How Populism Goes Bad

Perversely, sometimes “We the People” are anti-democratic

The word populism sounds like it ought to mean something close to democracy. Both are based on ancient words for “the People” (demos and populi), so you might expect them to be just different ways of saying the same thing: rule by the People.

The Trump campaign has been widely (and I think accurately) described as populist. He has constantly talked about “giving government back to the People”. The Tea Party rhetoric he built on was all about “We the People”. I don’t think that rhetoric was cynical: Tea Partiers really believe that they represent the People.

And yet Trump has also been widely described (again accurately, I think) as authoritarian and anti-democratic. Populist and anti-democratic: How is that even possible?

Like this: Populism differs from democracy in a few important ways:

  • In populism, “the People” isn’t everybody.
  • While democracy is “government of the People, by the People, and for the People”, populism can get so focused on the for that it stops caring about the of and by.
  • Because democracy is of and by the People, democratic government is defined by process. But populist movements want results.

Let’s go through that in more detail.

Who are the People? By its nature, populism is oppositional. In addition to the People, there is also an Elite they need to struggle against. As John Judis puts it in The Populist Explosion:

Leftwing populists champion … a vertical politics of the bottom and the middle arrayed against the top. Rightwing populists champion the people against an elite that they accuse of coddling a third group, which can consist, for instance, of immigrants, Islamists, or African American militants.

But in fact the problem in rightwing populism lies even deeper. In my Conservative-to-English Lexicon, I make fun of the Tea Party practice of describing some Americans as more “real” than others.

Real America. Rural areas and small towns, where the majority of voters are real Americans. Usage: “the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America.”
Real American. 1. A white conservative Christian born in the United States at least 30 years ago. 2. A typical resident of real America. Usage: “Real Americans do not recognize [Obama] as a president.”

But this isn’t just a quirk of language, it points to a genuine difference in worldview. For comparison, consider what people mean when they describe someone as “a real man”. Being biologically male isn’t the half of it. To be real, a man has to match a cultural ideal of how men are supposed to look, think, and act. So gays are out, as are men who have effeminate voices or gestures, are too fat or too skinny, or  aren’t interested in sports.

Similarly, in populism “the People” are the real people — the real Americans, real British, real Poles, real Austrians. There is an implied ideal of the kind of people the nation is “for”. Some people match that ideal model and some don’t.

For Trump/Tea Party populists, the real Americans are as I described: mature white conservative Christians. They’re also English-speaking (with a native-born accent), straight, and pro-capitalist. They are comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth, and if they happen to be unemployed, divorced, or without children, it’s not their fault; they identify as hard-working family people, whether they really are or not.

If you define the People that way, then I suspect Trump did win the “massive landslide victory” he claimed. The “millions of people who voted illegally” he tweeted about might be a pants-on-fire lie, but the notion in his supporters’ minds that millions — even tens of millions — of votes were cast by someone other than the People is absolutely true. Black lesbian Spanish-speaking atheist socialists voted, and those votes counted just as much as their own. It doesn’t seem right to them, because America is for real Americans, not just the people who satisfy the legal requirements to become citizens and vote.

This is why they aren’t bothered by what Democrats describe as “voter suppression”. If blacks or immigrants or people who don’t speak English have to jump through some extra hoops before they vote, and if some large number of them get frustrated and give up before they manage to cast their votes, that’s all good. The franchise wasn’t really meant for them anyway.

A lot of liberals interpret this attitude as hatred of the left-out groups, but it doesn’t feel that way from the inside. More accurately, it is a sense of ownership and entitlement: It’s my country, not your country, but I’m content to let you live here in peace as long as you recognize that. The hatred only shows up when that ownership feels challenged.

For, not of or by. As the Trump administration took shape after the election, most of the key positions went either to billionaires, generals, or people connected to Goldman Sachs. The top-level departments (State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Intelligence) are all to be headed by white men. Of the top White House staffers, all are white men but Kellyanne Conway, who holds the vague title of “counselor”.

It’s been a long time since an administration looked so little like America.

The white male dominance comes from what we just talked about — who “the People” are, and what it means to be “real”. (Real women don’t want to rule the world. Even Conway had to explain how she could work in the White House but still put her family first. Nobody raises this question about Trump’s male appointees, and Trump himself has no similar worries about his responsibilities to his 10-year-old son Barron, who at least for now will remain in New York with Melania.) But it’s hard to understand how the stereotypic white-working-class Trump voter can see himself in the 3G (Goldman, generals, and gazillionaires) axis.

And the answer is: He doesn’t expect to see himself, any more than he sees any resemblance between his own life and Trump’s ostentatious lifestyle of celebrity and wealth. Trump is supposed to be his champion, not his buddy. Likewise, he expects the Trump administration to be for him, but not to listen to him or be filled with people like him.

Results, not process. If you look at the Constitution, you’ll see that it says practically nothing about results. The Preamble is a mission statement expressing broad hopes about what the new government might accomplish with the powers the Constitution defines. But beyond that, the document is all process: This is how you pass a law. This is how you elect Congress and the President. This is how judges get appointed, treaties get approved, and so on.

It doesn’t tell you much of anything about the results that will come out of that process: who will serve in the government and what laws or treaties they might approve. It doesn’t specify a maximum tax rate, a balanced budget, the size of the army, an official language, or much of anything else.

The reason for that focus on process is that government of and by the People doesn’t happen by itself. A constitution for an absolute monarchy could just be one line: “Do what the King says.” But any large group of people is a cacophony. The larger the group and the more democratic it wants to be, the more processing it needs. (Occupy Wall Street encampments were famous for their General Assemblies, whose meetings could go on for hours each day.)

But populists typically don’t care that much about simply being heard or having representation. They are fighting a battle against the Elite (whatever that term means in their particular situation) and they want to win it.

To his critics, one of the most mystifying aspects of Trump’s nomination and election has been why the voters didn’t hold him responsible for his repeated violations of democratic norms. Every major-party candidate since Nixon has released his tax returns, but Trump never did and apparently never will. Presidents since Lyndon Johnson have used blind trusts or generic investments like government bonds or index funds to avoid financial conflicts of interest, but not Trump.

His supporters don’t seem to care. If foreign governments want to put money in Trump’s pocket by holding events in his hotels or by giving regulatory favors to his construction projects, they’re free to do so. It may seem incestuous for Trump to have regulatory authority over banks he owes money to, but so what? Who cares whether he holds press conferences, whether there’s any way to make him answer a question, or whether his answers bear any resemblance to reality (or even to what he said last week)?

Those are process issues. His supporters want stop illegal immigration, and perhaps legal immigration as well. They want manufacturing jobs to come back from China, and coal miners to be able to make the kinds of wages their fathers did. They want to stop gays from getting married and women from getting abortions. They want terrorist attacks to stop, ISIS to fall, and America’s enemies to be sorry they messed with us.

They’re sick of good process, and of politicians who check the right boxes and say the right things, but don’t get the results they want.

How democracies die. Democracy does have a way of getting tangled in its own processes, and American democracy has gotten more and more tangled as polarization has increased. Back in October, I listed a series of situations where the country is stuck in a status quo that nobody wants: millions of undocumented immigrants living off the books, a budget process that yields perpetual deficits and lurches from one threatened government shutdown to the next, unfilled judicial vacancies, and a Medicare system that creeps ever closer to bankruptcy.

At some point, people stop caring about good process, they just want it all fixed. If a Julius Caesar can come in and make things happen, that sounds like an improvement. (I’ve been discussing this prospect for a while in my “Countdown to Augustus” posts.)

But all those processes are there for a reason, as countries that discard them usually find out fairly quickly.

How populism turns very, very bad. If a populist movement’s definition of the People matches the voting rolls closely enough, or if it includes a lot of people who can’t vote but wish they could, then that movement will be pro-democracy, as Occupy Wall Street or the Bernie Sanders campaign were.

But that’s not the only way things can go. If a populist movement feels blocked by the checks-and-balances of democracy, or by the votes of people it thinks shouldn’t have a vote at all, then democracy itself can become the enemy. If it is forced to choose between democracy and the results it wants, it may choose the results.

That’s why authoritarian populism is not a contradiction. The pattern of a popular dictator enacting laws to defend the common people against an entrenched aristocracy goes back not just to Caesar, but before that to the Greek tyrants. (The word tyrant didn’t pick up its cruel, negative connotation until Plato — an aristocrat — wrote about tyranny generations later.)

The ultimate example of populism gone bad is Nazism. We don’t usually tell the story that way: In pop-culture references, Hitler’s regime is usually presented as a totalitarian pyramid of fear, which nearly everyone would have liked to topple if they hadn’t been so intimidated. [1] And many certainly were cowed into submission, but most were not. The sad truth of Nazism is that for most of its reign, the Hitler regime was popular.

This comes through in a book I mentioned last week, They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer. After the war, Mayer went to Germany and befriended ten low-level Nazis in a small town. Almost unanimously, they faulted Hitler only for making tactical errors, like attacking Russia. But until the war, or even until the war started going badly, they felt that Hitler had come through for them: He pulled Germany out of the Depression. Good jobs were plentiful. Roads got built. Social services (for the People) improved. Law and order was restored. Germany was great again.

Unless you were Jewish, of course, or belonged to some other disapproved or disloyal group. But if you were a member in good standing of the German Volk, you were probably doing OK. A few thugs were expected to do horrible things in the name of the regime, but most people only had to avert their eyes from time to time, and not wonder too much about those who had been sent away.

Having a restrictive definition of the People, letting a leadership cadre govern for you without much oversight, ignoring process issues to focus on results … it doesn’t necessarily have to go to a bad place, but it certainly can.

The present moment. It’s usually a mistake to invoke the Nazis in a political discussion. [2] In our pop culture they’ve become cartoon villains [3], so associating them with your opponents often becomes a cheap shot.

So I should explicitly state that I don’t think Trump is Hitler, and I have no specific reason to think he wants to be. A few of his supporters are openly Nazis, but the vast majority are not. I invoke the Hitler regime as a cautionary tale, not a prediction.

If we want to make sure that the Third Reich continues to be nothing more than a cautionary tale, though, we need to learn its lessons.

  • It’s dangerous to exclude anyone from the People. Any time some infringement of rights has an implicit justification of “It’s only Muslims” or “It’s only inner-city blacks”, that implication needs to be called out. It’s hard to explicitly defend the contention that certain people don’t count, but it’s easy to slip such an assumption into the background.
  • The inability of democratic government to make progress on widely recognized problems is itself an argument for authoritarianism. So Democrats need to be very careful about how they use obstruction. “Turnabout is fair play” is a dangerous principle. We should block things because they’re bad, not just because we want to be as big a nuisance to Trump as Republicans were to Obama.
  • While continuing to call Trump to account for ignoring good process, we can’t make our stand entirely on process issues. We always need to be looking for the connection between bad process and bad results. It’s not enough to point out that there’s a hole in the fence; we need to catch the sheep getting out or the wolves getting in. For example, it’s not going to bother most Trump supporters if he profits from being president, but it will bother them if he sold them out.

We always need to keep in mind: Trump a the symptom, not the disease. Healthy democracies don’t get taken down by demagogues. Trump’s version of “the People” may not be everybody, but it is a lot of folks. The way to save democracy is to make it work for everybody, them included.

[1] That’s the reason so many believe the Hitler-confiscated-the-guns myth that so often comes up in gun control debates. He certainly didn’t want Jews to have weapons, but Jews were not part of “the People” as he defined it. Racially pure Germans (as Hitler defined them) remained armed, because there was no reason for them not to be. By and large, they supported the regime.

[2] I could also have used the Reconstruction South as an example. Here the People means Southern whites, and the KKK is their champion against the Yankees above and the blacks below. A semblance of democracy is maintained, but only after blacks are disenfranchised. This is justified by the assumption that America isn’t really for blacks.

[3] An occasionally disturbing exception is the current Amazon TV series The Man in the High Castle, which often brings out the ordinariness of the American Nazi regime, and at times even shows how human generosity can still express itself. In an early episode of the second season, Juliana, who has been approved as racially pure, is being resettled in the Reich by the wife of an SS officer. The officer has ulterior motives, but the wife doesn’t know that. “I don’t know what to say,” Juliana tells the wife.

“You don’t have to say anything,” she responds. “You’ve come a place where good people take care of each other.” If good means “racially pure”, she’s not entirely wrong.

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  • Trackdude  On January 9, 2017 at 11:05 am

    I still haven’t heard an answer to, “take back America from who” and “what exactly are you mad about?”

    The GOP is so dysfunctional they have taken governance to the lowest level. All because we elected a black man as President.

  • Abby Hafer  On January 9, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Here’s a thought: What if it turns out that a good way to revive the fortunes of small towns and cities in Trump country is to encourage businesses that are led by women and members of minorities?

    This isn’t outrageous. First of all, there is ample evidence that tolerance and openness *lead to* good economies, rather than being products of good economies. Also, businesses, especially startups, that are led by women and minorities may have a harder time getting funding. Given that I believe that talent is spread pretty evenly in the population, offering some opportunities to those who don’t get them as often could lead to some very worthwhile businesses being attracted, at bargain rates. A little encouragement and help for these small businesses could be a civic gold mine.

    • kiya_nicoll  On January 9, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      IIRC in loans to post-colonised nations, giving startup money to women is much more likely to enrich the community through reinvestment and mutual support. Might hold for poorer parts of colonial powers as well.

    • 1mime  On January 9, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Great idea, Abby! It’s interesting that there is money being directed at educating girls in the middle east. They are not eligible (boys are) but use the education to strengthen their communities…just as you are suggesting could happen here.

  • GJacq726  On January 9, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    A friend shared this with me today. Consider it fodder for thought. I think the Left can be too accepting where the Right just plain is not, and therein lies why “if Democrats are so godamned great, they lose so godamned much.” Loosely quoted from that piece of the first Newsroom episode. God, I loved that show.

      • 1mime  On January 9, 2017 at 11:01 pm

        Raw, honest, on the money. Thanks for the link.

      • Mike  On January 10, 2017 at 2:58 pm

        Pretty much how I feel when people try and tell me that I don’t understand these rural people. My grandparents come from southern Arkansas and my family members that still live there did a lot of fake news sharing and of course posted loads of Jesus pics. And though Jon Stewart and others have tried to convince us that these Trump voters are not a monolith and shouldn’t all be lumped together, it’s hard to give them their one good reason. Donald Trump made some most unamerican and undemocratic statements over the past year. Past Republican Presidents and many other prominent Republicans were astonished that the “people” were voting for this man. You can tell me you voted for Trump because of taxes or the Supreme Court but don’t tell me you “just don’t believe all the other stuff he says”. He appointed Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions The Third as Attorney General you fuck nuts!

  • mathias sager  On January 9, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    Nicely explained important distinction

  • Dale Moses  On January 9, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    “Turnabout is fair play” is a necessary component of government. It’s true that norms are being destroyed but if we do not play the game by the new rules then we will get crushed.

    It’s like a repeated prisoners dilemma. The optimal strategy is tit for tat. Cooperating all the time will consistently lose.

    The end result of not truning about is that the only legitimate govt is Republican and that Trump does whatever he wants anyway.

    It may not be comforting to say that nothing is a good option. But giving the fascists what they want doesn’t reduce the speed that we become fascist.

    • weeklysift  On January 10, 2017 at 8:08 am

      Somehow you’ve jumped to “giving the fascists what they want”. My fear from the turnabout-is-fair-play approach is that we destroy the village to save it. Ultimately, we install our dictator rather than their dictator.

      • DMoses  On January 10, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        You’ve said that we should be conciliatory. That is giving them what they want. Precisely what they would not do for us when we had won.

        The village appears to be destroyed either way, we either give them what they want and they blow up free society, or we don’t and they blow up free society.

      • weeklysift  On January 11, 2017 at 7:05 am

        Again, “conciliatory” is something you’re projecting onto me. I want to make democracy work and defend democratic norms.

        For example, one way to fight Trump is that we could start our own fake news operations, and forward their stories to each other until the more gullible among us believe them. But if that works, where are we?

      • DMoses  On January 11, 2017 at 3:47 pm

        You might not have meant to say it but that is what you said. The destruction of democratic norms is not “just” in the news sector (and even then not really there, as yellow journalism has been a thing of the past as well without threatening democracy). The loss of norms is within the institutions themselves. The failure to nominate judges, the willingness to block in every way every bill.

        Its those last things that we have to do 100%. Trump cannot get a SCOTUS nominee if we want to ever return to a system where Democrats get to nominate judges when they win the Presidency.

      • weeklysift  On January 12, 2017 at 8:53 am

        Perhaps you could find the quote where I said that.

      • DMoses  On January 12, 2017 at 3:36 pm

        “The inability of democratic government to make progress on widely recognized problems is itself an argument for authoritarianism. So Democrats need to be very careful about how they use obstruction. “Turnabout is fair play” is a dangerous principle. **We should block things because they’re bad, not just because we want to be as big a nuisance to Trump as Republicans were to Obama**.”

        This is where you said it.

      • weeklysift  On January 13, 2017 at 12:25 pm

        So blocking things because they’re bad, and refusing to block things that are good, is giving the fascists what they want. Good to know.

  • blotzphoto  On January 10, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I think there is another telling difference between Hitler and Trump. As you point out, Hitler did pull Germany out of the great depression. He delivered what he promised to his Volk. Trump can’t do that because he isn’t coming in to a crisis situation at all. The actual economy is doing pretty good right now. It’s not perfect and there are certainly enough folks who haven’t completely recovered from the Great Recession to fill your campaign commercials with sad coal miners and angry auto workers. But in general the Obama economy is humming along. There are indicators that we might have pretty rosy numbers to show off in 6 months. But the only way to keep that going is to not tinker with the apparatus in place.

    The Paul Ryan led GOP however wants to do a whole bunch of crap that will derail that process, starting with screwing up 30 million people’s health insurance and moving along to bog standard Republican slash and burn policies with an unimpeachable record of failure. They certainly aren’t going to markedly improve the lives of their voters unless they are rich voters.

    Hitler could, after a couple of years, point to a string of successes, that paved the way for the later blunders that undid him. Trump and the GOP are trying to skip that first step.

  • marymtf  On January 10, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Hitler made it his mission to rid the world of anyone who was different to the Nazi blue eyed, blond haired ideal. Hitler and his many willing helpers murdered millions. I can’t see the connection myself, except that, ethical or not, in this case it’s a whole lot of helpers are doing their best to rid themselves of one human being. There’s so much hate being spread around.

    Unlike the undemocratic left, I’m allowing the elected President-elect to prove me (or you) right or wrong before I decide what I think of him. That is, I’m waiting post-inauguration to decide. And, again unlike the undemocratic left, I’m allowing more than one voice on this issue to inform me.
    The great thing about a democracy is that Trump can be voted – out or back in, depending on how he acquits himself. The sad thing abut where today’s view of democracy has headed, is that people like you will continue to harass and harangue Trump and his followers till the next election comes round. Then the population get to decide again what they want.

    • 1mime  On January 10, 2017 at 6:19 pm

      Sounds to me you’ve pretty much already made up your mind. Trump isn’t the only person who needs to be watched. You’ve got a Republican majority that has launched an agenda that is going to change the very fabric of our democracy. Keep an open mind but be informed. Part of being open-minded, BTW, is accepting the validity of criticism of one’s party or ideas. I am a Democrat and I can assure you I know it is imperfect, but in comparison to the other guys? Let’s just say that I’m keeping an open mind but I am also keeping score and I am reading – widely – and applying critical thought. That’s my job as a citizen and as a voter. I take it seriously.

    • weeklysift  On January 11, 2017 at 7:03 am

      I think we can see pretty well where he’s headed, from the kind of campaign he ran, the kind of people he’s appointing, and the way he’s refusing to cooperate with any kind of transparency or attempt to address his conflicts-of-interest.

  • PJ  On January 10, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    “For example, it’s not going to bother most Trump supporters if he profits from being president, but it will bother them if he sold them out.”

    Good insight. When talking to Trump supporters, his conflicts of interest aren’t about whether he’ll do what’s best for himself or what’s best for the country — they’re about whether he’ll do what’s best for himself or what’s best FOR THEM.

  • jh  On January 11, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    “The inability of democratic government to make progress on widely recognized problems is itself an argument for authoritarianism. So Democrats need to be very careful about how they use obstruction. “Turnabout is fair play” is a dangerous principle. We should block things because they’re bad, not just because we want to be as big a nuisance to Trump as Republicans were to Obama.”

    I’m not sure that’s a good strategy. Look at how the republicans won. They may not have one the popular vote. But what they won was in the perception wars. The liberals had to constantly point out the real facts and counter the false impressions that the republicans put out. Obamacare – an objectively better system than the previous shit system – was demonized to the point that morons voted Republican even though they benefited most from it. The republicans were able to win because they were assholes. The democrats are always going to be perceived as weak as long as they play the book by the rules. Instead, it’s time to break the rules. it’s time to abuse the system. It’s time to go “I think I’ll shoot for fillibusters as many times as the republicans did.” Or “Maybe we should hold off on confirmation hearings as long as the republicans did.”

    Let’s face it – the democrats lost “bigly”. The people who voted democrat are angry. At least I am. My vote is 3/5’s the voting power of a moron in a state where the majority are white christians. WTF! Those morons are scared of a threat that is ACROSS THE FUCKING OCEAN. Those morons think tariffs will work even though history has shown what happens when the US has engaged in retributive tariffs. Those morons were obsessed with Hillary’s wall street connections but they think the Wall street elite that Trump appointed are what? They think Putin is a good guy just because Trump says so.

    I think the republicans were highly effective despite having absolutely no ideas except “repeal obamacare” and “religious liberty (for some)” and “kill all the muslims”. None of these ideas are positive. They are vindictive and wrapped in a “Make america great again” wrapping paper. I get it. I’m supposed to feel pity for them because they just made their own noose but I don’t feel pity. I feel anger. My tax dollars go to support their stupidity. I live in NJ. I’m overtaxed and my tax dollars go to support a christian nut job who would like to waste my money policing transgender people going to the bathroom. It’s time to start pulling back the economic supports that let bad republican led economies survive. Let them implode. Let them borrow my NJ dollars (at a nice interest rate) so they can survive. I’m tired of being told that I’m not a real american, that I’m a lazy liberal when the fact is that they are the lazy stupid morons that have been sleeping in my basement all this time.

    Vindictive tribalism works. The key is to be smart about it. That’s why I want a way to pull back federal tax dollars so that each state only get’s a max of what they send in. It would benefit states like NY, NJ, CA that send in more federal tax dollars than they receive back. (In NJ, I think we get 50 cents for ever federal tax dollar sent in. How much would that extra 50 cents do to make my state better? I think it would be “bigly”.) I also want to reform the electoral college because my vote shouldn’t be 3/5’s the vote of some child fucker in the midwest. (considering how much sexual abuse is found in religious areas, it’s a broad consistent generalization in my opinion.)

    The republicans won by being the party of “no”. Maybe the democrats need to learn how to use that strategy. And associate Trump and republicans together. Because Trump may have teflon right now, he won’t be so shiny and nonstick in the next few years. The voters had Clinton fatigue. It’s time to have Trump/republican fatigue.

    (The democrats tried to appeal to the better instinct of humanity. They lost because the conservative voter doesn’t have honor or good morals. That’s why they didn’t have a problem with the lies and the nonsense from the Trump/republican campaigns. A vote for Trump was a vote for tyranny and abuse and they were fine with it.)

    • weeklysift  On January 12, 2017 at 8:51 am

      One of the games invented by game theorists is the Luring Lottery: You can enter as many times as you want, but the prize will be divided by the number of entries. So if the prize is $1 million, you can enter a billion times if you want, but just by yourself you’ve reduced the prize to ten cents.

      The point is that if all you want is to win, you can: Just enter an astronomical number of times. But you’ll have destroyed the prize.

      So I’m not arguing that what the Republicans did wasn’t effective, or that doing it back to them might be the best way to get power away from them. But when we’re done with that spiral of escalation, what will the prize be worth?

      • DMoses  On January 12, 2017 at 3:34 pm

        A game is applicable as an argument when it mimics the situation that it describes. The purpose of the Luring Lottery example is to suggest that there exists an equilibrium mechanic that works better than the standard self interested rationality model.

        Its not a particularly valuable concept since repeated games tend to produce a similar equilibrium and since they produce equilibria which better represent the real world. That is, the super-rational person gets beat by the self interested player and as a predictive measure, the self interested model produces results which more closely mimic actual human behavior (in both pure experimental and quasi experimental situations)

        The use of a repeated prisoners dilemma is valuable because it closely mimics the actual situation we are in not because the conclusions are ones we might find comforting.

        That is to say that how valuable the tickets are does not change based on the number of times we vote. They’re worth zero whether we enter 1 time or a billion. And then tomorrow we will play the game and the tickets will again be worth zero. And then the next and the tickets will again be worth zero. And they will continue to be worth zero regardless of the number of times we enter unless we screw the other side and force them to let our tickets have value.

        If we destroy the government? Well if we don’t then the government is already destroyed. A government where only one party is legitimate is no longer a democracy.

      • weeklysift  On January 13, 2017 at 12:27 pm

        It sounds like our only choice is Caesar or Pompey, then. The Republic is already lost, in your view.

  • ccyager  On February 3, 2017 at 10:30 am

    I’ve been gradually catching up with my reading. I love this post. It has really helped me to understand “populism” and how it can go wrong. The thing that really sticks in my mind — we all want to see results, but I think the difference between bad and good populism is that in bad, no one cares that the results have consequences. They just want the results. Eventually, the consequences will catch up with Trump’s supporters, I think, and will be the experiences they don’t want that will change their minds. I hope. And I hope it won’t take long. 🙂


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    […] One more thing I should say is that my worst fears haven’t manifested, and it may be too late for their most likely scenario. Last November, my biggest fear was that Trump’s first few actions would be popular. He’d be victimizing out-groups like Muslims, immigrants, and blacks, and the English-speaking white majority would love it. That popularity would set a snowball rolling that first Republicans, and then Democrats, and then the courts would be afraid to stand in front of. Before you know it, we’d have the kind of fascist populism I described in “How Populism Goes Bad“. […]

  • By Self-awareness | The Weekly Sift on October 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    […] been saying since before the Inauguration that Trump (like the alt-Right in general) distinguishes between Americans and real Americans. Real […]

  • By Troubles and Issues | The Weekly Sift on January 22, 2018 at 11:28 am

    […] the Democrats standing up for illegal immigrants over the American people. (Part of that is code, as I’ve explained before: The “American people” are white Christians.) Democrats think that the Republicans in […]

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