda, lost causes need a pure narrative with clearly identified villains and heroes. Sometimes, they are havens of sick souls; other times, they are the means to power for a disciplined political movement. Trump’s “lost cause,” now newly virulent as he campaigns for a second term despite multiple indictments, draws on a menu of grievances among the disaffected, energizing those who believe that a “diversity”-obsessed multicultural America has veered out of control, especially in relation to immigration at the Mexican border.

Some are also staunch believers in conspiracy theories about “fraud” allegedly committed in the 2020 election as well as other dark notions of leftist machinations in American universities, on school boards, and in the Democratic Party. Unlike the Confederate Lost Cause, the Trump version is a kind of gangster cult, full of rituals of loyalty to a single man and his plans to fashion an authoritarian U.S. government that will use executive power to achieve his followers’ preferences.

Trump’s “lost cause” also has its martyrs, including the hundreds of convicted insurrectionists — known in the movement, and by Republican politicians such as Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), as “hostages” — who are now in prison. Above all, it peddles a model of politics and society according to which facts and evidence are irrelevant. At Trump rallies, constitutionalism is for losers, history is little more than a useful weapon, and American civics is deployed as entertainment to indulge hatred of liberalism, representative democracy and — in many cases — nonwhite America. The Trump “lost cause” is thus a platform, one that the Republican Party has adopted to convert these stories and lies into votes. Win or lose, it will not die.

Again, these are trends in world history driven by human psychology, and I can’t help but imagine they will never go away. The rationalist, democratic utopias some science fiction writers have imagined will likely never come to pass. But the fact that writers keep telling stories about rationalist, democratic utopias is… *very significant*… as an example of the aspirations of human psychology.

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