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.

 

Can the GOP Survive Without Intellectuals?

I have been wondering about this since the election.  GOP public intellectuals fled Trump like scalded cats after the election and it doesn’t look like any of them are coming back.   What does this mean from a social physics perspective?  Can a political movement survive totally bereft of intellectual and scientific support?  Historically communist and fascist movements have rejected scientists and intellectuals, indeed even imprisoned or killed them.  If you wonder where Patterico, Ed Morrissey, Allahpundit, Iowahawk, etc have gone you can find them sleazing around PopeHat’s TL sometimes (without expressing a nanoparticle of remorse for causing the Trump Event with decades of abject pandering to the GOP base.)  George Will has entirely left the building.

Here is a convo between Ross Douthat and David Frum, and even Ross cant manage to squeeze out anything better than Trump has only caused a fall of two steps, rather than the header off the landing we were expecting.

DOUTHAT: That’s fair, but if the danger was taking a header off the landing, and instead we’ve just rolled down a step or two, I’m not going to apologize for feeling a provisional relief.

Pretty weak support for Trump– hes not as bad as we feared he would be…yet.

This however is spot on.

FRUM: Your use of the word “unilaterally” casts a useful clarifying light on what may be the foundation of our disagreement. Let me be very clear what I do not mean by “Trumpocracy,” at least not yet: Caesarism. The authoritarian-nationalist system Trump is building is not being built against Congress, but with Congress — and even more, with Republican Parties at the state level. The big reveal to Republicans in the second Obama term, continuing now into the first Trump term, is that you and Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru and Henry Olsen and other “reformicons” were right on the politics of Paul Ryan-style conservatism: Such politics simply could not prevail in a free and fair democratic contest.

And there is the rub– culture evolves.  Republican ideology is less appealing every year– the Cambrian explosion in Machine Learning and Robotics is going to fiercely favor a younger, more educated workforce.  Educational attainment is a definitive marker for anti-GOP voters.  The GOP simply has no recourse but to cheat.

I get really bored when the “rationalists” at SSC cite the Iterated Prisoners Dilemma as “proof” that defectors will fail.  From a text book, The Calculus of Selfishness, by Karl Sigmund:

My hypothesis is that the GOP AllD strategy has invaded the previous bipartisan, cooperative, reciprocal AllC strategy– the normative state of the US democratic republic.  But given evolution of culture and society in the US…what alternative does the GOP have?

This is true.

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.

As American society trends more diverse, more feministic, and most importantly– more educated, there is no future for a GOP that constantly looks backwards and basically has no intellectual class to promote its ideology.  Much like the Know-Nothing Party, the GOP is doomed to extinction.

The Demographic Doom of the GOP Isn’t Hispanics: Its Education

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-6-33-01-amResults of the 2016 Scholastic Poll.

There is a huge amount of post-election handwringing over why the polls were wrong.  But the most interesting analysis I saw was this piece by Daniel McCormack, contesting the theory that income, % white or manufacturing employment were actually the discriminating  separations– it was education.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-12-31-46-pm

What are the four variables?  Starting top left: income, manufacturing, %white, education.  What is happening?  Let McCormack explain–

What the regression analysis is telling us, then, is that districts with lots of manufacturing employment aren’t on average shifting their votes to Trump; they just appear to be shifting their votes to Trump because in many cases these districts also have below-average education levels, and these districts absolutely are shifting votes to Trump. In fact, after accounting for the effect of education on vote change, districts with manufacturing employment are shifting less of their votes towards Trump. (I ran a hundred or so permutations of this model, adding and subtracting different covariates. For instance, if education is left out but whiteness and income are included, manufacturing is still positive. I feel pretty confident that education is responsible for the flipped sign on manufacturing.)

So the real enemy for the GOP is education— half the scholastic respondents will be first time voters in 2020– and then in increasing numbers every election cycle going forward for the forseeable future.   The GOP base isnt going to college anytime soon–older, sicker, and whiter than the democratic base– but uniformly and fervently wishes a college education for their children.  Olds dont go to college…they eventually die-off.   The Trump presidency is actually radar chaff obscuring deep structural problems in the electorate.  The single thing Trump said to his supporters that was true was “I am your last chance”.  The GOP will never win a popular majority again, and soon demographics will top the levees of gerrymandered districts.  Then in 2040 the hispanic demographic deathcross, where declining number of whites crosses the increasing number of hispanics.