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trump symposium ii: the organizational basis of today’s crazy politics – a guest post by josh pacewicz

This guest post on Trump’s run for president is written by Josh Pacewicz, a political sociologist at Brown University. 

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In case you haven’t noticed, this has been a crazy election cycle. On both the Democratic and Republican side, a candidate who is more extreme than the typical serious presidential contender went all the way to the convention. Trump, who espouses some positions that are not recognizably Republican, is arguably even more the anomaly than Sanders. But both fared well, which suggests that the contours of America’s 20th Century party system are strained, if not cracked. How did this happen?

2016 makes sense only in the historical context of the gradual polarization of American political parties, or the tendency of politicians from the two parties to vote differently on every issue. Party polarization is distinct from other trends like a rightward drift among both Republicans and Democrats and is visible in, for instance, analyses of congressional voting, which show no Republican with a voting record left of any Democrat. A political status quo based in complete disagreement is a necessary precondition of this election, because only then do political observers expect politicians to treat their opponents as unredeemable out-there radicals, a state of affairs that creates opportunities for candidates who truly are outside the political mainstream. Because partisan polarization is a decades-long trend, explanations of 2016 that focus on factors like the recession or racial resentment over Obama’s presidency seem incomplete. Since the 1980s, party polarization has increased in good economic times and bad, during periods of war and peace, and under Democratic and Republican administrations.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 31, 2016 at 12:39 am

trump, social solidarity, and the performance of politics: a guest post by tim gill

Tim Gill is a CIPR fellow at Tulane University. His research addresses political sociology and globalization. This guest post addresses the candidacy of Donald Trump.

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In May, I taught my final course at the University of Georgia as I finished up my dissertation: a three-week long seminar on political sociology. Before the course, I was certain that Trump would be the most sought after topic of discussion by the students, regardless of what topic we broached. The Great Depression and issues of tariffs? Trump. The civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter? Trump. And, finally, how performances matter within US politics? Well, of course, Trump.

I admit. When I teach political sociology and use books and articles concerning US politics, my head tends to wander back to Venezuela, where I do most of my research. This didn’t happen though nearly as monolithically this summer. Along with the students, my thoughts also redirected themselves towards Trump, his recurrently outlandish policy positions, and bigoted comments. After each new comment, we would think this surely would be the end of the campaign. As we found out, it wasn’t. And it somehow hasn’t been, even as the absurdities have persisted.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 30, 2016 at 12:01 am

understanding trump

I would like to write about something that isn’t Donald Trump. But ever since watching Trump’s dark and frightening convention speech last Thursday, it’s been hard to think about much else.

I’m not sure I have much original to say about Trump—his rise, his followers, how his success echoes (or doesn’t) populist and nationalist and fascist movements of the past. So instead I’ll share a few links to pieces I’ve encountered in the last few weeks that stuck with me—each of which speaks to the question of why Trump appeals.

1. “Who Are All These Trump Supporters?,” by George Saunders, The New Yorker

The time-tested way to find out why Donald Trump appeals, of course, is to go talk to the people he appeals to. Saunders does just that, following Trump rallies and chatting up supporters and protesters. The portrait he paints is more complex than “angry, fearful, white men.” Though many fit that description, the voters he talks to are nonetheless fully human:

The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time, flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something precious.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the shared humanity of those embracing a politician you find abhorrent. You just sort of squint your eyes from a distance, bewildered. Saunders makes the empathy gap easy to bridge.

2. “Leaving Conservatism Behind,” by Matthew Sitman, Dissent

This article isn’t directly about Trump or Trump supporters. It’s about one man’s journey away from conservatism. It resonated personally because, like me, the author grew up in central Pennsylvania, among working-class, fundamentalist Christians—Trump country.

Sitman vividly captures the world he grew up in—and eventually left:

We certainly were not middle class, and not even lower-middle class; but in the singular way the nearly-poor take pride in not being genuinely poor, we attributed the distinction to our own thrift and virtue—especially the latter….Strange as it might seem, only in recent years did I realize that it wasn’t normal to come home from middle school to see my father hunched over a sink splashed with blood—he had pulled one of his own teeth because we didn’t have dental insurance.

His call for a class-based politics, while idealistic, left me wondering if there are still possibilities for politically reuniting the struggling white voters who feel threatened by a changing America with the black and Latino voters whose economic interests they share.

3. “Never-Trump Confidential,” by Tom Nichols, New York Times

Next we move from the denial of conservatism to the denial of Trump. Nichols writes about the isolating experience of, as a conservative, remaining opposed to Trump in a Republican Party that has, for the most part, come around to support him. He describes a conversation with an old friend:

He understood how I felt about Trump, he told me, but “things had to change.” I asked him what, exactly, he would change. This is a question I’ve posed to many of my friends who are Trump supporters, because they’ve done well in postindustrial America and yet still see themselves as disadvantaged.

He admitted that his life had worked out, despite a few bumps along the way. But things are different now, he said. Worse than ever. A crisis, even. Pressed for details, he only shook his head.

This captures something that turns up in the Saunders piece as well—that Trump supporters are motivated by a sense of incipient threat, even as they themselves are doing, in quantitative terms at least, better than most.

4. “The Final Countdown,” by Zoe Chace, This American Life

Trump does not espouse straightforwardly conservative positions, and until recently many conservatives wholeheartedly rejected him. Yet in the last couple of months, more and more principled conservatives have climbed on the Trump train—Ted Cruz excepted.

This radio piece follows the process through which Doug Deacon, the son of a billionaire who calls Charles Koch “one of the most influential people in my life,” comes around to Donald Trump. Deacon is very political, very issue-driven, and at the outset he says, “Am I excited about Trump? No, I’m not.”

Eventually he meets with Trump, coming in with a checklist of policy questions—on “small government, criminal justice reform, ending government subsidies.” But he doesn’t end up asking any of them. Instead, he’s “charmed” by Trump: “He’s a really nice guy. And seems to think a lot like we do. You know, he believes that a businessman—at the end of the day, a country is a business.”

Despite not being convinced by Trump’s policy positions, Deacon finds himself signing on—he and his dad now plan to donate a few million to the campaign.

For now, Koch remains among the principled opposition, saying that a choice between Clinton and Trump is like a choice between “cancer or heart attack.” But who knows? He wouldn’t be the first Republican to reverse his position on Trump.

5. “Understanding Trump,” by George Lakoff

These last two pieces are less diagnosis and more “how to respond.” The first is a long blog post in which Lakoff does his Lakoff thing, diagnosing Trump in the context of conservative and progressive politics based on different models of the family.

That wasn’t the part of the piece I found compelling. What stuck with me was his advice for countering Trump:

Remember not to repeat false conservative claims and then rebut them with the facts. Instead, go positive….[S]tart with values, not policies and facts and numbers. Say what you believe, but haven’t been saying….Talk about the public, the people, Americans, the American people, public servants, and good government. And take back freedom.

It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to go negative–to talk to oneself, and one’s tribe, and dig further in. But in the end, that will just increase polarization. Hate and fear can be strong. But sometimes people want to be reminded of their better natures.

6. Clay Shirky tweetstorm

Which brings us to my final piece—which is not an article at all, but a tweetstorm. I came away Thursday night feeling scared, and sad, and helpless. Shirky reminded me that we are not helpless, and that those of us who oppose Trump have an obligation to act:

We’ve brought fact-checkers to a culture war. Time to get serious.

A final note: my list is entirely white, almost all male, and drawn from liberal-to-leftist publications. I think this reflects my attraction to “almost-Trump” stories—about people who are, could be, or have become—Trump supporters, as well, of course, as my own political position. But feel free to diversify this list with your own links in the comments.

Written by epopp

July 25, 2016 at 12:15 pm

black lives matter, black power, and civil rights

In this post, I want to delve into a historical issue – how does Black Lives Matter compare with previous Black freedom movements? Aside from intrinsic interest, the question is important because it gives insights into what the future of BLM might be.

First, BLM openly uses a rhetoric and framing that is somewhat different than the classical civil rights organizations. For starters, the movement appears to be secular. This isn’t to say that BLM is completely separate from Black religious life, but it clearly doesn’t present itself in Christian terms. Rarely does one see BLM appeal to the Bible or forge strong ties to traditional Black churches, though obviously some religious people are involved. Instead, BLM uses an oppositional framing derived from the observation that Black citizens are more at risk in society and that there needs to be an affirmation and celebration of Blackness.

Second, BLM employs a lot of language associated with the Black power movement. As I noted last week, the official BLM website favorably quotes Huey Newton, among others. Also, the focus on the Black community is itself a legacy of Black power, which emphasized the need for respect, pride, and institutional autonomy. Thus, I think one might be justified in saying that the current manifestation of BLM is a revival of the ideals of Black Power, though not its organizational form or even its tactics.

Third, organizationally, BLM has adopted a fairly decentralized mode of operations that is more akin to Occupy Wall Street than the Black Panthers. This speaks to both a long term historical process and our own moment. Immediately, the issue is social media. BLM is a movement that literally spun out of social media discussions. One should not be surprised that a movement with these roots should operate in this manner. Historically, I sense a long term drift among progressives from the mass politics model of the classic civil rights movement. It could be the case that radical activists simply don’t want to deal with more mainstream constituencies of the Black community, such as the churches or the Democratic party.

To summarize, BLM is a movement that deals with long standing issues, ones that date to the civil rights era and before. It’s also a movement that employ many traditional protest tactics, like rallies and street protest. But the movement mixes in new elements. BLM presents as a modernized Black Power group instead of a sequel to civil rights groups. It combines Black autonomy and direction with use of social media and D.I.Y. ethos where each branch decides what it wants to be. Sociologists call identity based politics “new social movements,” but BLM might be described as the New Black Politics.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street   

Written by fabiorojas

July 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

veepstakes

Right now, we are going into the nominating conventions, which means that vice presidential picks make the headlines. Perhaps the most interesting question is whether Clinton II will pick Elizabeth Warren as her running mate. I honestly have no idea if that will happen, but it does help to remember a few things about VP picks.

It is very rare for a VP to help a presidential candidate pick up votes. That is why the mantra is “do no harm.” Aside from that, VP picks tend to come in a few flavors:

  • Runners up: Just go with another candidate who did well in the primary in order to encourage cooperation within the party. Kerry/Edwards and Reagan/Bush I are good examples of this.
  • Ideological balance: Pick people who pull in a part of the party that doesn’t like you. Classic case: Bush I/Quayle. One might argue that McCain/Palin fits this pattern. Perhaps Trump/Pence is another example.
  • Loyalists & personal comfort: Pick a person who is a lot like you or from your personal network. The classic case is Clinton I/Gore. Obama/Biden is probably a case of going with people who make you comfortable.

Then, there are wild cards. Probably the best case is Gore, who chose Joe Lieberman, a guy was supposed to help Gore distance himself from Clinton I. The question is which strategy Clinton II will choose. My guess is that, like Clinton I, she will reward loyalists, which makes it hard, but definitely not impossible, for Warren to come out on top.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

July 19, 2016 at 12:01 am

understanding the next steps for black lives matter

As a scholarly observer of social movements and a person who thinks that African Americans are mistreated by the criminal justice system, I have been very interested in what Black Lives Matter will do in the days and months to follow. The shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling highlight multiple problems – police officers with bad records on the beat, racial violence, and the over policing of society. The consequent shooting at the Dallas rally, which resulted in five more victims, show us that people can exploit a genuine effort to reform society in order to inflict more violence on others.

These horrid events are part of a larger pattern that Black Lives Matters protests yet there is a rare window of opportunity here. Once the media has shifted attention away from the violence, Black Lives Matter has a chance to broaden its coalition and extend its impact. Some like, New York Times writers Michael Barbaro and Yamiche Alcindor, conclude that the Dallas shooting undermined the positive attention the movement received after the Sterling and Castile deaths.

The opposite is true. Black Lives Matter has a chance to emphasize that it is above violence and that justice is truly its major goal. In the social sciences, we call this the “radical flank effect” – a movement may gain prominence when contrasted with a radical or violent manifestation of the movement. At this moment, a lot of people will want a voice that can focus on the basic injustices in the criminal justice system and maintain a distance from the most virulent forms of nationalism.

As a movement firmly rooted in the left, Black Lives Matter has some challenges.It rightfully celebrates Blackness, but that same strength might pose problems if the movement needs a White majority to reform police policy. Another challenge is the focus of the message. Many, such as myself, see Black Lives as a reasonable response to violent police. Yet, that message is bundled with others such as being queer friendly and celebrating the global Black community. I affirm many of these values while noting that external audiences may not. Perhaps a decentralized structure may circumvent this issue. Each local chapter can develop its own indigenous solutions to police relations and thus not have to balance these different needs.

Maybe the most profound decision that Black Lives faces is whether it wants to be full fledged national movement aimed at political reform, like the NAACP in the 1950s or the SCLC in the 1960s, or whether it wants to be more of a community oriented organization like the Black Panthers of the late 1960s. The official Black Lives website quotes Huey Newton, among others, which suggests that the movement aspires to both functions. If that is a correct assessment, then police reform is an anchoring point for a more thorough discussion of Black lives in a larger White society. It may be the case that this is enough to resolve the proximate issue of deaths at the hands of police, but it may be the case that a more thorough effort to build community is not the most appropriate tool for policy change.

I suspect that ten or twenty years from now, observers will see this period as a pivot point for Black Lives. After three years of emergence, Black Lives has become the face of police reform, but one rooted in the Black community and one rooted in cultural politics. The question is whether this is enough to affect the policy problems that generated the movement or whether Black Lives Matter will be an intermediary phenomenon leading to a broader de-policing of sciety.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

July 13, 2016 at 12:01 am

cosmopolitanism: from brayden

In Fortune, Brayden discusses the Brexit votes as an issues of regionalism & cosmopolitanism:

Both Brexit “leavers,” whose sheer number and fury were underestimated by pollsters, and Trump supporters are more likely to belong to a social group known as “locals.” With affinities that transcend economics and even politics, locals are best defined as having a societal view focused on their local community. They tend to be less adventurous in their travel and cultural consumption (from ethnic food to music), gain status from their community affiliations, and may be wary of outsiders, especially those who are perceived to change the homogeneity of their local community.

In contrast, “cosmopolitans” tend to have a global perspective, seeing themselves as part of an economy that crosses borders, rather than being contained by them. Their social networks extend outside their local communities. They travel more, have broader consumer tastes, and see diversity in experience and friendships as a core value. While often associated with being more highly educated, cosmopolitans are just as likely to include “starving artists” as ex-patriate executives.

While the distinctions between these groups have been known for decades to social scientists, pundits have ignored the delineation between cosmopolitans and locals when discussing Brexit and the U.S. presidential campaign. By failing to recognize these groups, their motivations, and where they see themselves in the context of the world, political analysts have underestimated the very different emotional reactions that locals and cosmopolitans have toward the Brexit campaign and Trump’s promises to crack down on immigration.

Check it out.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 7, 2016 at 12:02 am