Constitutional Hardball and the Calculus of Selfishness : Retaliation Edition

I think this is the best analysis of the current state of the US republic that I have found– an op-ed in the NYT distilling some of the concepts of the Zillblatt and Levitsky book, How Democracies Die.

This is not a traditional liberal-conservative divide. People don’t fear and loathe one another over taxes or health care. As political scientists have shown, the roots of today’s polarization are racial and cultural. Whereas 50 years ago both parties were overwhelmingly white and equally religious, advances in civil rights, decades of immigration and the migration of religious conservatives to the Republican Party have given rise to two fundamentally different parties: one that is ethnically diverse and increasingly secular and one that is overwhelmingly white and predominantly Christian.

White Christians are not just any group: They are a once-dominant majority in decline. When a dominant group’s social status is threatened, racial and cultural differences can be perceived as existential and irreconcilable. The resulting polarization preceded (indeed, made possible) the Trump presidency, and it is likely to persist after it.

But the most obvious cause of the divergence is retaliation.  Furious at their inability to capture the WH under the current democratic norms the Right just threw away the norms.  The thing Trump does that most endears him to his base is punching liberals.  Culture and demography are both trending blue.  Like Frum says here.

FRUM: Instead, they [the GOP] concluded: “What if we shaped the electorate to be a little more friendly to us? Might our formerly unpopular ideas prevail then?” The G.O.P. is complicit with Trump because he delivered a success that finer leaders and better methods could not deliver. Trumpocracy is the fusion of Trump’s authoritarian instincts with the G.O.P.’s plutocratic instincts in the context of a country trending in very different directions.

A success that normative politics couldn’t deliver.

Democrats are beginning to respond in kind. Their recent filibuster triggering a government shutdown took a page out of the Gingrich playbook. And if they retake the Senate in 2018, there is talk of denying President Trump the opportunity to fill any Supreme Court vacancy. This is a dangerous spiral.

American democracy retains important sources of strength, including vast national wealth, a vibrant media and civil society, and a robust judiciary and rule of law. But the norms that once protected our institutions are coming unmoored. President Trump has accelerated this norm erosion, but he didn’t start it. Intensifying polarization, driven by an extremist Republican Party, is making constitutional hardball a new norm for party politics.

Of course democrats are “beginning to respond in kind”.  Republican rejection of the norms of tolerance and forbearance worked...and the GOP captured all three branches of government.  Here is an excellent article by Mark Tushnet, the originator of the concept of constitutional hardball.

And, finally, what about the (remote) possibility of Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency? Lots of things can change between now and the imagined then. I’ve tried to put Court-packing on the agenda, with no direct success (although I think I’ve managed to budge the needle a bit to the point where people who think about these things are now willing to entertain the possibility that some sort of “tit” is appropriate for the Republicans’ “tat” in blocking Garland’s confirmation; it’s just that Court-packing isn’t yet thought to be the right response).

TFT is a harsh strategy, and if democrats employ it in response the country will be further divided.  Yet TFT is a natural response because it employs retaliation, something the human brain is quite good at.  The game worked when it was based on reciprocity…but the game will implode when its based solely on retaliation.

I still read SSC sometimes…its fascinating to me.  It’s like a game preserve or a zoo for archaic conservative/libertarian failmemes and eumemes– it also very much embodies the “punching back” retaliation culture so popular with the redtribe.  Its seems to me that the “rationalist” community has now devolved into the 21st century analog of a CP Snow First Culturepeople talking about people talking about things.  Those two linked posts represent thousands of line of text and hundreds of comments blathering on about Mistake Theory v Conflict Theory.  So much time spent trying to validate amoral, irrational ideology.  To me a game theoretic analysis is far more obvious and explanatory.  So I dug out one of my old text books, Sigmund’s Calculus of Selfishness.  I consider abandoning democratic norms to be cheating, so the republicans are the defectors in this iterated game.  How did we get here?  Simulated artificial societies demonstrate an AllD strategy can invade.

The GOP defected from normative reciprocity to retaliation.  The last time normative reciprocity broke down in this country we experienced the War Between the States.  We still have the scars from that.

From Selfishness:

Today, after a few decades of this research, the net result is sobering.  Beyond the realm of primates, there are few undisputed examples of Tit for Tat-like behavior.  On the other hand, an overwhelming body of evidence proclaims that humans are, far and wide, the champions of reciprocity.  This is not only clear from a huge amount of psychological tests and economic experiments.  Brain imaging seems to support the view part of our cortex is specialized to deal with the ceaseless computations required to keep count of what we give and we receive, and to respond emotionally to perceived imbalance.

The 21st century problem is rapid environmental change– demographic and cultural evolution is trending blue, and the only way the Right can cling to power is to change the rules.

From How Democracies Die:

Perhaps the most consequential was the Senate’s refusal to take up Mr. Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Since 1866, every time a president had an opportunity to fill a vacancy before the election of his successor, he was allowed to do so (though not always on the first try). The Senate’s refusal to even consider an Obama nominee violated a 150-year-old norm.

Democrats are beginning to respond in kind. Their recent filibuster triggering a government shutdown took a page out of the Gingrich playbook. And if they retake the Senate in 2018, there is talk of denying President Trump the opportunity to fill any Supreme Court vacancy. This is a dangerous spiral.

American democracy retains important sources of strength, including vast national wealth, a vibrant media and civil society, and a robust judiciary and rule of law. But the norms that once protected our institutions are coming unmoored. President Trump has accelerated this norm erosion, but he didn’t start it. Intensifying polarization, driven by an extremist Republican Party, is making constitutional hardball a new norm for party politics.

The lessons of history are clear. Extreme polarization can wreck even established democracies. America is no exception. As long as Americans do not overcome their deepening partisan animosities, democracy remains at risk — President Trump or no President Trump.

There are many signs that democrats are now inclined to retaliatory behavior, the most important being the realization that conservative tendency is largely immutable post the college education age.  I think there is genuine phenotypic difference between conservatives and liberals, and we are seeing actual psuedo-speciation in this country!  21st century advances in social physics, Machine Learning and Big Data, cognitive genomics and population genetics will make it possible to prove this thesis.  But this makes it all the more critical that the leaders of the left model forbearance and tolerance, like Tushnet hopes.  Right now just the GOP has defected from the AllC so we have a mixed population–but if the democrats go AllD as well…then we may be entering collapse mode…a putsch or a civil war.

 

6 thoughts on “Constitutional Hardball and the Calculus of Selfishness : Retaliation Edition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s