Thursday, 15 December 2016

Three Wise Memos

In 2016, millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic, to make their lives better, chose to throw in their lot with con merchants who will make them even worse off than before. The disastrous consequences will hurt everyone else too. So what lessons are we to draw from this year of calamity?

Memo 1: Focus on Jobs

People are, above all, worried about not having a proper job. With stagnant pay, zero-hour contracts, redundancy threats becoming more prevalent, they are not sure if they can make ends meet. Public support is being cut back everywhere, and the private sector relentlessly charges higher rent, insurance, and fees.

Con merchants tell people that it is the fault of immigrants; that if immigration is drastically cut, there will be more jobs available. But not only do immigrants pay taxes and make purchases, and thus boost the overall economy to create more jobs, the precarious state facing so many workers is actually caused by the con merchants and their rich friends, who want to profit more from squeezing out labour costs. Decent jobs are hard to come by because production is moved abroad, automation becomes more widespread, and more work is demanded for fewer paid hours.

A new model for jobs and earnings has to be formulated, otherwise there will be few people left with enough money to buy the things machines made, and the economic system will indeed collapse. The alternative has to combine a guarantee of basic income for all (linked to a recognition of valuable work, such as caring for, mentoring, guiding, and supporting others in one’s family and the wider community); the democratisation of remuneration for everyone engaged in an enterprise; and the restoration of licences to operate for corporations (to set limits on corporate anti-social behaviour).

Memo 2: Mobilise Support

The media would have us believe a revolution is sweeping across the world. But the battles to stop political con merchants have been won or lost on the narrowest of margins for decades, and nothing much has changed on that front. The marginal seats (UK) and swing states (US) still tip the delicate balance one way or the other.

With around a third (it fluctuates between 30%-35%) of eligible voters tending not to vote, most contests are fought largely over the remaining two-thirds of voters, who are broadly split between those who are easy prey for the con merchants and those who see through them. This means that until the con can be more widely exposed (which is an important long term project), the immediate challenge is to mobilise those on the anti-con side to turn out to vote. And to do that, you need a charismatic leader who can inspire, a policy vision that can tackle job insecurity, and an outreach programme that will get your potential supporters out to vote.

We should remember that Hillary Clinton got 300,000 fewer votes in Michigan
than Obama did in 2012; if she had managed to get a tenth of those Democrats (they did not switch to Trump) to cast a vote for her, she would have won Michigan. Similarly, in Wisconsin, while Trump did no better or worse than Romney, Clinton failed to secure the votes of 230,000 Democrats who backed Obama previously; she needed just 30,000 of them to turn the loss of that state into victory. The pattern was repeated in other swing states like North Carolina. If there is one lesson to be learnt here, it’s this: take nothing for granted, mobilise every last enemy of the con to defeat it.

Memo 3: Stand Firm Against Con Merchants

When you’re dealing with reasonable people, by all means cooperate with them and work out sensible compromises. But when faced with con merchants whose business is to make empty promises and nasty threats, you have to stand firm. Obama thought he was inclusively bipartisan in appointing a Republican, James Comey, as FBI Director; but at a critical juncture, Comey flouted all protocol to destabilise the Democrats’ Presidential campaign. By contrast, Trump has no hesitation at all in picking the most extreme Republicans for his top positions.

Nothing sums up political con merchants’ tactics better than their spin on ‘democracy’. Not long before the EU referendum, Farage, dreading defeat, declared the referendum results could not be accepted unless the winning majority was substantial; he said publicly, “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way”. When it turned out the Leave votes edged out Remain by 52% to 48%, he suggested that any further debate about the issue would be tantamount to a betrayal of the people. Trump also reacted to polls showing him trailing by repeatedly claiming that the Presidential elections were rigged in favour of his opponent. He even warned of widespread uprising if he lost. But when he won the elections even though Clinton had secured a million more votes from the people, he had nothing to say about the fairness or otherwise of the electoral system.

The lies told by Brexit campaigners and Trump are legion and well documented. And a key reason why, in spite of that, their supporters buy into their con is that, when they have heard nothing about improving their job prospects from anyone else, they in desperation hang on to the one direct promise made to them about how everything will be made better by getting tough with foreigners at home and abroad. Like so many who are duped by Ponzi schemes or unsavoury cults, they don’t want to be upset by the truth. Researchers have found that among Democrat supporters, around 60% believe their elected representatives should compromise if necessary to get things done for the country; but among Republican supporters, only about a third would want their elected representatives to make any compromise. When dealing with those who want to bulldoze over us, it’s time we realise there can be no concession.

[a] For more on how the relatively lower Democratic turnout contributed to Clinton’s defeat, see:

[b] According to a Gallup poll, among Republicans, 41% oppose compromise and 32% are open to it; whereas among Democrats, 18% oppose compromise and 59% are open to it:
According to an AP-GfK poll: among Republicans, 62% prefer a new speaker who will stick with conservative principles even if doing so leads to a government shutdown, while 37% prefer someone who will compromise with President Barack Obama and Democrats to pass a budget. But among Democrats, only 37% oppose their party’s leaders making compromise to pass legislation, while 60% support compromise:

[c] Farage’s statement on not accepting a 52%-48% result as conclusive can be found here:

Thursday, 1 December 2016

How Anger Trumps Anxiety

There are people who are prone to anger. They can be furious about all kinds of thing, and once their fuse is lit, they won’t listen to facts or reason. They want to hear that they are right to be outraged about immigrants, refugees, abortion, gun controls, gay marriage, being soft on criminals, not bombing hostile countries, and all that negative talk about fossil fuel. And they want someone to echo their rage and help them shout down anyone who thinks they are not entirely correct.

Then there are people who are full of anxiety. They are worried about everything, and the moment they read another distressing report, it’s added to their ‘to do’ list. They need to know what is going to be done to tackle social injustice, xenophobia, misogyny, gun crime, homophobia, neglect of rehabilitation, bombing civilians, and all that climate change denial. And they need someone who will not only understand those problems, but can prove to them that he or she will deliver all the necessary solutions.

With the angry mob, you can just press a button here and there, lead the ranting, and they adore you as one of them. It does not matter if you have nothing to offer to lift their wages, so long as you despise those immigrants, you’re alright with the gang. It does not matter if you give the biggest tax cuts to the richest few, so long as you condemn abortion vitriolically, you’re their hero. It does not matter if you have behaved abominably to women, so long as you hate gun laws with a vengeance, they’ve got your back.

But with the anxious cohort, the minute you outline one plan to solve one problem, they ask you about the next one on their list. It does not matter if you are better in so many ways than the other one, if you’re weak on one policy issue, they cannot in good conscience support you. It does not matter if you’re the only hope of holding back an avalanche of bigotry nationwide, if you’re not convincing enough in their last analysis, you don’t get their vote. It does not matter if the ideal candidate who ticks all the boxes is not an option here, if you’re not the ‘one’, they can’t help you.

Elections can be won and lost by the smallest of margins. Indeed, with some arcane system, they can be lost even if you win more votes, so long as you don’t win enough of them in the right places. And in too many of those places, alas, the hesitancy of the anxious allows the rampage of the angry to seize the day, the months, and the years to come.

Of course if the angry mob had lost, they had threatened to reject the results and back open rebellion. By contrast, the anxious are now desperately looking for some evidence that things might not be as calamitous as so many had warned if they were to abstain. Sadly, it’s going to be as bad as it gets. But that’s what happens when the obsession with waiting for the perfect candidate gets in the way of stopping power from falling into the hands of the worst.