Links and Comments: Election Reform; Social Change; Insurrectionist Victimhood; Republican Entitlement

NYT Sunday Review, Beverly Gage and Emily Bazelon: How to Ensure This Never Happens Again, subtitled “The election and its aftermath have revealed weaknesses in our democracy. Here’s how we can fix some of them.”

The article reviews how we got here, and then lists specific suggestions.

  • Fix the electoral college process [i.e. make corrections to the existing process]
  • Establish national best practices for voting and election security
  • Register voters automatically
  • Turn D.C. and Puerto Rico into states
  • End gerrymandering
  • Make People Vote
  • Shorten the Transition
  • Eliminate the Electoral College

At least two of these, ending gerrymandering and the electoral college, are key points of Ezra Klein in his book Why We’re Polarized. Of course, these are not new ideas, and they are predictably opposed by Republicans — you’d think they are not interested in fairness of voting, but in currying favor to their shrinking base of, among others, white supremacists and religious fundamentalists, at the behest of billionaires like Sheldon Adelson (who died yesterday) who count on Republicans for tax cuts and deregulation. (That’s my potted summary of Republican politics; it plays to two different constituencies.)


In fact, here’s Ezra Klein right here! NYT: Trump Has Always Been a Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing, subtitled “By enabling the president anyway, Republican elites helped make the storming of the Capitol possible.”

It begins by recalling a 2016 article that

complained that the press took Trump “literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

Then walks us through various examples of Trump lying to his base (that the election had been stolen; that Pence could fix it all by himself), and concludes

The problem isn’t those who took Trump at his word from the start. It’s the many, many elected Republicans who took him neither seriously nor literally, but cynically. They have brought this upon themselves — and us.


On a broader issue, here’s NYT columnist David Brooks, who likes to think about the big issues (though in a deeply conservative way, always bemoaning the loss of a better past): 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This, subtitled “Our current model of social change isn’t working.”

His point is the familiar one that you can’t argue, or train, someone into changing their thinking. “It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.” With examples of racial bias training, that turn out not to do much good. So what does work?

People change when they are put in new environments, in permanent relationship with diverse groups of people. Their embodied minds adapt to the environments in a million different ways we will never understand or be able to plan. Decades ago, the social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote about the contact hypothesis, that doing life together with people of other groups can reduce prejudice and change minds. It’s how new emotional bonds are formed, how new conceptions of who is “us” and who is “them” come into being.

This seems plausible to me.


The Atlantic, David A. Graham: The Insurrectionists Would Like You to Know That They’re the Real Victims, subtitled “The perpetrators of the assault on the Capitol and their sympathizers in the media and Congress lost little time in claiming the mantle of victimhood.”

History is rewritten by the self-styled victims.

Even after more than four years of rationalizing and excusing every violation by the president, Donald Trump’s enablers have their work cut out for them this week, after a mob incited by Trump sacked the U.S. Capitol, disrupted constitutional order, and killed a police officer. But, undeterred, they are still energetically devoted to the task.

The more common argument on the mainstream Trump-friendly right is simpler: It contends that what happened wasn’t so bad, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. The real victims, it turns out, are Trump and his supporters.

Cue Marco Rubio.


NYT: Trump’s Legacy: Voters Who Reject Democracy and Any Politics but Their Own, subtitled “The mob attack on the Capitol, and interviews with Trump voters this week, show that the president’s subversion of democratic values will have enduring influence within the Republican Party.”

Interviews with Trump supporters, with the recurrent theme that Republicans think only they deserve to win and if they don’t, it must be fraud.

For these voters, the lack of allegiance to small “d” democratic values seemed to stem, in part, from the shift among many Republicans to imbibing information from sources that offer propaganda rather than news and facts. The share of Republicans who trust the mass media has plunged in the Trump years to 10 percent, according to Gallup. A majority of Republicans believe Mr. Trump was robbed of the election.

Mr. Hoyt praised The Epoch Times, a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation, because “they just give you the facts of what’s happening.” For Ms. Grossi, One America News Network, the far-right channel that spreads conspiracy theories, is the only information source she trusts. She also follows QAnon, the baseless conspiracy movement that links top Democrats to child sex trafficking.

So here’s another notion that the internet is a big part of the problem, because it allows, even encourages, people to live in silos or echo chambers with others of similar views; there’s no larger consensus reality.

I wonder if another part of the reason is that, before the internet, many people simply didn’t pay attention to the news at all (the way I did growing up, reading the newspaper and watching the evening network news every day, reading a weekly magazine every week). And now that the internet is in everyone’s pocket, and social media sites becoming ubiquitous, news, which gets highly selected for them, filters onto the sites whether they ask for it or not… in ways that reinforce their biases.

And as for the apocalyptic predictions of Trump voters fearing Biden’s win: when none of those things happen (confiscation of guns, outlawing the Bible, yadda yadda), what will they do?


Washington Post: This is what it looks like when the mob turns on you.

The mob looks like America. Because it is America.

I don’t think there’s anything special, or especially corrosive, about Americans. This is a reflection of human nature, across all times and cultures. Democracy tries to counter this authoritarian mob-rules, but has had only partial success.

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