Dial It Back

In a repeated game, where the same people play the same game over and over, cooperation can more easily arise than in a one-shot version of the game, where such people play only once and then never interact again. This sort of cooperation gets easier the more that players care about the many future iterations of the game, compared to the current iteration.

When a group repeats the same game, but some iterations count much more than others, then defection from cooperation is most likely at a big “endgame” iteration. For example, spies who are moles in enemy organizations will usually hide and behave just as that organization wants and expects, waiting for a very big event so important that it can be worth spending their entire career investment to influence that event.

Many of our institutions function well because most participants set aside immediate selfish aims in order to conform to social norms, thereby gaining more support from the organization in the long term. But when one faces a single very important “endgame” event, one is then most tempted to deviate from the norms. And if many other participants also see that event as very important, then your knowing that they are tempted more to deviate tempts you more to deviate. So institutions can unravel when faced with very big events.

I’ve been disturbed by rising US political polarization over recent decades, with each election accompanied by more extreme rhetoric saying “absolutely everything is now at stake!” And I’ve been worried that important social institutions could erode when more people believe such claims. And now with Trump’s election, this sort of talk has gone off the charts. I’m hearing quite extreme things, even from quite powerful important people.

Many justify their extreme stance saying Trump has said things suggesting he is less than fully committed to existing institutions. So they must oppose him so strongly to save those institutions. But I’m also worried that such institutions are threatened by this never-compromise never-forget take-no-prisoners fight-fight-fight mood. If the other side decides that your side will no longer play by the usual institutional norms of fairness, they won’t feel inclined to play fair either. And this really all might go to hell.

So please everyone, dial it back a bit. Yes, if for you what Trump has already done is so bad that no compromise is tolerable, well then you are lost to me. But for the rest of you, I’m not saying to forgot, or to not watch carefully. But wait until Trump actually does something concrete that justifies loudly saying this time is clearly different and now everything is at sake. Yeah that may happen, but surely you want Trump folks to know that isn’t the only possible outcome. There need to be some things Trump folks could do to pursue some of their agendas that would be politics as usual. Politics where your side doesn’t run the presidency, and so you have to expect to lose on things where you would have won had Clinton become president. But still, politics where our existing institutions can continue to function without everyone expecting everyone else to defect from the usual norms because now everything is at stake.

Added 21Nov: Apparently before the election more people on Trump’s side were talked about presuming the election was rigged if their side lost. Without concrete evidence to support such accusations, that also seems a lamentable example of defecting from existing institutions because now everything is at stake. HT Carl Shulman.

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  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

    But wait until Trump actually does something concrete that justifies loudly saying this time is clearly different and now everything is at sake.

    Some Democrats believed their own propaganda. The idea that Trump puts everything at stake is designed to obscure that most of Trump’s program has already been implemented. Muslim immigrants are scrutinized and surveiled, Mexican migrants are massively deported, war is waged against ISIS, and a wall (of sorts) exists on the border.

    (Credit for this point to Chris Cutrone – http://platypus1917.org/2016/09/06/why-not-trump/ )

    • Theresa Klein

      The scary aspect of Trump’s program is the threat to do things to long-term US residents and their families – Muslims who immigrated 20 years ago, undocumented aliens who came here as children and/or are now married and have children and established lives in the US.
      When someone says things like they’re going to round up all 11 million illegals and deport them, that affects millions of people, along with their families and friends. I can tell you, if I was married to an illegal alien and had children, I would be justifiably terrified. It’s not all hyperbole, there are legimitately people who have reason to fear, and people who know those people and are legitimately concerned for their welfare. Unsurprisingly, most of those people are Democrats.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        It seems to me that the threat of deportation is always present. Trump increased their risk, but nobody is actually proposing that their risk be eliminated. To tell the truth, I think all the major factions like having the “undocumented” for their cheap labor and easy exploitability.

  • Lord

    If this is too extreme, it was certainly too extreme 8 years ago when the objective became forestall as much as possible to win the next election, even if it meant triggering another recession. In contrast, this is hardly disturbing at all as time will eventually result in a reversal. One party control lessens, though does not eliminate disputes. It is far easier to be in opposition than in majority, but not much power in it. The majority must be concerned with the exercise of power or risk their excesses being revisited. For example, is there any reason to confirm another justice, or should the size of the court shrink?

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      In retrospect, it seems that R obstructionism concealed an irreconcilable conflict between leadership and base.

    • Sondre R.

      I think that is true, what you are saying. That there has been a downward spiral of polarization and declining civility.

      Don’t you think that it’s then ever-more important to reverse the trend? And I suppose the only thing we can really influence is our own behavior, and our group.

  • NotAFan

    Out of touch.

    Re: “Trump actually does something” – yes, I waited. I was willing to see where he goes and consider shared policies. But his transition team, advisor hire, and reported nominees are making it clear that candidate Trump is no worse than President Trump will be. He is doubling down on willful bigots and propagandists, and will get leverage in negotiations for doing so. It’s an extreme, and undignified tactic. Obama wasn’t nearly progressive enough for me policy-wise but he truly was a wonderfully moderate and pluralist president. I respect that immensely.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Teams & advisors aren’t actions that threaten our institutions. Wait for more concrete actions to complain of.

      • NotAFan

        First of all, these placements can and do threaten our cultural institutions and do absolutely cause distress. I am a physician for a largely population where most people are undocumented, black, or Muslim. These are human beings, and they are scared by normalization and legitimization of bigotry via HR decisions and the emboldening effects this can have.

        Second, where are you drawing your line? Even if HR decisions had not direct impact, why not care about the upstream? You wouldn’t wait until programs are fully implemented, demonstrably proven to be harmful, you might oppose at the legislation step. And why wait until legislation is being voted on, we can influence public opinion and who has these roles now? Your argument is akin to let’s wait and see if the Hutu Power movement really means it instead of saying immediately that this kind of worldview, approach, and leadership are unacceptable.

        I doubt you’d be saying this if you wore hiqab, were black, or were undocumented.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Hanson wrote, “But wait until Trump actually does something concrete that justifies
        loudly saying this time is clearly different and now everything is at

        Unless you’re saying “everything is at stake,” I don’t think you’re disagreeing. There was fear of police violence among blacks and of deportation among Mexicans under Obama.

      • NotAFan

        I’m saying these appointments and hiring decisions matter, and are actions. His post was potentially written before Flynn and Sessions, but after Bannon.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        How much they matter isn’t clear, at least not to me. Trump’s style is to seek advice from rival factions, which he plays off against each other. It causes distress among the potentially victimized; but keep in mind that it was existing distress, ignored by the elites, that drove voters to Trump.

      • Sondre R.

        If anything, both Sessions and Flynn are within normalcy, not without, if at the edges. They are right-wingers within the normal parameters. Well In Flynn’s case, he’s actually a democrat, just a bit of a controversial figure.

        These appointments certainly is not the politics many people support. But there is nothing civilization-destroying about it. Move the needle a bit. And in 2 or 4 or 8 years your team takes over again.

      • Sondre R.

        You should draw the line upon any actual action that undermines civilization.

        1. Trump has to be in the office
        2. He has to perform some action of civilizational importance
        – Which would not be: anything that is within the realm of political disputes, including anything on taxes, immigration policy, abortion etc.
        – Example of civilizational importance: arresting journalists, removing judges, not following congress votes, starting wars with our allies

        Then, and only then, do you want to play the: this is the line-card. And go for impeachment and mass-protests and whatever.

        If you do that before then, then firstly you won’t succeed because people will know it isn’t really true, secondly you will cry wolf – so people won’t believe you when it’s true, and lastly you will incentivize the other side to treat you in a similarly uncivilized fashion.

        So, please, just stop.

  • Anonymous

    Can you let this be your last post about the election for a while? It seems really unlikely that you will convince anyone, and every additional bit of analysis puts the restoration to normalcy back. All newspapers and blogs should talk about this election like any other, because it is. I am not convinced the analysis craze will wind down by itself.

    • http://www.sanger.dk Pepper

      Disagree, I think we should work to increase the amount of anti polarization analysis like Robin’s and decrease the amount of pro polarization analysis.

      • Matthew Light

        Very much concur.

      • Anonymous

        I guess the best I can do is save myself then. Good luck.

  • Jacob

    I’ve seen a lot of empty rhetoric, the only concrete calls-to-action I’ve seen have involved donating to activist organizations and calling congress-people to use their legal authority to resist Trump. I’m not seeing a problem.

    The rhetoric is a problem, and that’s part of why Trump himself is a problem. He’s a provocateur. He invites the left to attack him, which solidifies his base. Maybe if we could’ve formed a giant 100-million person cartel to ignore him during the election (ha!) that would’ve made sense. But now he’s appointing people with documented histories of racism and white-supremacy to his administration, the left must resist or look like pushovers. Which would definitely not be a good thing, Trump can’t actually be a dictator unless Congress lets him, so it’s all the more important that Congress stops him.

    • Sondre R.

      If you view this as a repeated game prisoner’s dilemma-type thing, this part of the game is essentially where your goal is to achieve cooperation pre-game.
      You want to signal as strongly and credibly as you can, that you will cooperate if the other side cooperates.

      Now – If there comes a proposal from the White House to congress after New Year to, say, remove freedom of speech or something of that order. Then resisting becomes the best and right strategy.

      But what is “resisting” now? Well, if you look around, it seems to be charges of racism and dictatorship.
      To any rational opponent, this is more or less signaling non-cooperativeness.
      Guess what, when one side signals clearly and credibly promise that they WON’T cooperate, it is suddenly much more rational for the other side to also not cooperate.

      The point of Robin Hanson, and I guess also Obama, is really important. Resisting before there’s anything to resist is a way to create the monster we fear. It’s super-irrational, and not in anyones interest.

      • Jacob

        >If you view this as a repeated game prisoner’s dilemma-type thing

        It isn’t. When Trump signals that he wants to build a southern border wall, create a registry of muslims, and deport undocumented immigrants en masse, and trample on freedom of speech through libel laws, and the left does not want any of those things, then “cooperating” is irrational. The payoffs are not the same as a prisoners dilemma, this is just a straightforward conflict. The rest of your argument is moot because it’s based on a flawed premise.

        >Resisting before there’s anything to resist doesn’t destroy, but create the monster you’re trying to fight.

        Again, “resisting” by legal means. I’m advocating contacting congresspeople and peaceful protesting. As long as everybody plays by the rules (ie the law) then it’ll be normal political activity.

  • Curt Adams

    “But I’m also worried that such institutions are threatened by this never-compromise never-forget take-no-prisoners fight-fight-fight mood.”

    Where were you when Boehner and McConnell said they would do absolutely everything to stop Obama from getting anything done – 8 years ago? And then did it, filibustering 99-0 confirmation votes?

    I actually agree with you on the problems of a no-compromise political system, but this particular Rubicon was crossed some time ago.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I agree that legislative institutions can be hurt by this behavior. But I’m worried more about our other key social institutions.

      • Curt Adams

        Which institutions? I can’t think of much besides governmental institutions, which were already pretty compromised by partisanship, especially although not entirely on the Republican side.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        President Obama’s public take on the Trump election really isn’t far from Hanson’s.

      • Sondre R.

        Civil institutions where discourse can for example be:
        – Work places: Not firing people because of their political views
        – Schools: Insisting on civil discourse and functioning independent of politics
        – Public debate: minimum politeness when talking about people you disagree with

        The World Wars showed that Western civilization can break apart. And when it does, violence sweeps back in to fill the void, as much here as anywhere.

        When civil discourse breaks down, as in Uganda, people quickly turn to calling each other names like “whores” or “cockroaches”, for some reason. And describing conversational adversaries as the “enemy”, or “racist”, or “dangerous”. Violence is rarely far behind.

        And it’s wrong of course. The outgroup aren’t neither whores nor cockroaches. They are people just like you and me. They aren’t the enemy, they don’t hate us, and they aren’t dangerous. They are well-meaning and want to do what they think is the best course of action. And overlap with us in many worries and goals. They are just people that happen to be in the outgroup, for rather accidental reasons, usually.

        Maintaining civil discourse and civilization is a hard problem that require a lot of effort.

        I’m thinking things like
        – Keep being civil, even when other people aren’t
        – Manage your own emotions
        – Learn to coordinate to avoid bullies from taking control of your own group
        – Have conversations with people you disagree with, emphasize agreements, de-emphasize disagreements
        – Keep insisting that we are all one tribe

        Maybe others can help think of some more ways?

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

    But wait until Trump actually does something concrete

    Such as?

    • Sondre R.

      Anything that is actually breaking down the institutions, and basically voting defect. For example:

      – direct confrontations with courts (removing judges)
      – direct confrontations with congress (not following results from votes)
      – direct attacks on freedom of speech or private press (arresting journalists)
      – in international conflicts: actually supporting our enemies over our allies

      The “direct” and “actually” is important. Because people abuse this, crying wolf, when this is not happening. Doing that, will make people unable to act when it actually is happening, as seen in both Turkey and Venezuela.

      Until then, we want Trump successful, both signalling willingness to cooperate and not shaming competent people who choose to work for him, is the right strategy.

      And if he defects in any of the big ways above, then the right course of action is impeachment. Until then, it’s business as usual. This is not the end of the world. We will keep living together for a long time still.

      • Unanimous

        What about treating people of a particular religion or national origin differently e.g. deporting only hispanic illegal aliens and not German or English, or banning immigration for Mulims? Isn’t freedom of religion in the Constitution?

      • Tom Davies

        The point is how he does it — if his administration got a bill through congress banning Muslim immigration, and the Supreme Court found that it was constitutional, then he would not have defected from US institutions. Of course I think such a law would be a bad thing, and worth opposing — but which institutions would you be willing to destroy to do that? (Incidentally the Obama administration deported plenty of people http://www.snopes.com/obama-deported-more-people/)

  • Jason Kuznicki

    Would you say that you’re advocating a noble lie? For the good of the polity we say we are unconcerned, even if we actually are concerned?

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I’m okay with being concerned. But if you say there’s a line in the sand after which you won’t follow the usual institutional norms, please also make clear they haven’t passed that line yet.

      • Jason Kuznicki

        I am concerned, and I do intend to follow the usual institutional norms. It’s my belief that those norms are good at averting disaster. That’s exactly why we have them.

        One of those norms, though, is free and frank political speech, even for people who are completely wrong, and even for people who say unjustifiedly alarming things. They will get their comeuppance in time, and that’s good for us all.

      • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

        It seems we agree.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Really? Seems to me the line “Norms aren’t for averting disaster” would be easy enough to run.

      • JJeffers

        Hi Robin,

        You may have covered this already somewhere else, but refusing to even have a hearing on the President’s SCOTUS pick for the whole final year of his presidency seems to many of us to be flouting institutional norms, and they’ll quite likely be rewarded for it. Had HRC been elected, Ted Cruz was ready to lead the Senate to refuse any and all of her SCOTUS picks for her entire presidency.

        Still, I agree and advocate not flouting institutional norms ourselves.

  • J.j. Cintia

    Let me tell you right now, there are no “institutions”. All of you are just corporate whores and shills. The American people pay for it, and get nothing but contempt by you nobodies in return. People have wised up. All of you and Washington’s bubble are superfluous and hostile. You are enemies. You should expect little but contempt from now on. We don’t want “diversity”. Garbage from failed states do not help themselves, and certainly have no way or even intention of helping America. Use whatever namecalling you want. We see you whores have no shame or morals. When you try to use morality without having any yourself, you just make us laugh at your obvious stupidity.

    • Sondre R.

      Your worries on immigration or taxes that you indicate are certainly valid. And I agree we need to be able to talk about uncomfortable problems and solve them, not pretend they don’t exist.

      But have you considered the possibility that the people you are interacting with here, are not corporate whores, shills or your enemies?

      What if we are just a variety of well-meaning people, sitting on our computer’s and reading things we find interesting.

      I don’t mean that in a sanctimonious way. I just, well, I certainly don’t consider you my enemy, if that’s any comfort at all. And like you, I think it is worthwhile to treat each other with respect when talking.

      • J.j. Cintia

        Listen, when Trump uses the same slogan as Reagan in 1980 and gets called Hitler, this American Delusion is over. Patriotism without nationalism is stupid + crazy.
        There is no world. These cosmopolitans are deluded idiots living a fantasy. Its a stupid fantasy. Importing garbage from failed states in the Third World to improve our economy is so stupid its not even worth a comment.
        America wasn’t built on capitalism, it was built by industry. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were dreamers with crazy big ideas that changed the world. All bankers ever did was throw widows and orphans out into the street for not paying back ten times what they borrowed.
        They used to hang people for usury. That was back when private property meant something and you didn’t have to rent your land from the government through extortion AKA taxes.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Agree on bankers, but Trump is nothing if not a rentier. Profits from real estate transactions and unproductive branding.

        I don’t see Trump calling for nationalizing the banks, and he’s even considering banker parasites for Treasury Secretary.

        Hard to see this miserable capitalist as savior.

      • J.j. Cintia

        This isn’t about Trump. I don’t really support him, or expect him to change much. Its about how everyone in the system has the gall and audacity to say “Make America Great Again” is hate speech. I’ve had enough of this shit. That idiot Jeb saying Americans are lazy and Mexicans coming here is an act of love? Oh, Hell NO. We’re gonna have a War. Some things are way too far to walk back.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Its about how everyone in the system has the gall and audacity to say “Make America Great Again” is hate speech.

        Sorry that I had missed your point. What threw me off is that this hate-speech line isn’t actually one commenters here or Robin himself are likely to embrace. (As proven by Hanson’s latest post.)

        You offer a nice concrete example of what Robin criticizes. I take it Robin would agree with you that charaterizing “Make America great again” as racist is unwarranted.

        I come at this from a different angle. I don’t think there should be norms against viewpoints, including racist ones.

        I would only say that one reason I would never vote for Trump (I wouldn’t for Clinton either, to be clear) is that he tries to appeal to racists. “Make America great again” is not explicitly racist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t racist, at least in the sense of trying to appeal to racist sentiment (which I define as political loyalty based on race, racial tribalism, in perhaps a familiar terminology). Trump uses inuendo freely (very freely), and he shouldn’t be given a free pass based on literal meaning.

        The evidence that Trump tries to appeal to racism is that, while Trump supporters are not typically racist, every real racist did support Trump. From the Daily Stormer to the KKK. Accident? This isn’t guilt by association; simply empirical reason to think that Trump’s slogans are designed to appeal to racists, and Make America Great Again is designed to be read by some as “Make America white again.”

        Trump shouldn’t be persecuted as a norm violator. Let there be NO thought crimes. ( http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/2011/11/13-worse-than-college-football-itself.html ) But that doesn’t mean that we should deny the obvious: the father of birtherism aims to be attractive to white tribalists.

      • JJeffers

        Do you have an example of anyone saying “Make American Great Again,” aside from all the context of Trump’s campaign, is hate speech?

      • Theresa Klein

        Reagan wasn’t anti-immigration. The thing about Trump that people consider racist is the alt-right, keep out the Hispanics, keep America white, anti-immigrationist part.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      All of you are just corporate whores and shills.

      Nah, we’re dupes more than shills or whores.

  • Sondre R.

    Great point by Hanson.

    If the comments are any measurement, it looks like this message is worth repeating.

    The best way end cooperation is to defect. The only worse strategy is to pre-announce your plan to defect openly. You don’t even get the 1 win before descending into anarchy. Lol.

    We must instead insist on offering future cooperation. And to do that, your main mechanism is to repeatedly argue against the defectors in your own group. This is essentially what Hanson is doing.

    A relevant story:
    I once played a simulation of the prisoners dilemma with a class of economics students. Separated groups of 4, a repeated game with rule-changes (including several “end-game”-scenarios, followed by: not end-game after all).

    What happened is exactly what Hanson describes. All the groups except one ended up in a lose-lose equilibrium after one of the fake end-game scenarios, and never got back to cooperation.
    (Despite everyone involved being familiar with the prisoner’s dilemma, by the way).

    The arguments from the main defector in my group was eerily equivalent to the arguments one sees in this thread

    – They need to cooperate first!
    – Don’t you remember what they did to us?!
    – They will screw us soon, we have to screw them first
    – This is the end, we have nothing to lose by screwing them. They will think the same and screw us.
    – Do you want the other guys to win and us to lose? We’re being naive

    Our group and our anonymous partners were able to maintain near-perfect cooperation from start to finish.

    The reason was that our group had one person who understood the game we were playing from the start, and was charismatic and strong-willed. He was able to out-persuade our group against high resistance, over and over again. We kept cooperating even after the opposite team screwed us at the first fake “end-game” scenario.

    So it’s quite clear, that Robin Hanson is here being that person. And that everyone who understand the game we are playing, should follow his lead, to save civilization.

    (If you’re now thinking: Yes I agree, the other group need to start cooperating! Come on, dude. It’s your own tribe you need to influence)

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      And that everyone who understand the game we are playing, should follow his lead, to save civilization.

      Nothing you or Robin have written convinces me that civilization is at issue. (Most national leaders seem to be aware of the dangers, and if anything are bending over too far to be nice to Trump, Reid excepted.) I’m thinking maybe this is irony or hyperbole. Otherwise, it’s almost as hysterical as apocalyptic anti-Trumpism.

      • Sondre R.

        Yes you’re right, I was using civilization in a very narrow sense there, not the grandiose existential threat variant.

        But to explain:

        I tend to think of civilization as a cluster of cooperative (civil) equilibria of solving conflict with conversation instead of violence. Wouldn’t you?

        Some are clever innovations from the enlightenment, like division of powers and a constitutions. Some are kind of spontanous order, the collection of equilibria we call civil society.

        So to be clear, I believe both these things:
        1. Everything will most likely be fine
        2. Civil (cooperative) equilibrium is fragile, and easier to protect than rebuild

    • Theresa Klein

      The best way end cooperation is to defect. The only worse strategy is to
      pre-announce your plan to defect openly. You don’t even get the 1 win
      before descending into anarchy. Lol.

      We’re not necessarily in a prisoner’s dillemma tho. We could be in a dictator game. In which case, the goal is to make your opponent think you’re insane in order to get him to cooperate.

  • Dave Lindbergh

    Agree 100%; thank you Robin.

    I was among those railing against Trump prior to the election.

    But that’s over – he won. We are stuck with him for the next four years.

    To reject the election result is to initiate a civil war. Do we really want that?

    If not, we must shift focus from the man to policy and legislation – opposing the bad, supporting the good.

    Trump has a long reputation for blather and hyperbole. We do not know how much of what he threatened he’ll actually attempt.

    We must wait and watch. There may indeed be circumstances that justify civil war and all the horrors that go with that.

    Hot-headed election talk, and the appointment of people we don’t like, is far from enough.

    • Theresa Klein

      I agree. IMO the “circumstances” that would justify some sort of extreme resistance would be if he started actually rounding up and deporting certain classes of undocumented aliens – childhood arrivals, parents and spouses of US citizens, especially those who received protection under DACA/DAPA. Or if he actually started requiring Muslims to register with the government or something to that effect.
      Just blowing a ton of money on infrastructure spending and getting into trade wars is not sufficient.

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  • Unanimous

    You get nowhere cooperating with a con man. You also get nowhere not cooperating. There is possibly no best way, and a variety of approaches are legitimate.

    The bulk of what is happening is complaints. People are allowed to complain, just as you can complain about the complaints. The complainers are largely staying within the bounds, just making some probably inaccurate over the top statements. If being inaccurate is a crime, then we’re all in trouble.

    A degree of complaints now primes some people to more easily see serious transgressions if and when they occur. It also switches some others off, in the cry wolf manner. I’ve got no idea which effect is bigger, or more important, but if we let people do what they feel, it’s quite possible that the right mix of complain and wait and see will occur.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      Speaking of con men, I wonder why more isn’t being made of Trump settling in the Trump “U.” case? There’s been discussion of “unsavory views.” TU is truly unsavory.

  • algal

    Does Trump represent democracy-as-usual or the end-of-democracy?

    As you suggest, resisting Trump through undemocratic means, because you think he represents the end-of-democracy, is itself likely to preciptate the end of democracy. So it is dangerous to over-react.

    But on the other hand, what worries doomsayers like Andrew Sullivan is that Trump has already violated many existing norms and sort of resembles demagogues that have destroyed other democracies, so it sure doesn’t *feel* like democracy-as-usual.

    I share Sullivan’s fears but I don’t want to be silly. So I thought I’d draw up a list *now* of objectively-recognizable events that should be cause for genuine alarm if they ever happen *later*. Here is that list:

    – the executive branch selectively ignores judicial rulings

    – the executive branch stops enforcements of laws that affect the President and his political allies

    – formation of a paramilitary political group, which is abetted or not suppressed by the police (basically, brown shirts, e.g., if the police did nothing to stop violent “counter-protests” against BLM or prominent BLM individuals)

    – multiple political assasinations

    – fed/state armed conflict

    – “line in the sand” standoffs with Russia or China, a la the Cuban Missle Crisis

    – use of state tax & police power to jail or bankrupt political opponents (individuals, politicians, or businesses)

    – the legal destruction or enforced restriction of one of the major newspapers, or of Wikipedia

    – the internment of American citizens, in violated of our current understanding of civil rights

    – use of the state’s surveillance powers to target political opponents (e.g., leaking individuals’ emails, tax information, etc., to discredit or ruin them)

    Until any of these things happen, it seems reasonable to treat this as democracy-as-usual.

    Did I miss anything? Is this a crazy list?

    • Dave Lindbergh

      It’s a good starting point. I wish you’d numbered them. I’ll pretend you did.

      #1 and #3, and maybe #8 are key. If we see the administration attempting to talk the military or police into ignoring their oath to protect and defend the Constitution (because of “emergency circumstances”, etc.), we’ll know it’s time to start shooting.

      #2, #4, #6 and #7 are not so unusual – previous administrations have (arguably) done that. (Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in recent memory. Possibly Clinton too.) It’s a matter of degree, I think.

      #5 of course led to the Civil War but it wasn’t all that uncommon before that and we survived it. But bad, yes.

      #9 is nothing new, but we haven’t seen a lot of it since WW2. Prior to that it wasn’t all that uncommon.

      #10 goes on all the time. Ever heard of Herbert Hoover?

      I’d add to your list:

      11 – Suspension or postponement of elections.

      12 – Disqualification of candidates for election on unconstitutional grounds.

      13 – The arrest or imprisonment of legislators or judges.

      • algal

        Hmm, interesting context.

        I didn’t know there was much precedent for #2 (non-enforcement of laws against the President and his allies), #7 (jailing and taxing political opponents), #5 (state/fed armed conflict) before the Civil War, or #9 (internment of citizens) before WW2. I should read more American history.

        Of course there were many assassinations (#4) in the 1960s, but have we gone through periods of our history where it was only opponents of the government that seemed to end up assassinated?

        Your items 11-13 are excellent additions.

      • Unanimous

        A statistically significant number of inconvienient people or their loved ones meeting with accidents or suddenly retiring and being replaced with convienient people.

    • Joel Eaton

      This is a good list, in the sense that it should serve to forestall hysteria.

      It’s important to understand, though, that for many Americans, #s 1, 2 and 7 already happened under Obama.

      1. Obama completely disregarded bankruptcy court rulings to award UAW preferred status in the auto bailouts.
      2. Selected “waivers” of Obamacare requirements to specific favored companies
      7. Selective auditing and enforcement of conservative groups by the IRS.

      Understand this is not an anti-Obama or pro-Trump observation. Simply that the rule of law has been shaky for a while, and “politics-as-usual” is already unimpressive.

    • Theresa Klein

      the internment of American citizens, in violation of our current understanding of civil rights

      What about people who *ought to be* citizens? As in illegal aliens who cannot get legal status because current immigration law would require them to return to their home country for up to 10 years? Note that this includes “dreamers”, people brought here as children, and adults who are now married to Americans and have US citizen children. (Hardly anyone is going to abandon their kids for 10 years to get legal status).

      There is a real threat of that happening.

      • algal

        I agree that would be terrible and personally I would oppose it. (For one thing, my wife is not an American citizen!)

        But it does strike me as more of an example of democracy-as-usual rather than collapse-of-democracy. That’s because it would be legal, so it’s not a failure of rule of law.

        However, I’d also agree it’s a mistake to say that legality alone is enough to show something is democracy-as-usual.

        If one party passed a constitutional amendment that eliminated elections, then that’d legal but I wouldn’t call it democracy-as-usual.

        Another example would be if faithless electors vote a majority of EC votes for Clinton. My understanding is that this would be constitutional and legal. But it’s such a strong violation of existing norms, that I am sure Trump supporters would regard it as evidence of collapse-of-democracy rather than democracy-as-usual (or maybe, rigged-as-usual).

      • Dave Lindbergh

        Civilization works and chaos and civil war are avoided when we have rules that determine, peacefully, how disagreements will be resolved.

        That works only if people accept the results even when they lose.

        There is a vast gulf between enforcement of existing legislation and policy, even if that policy is unwise, unfair, and not what it *ought* to be, and ignoring or overthrowing settled law.

        Yes, some laws are better than others, and many of our laws are bad, even horrible.

        But unless we want society to break down into anarchy and civil war, we can’t fix that by ignoring the rules, but only by changing them in accordance with the rules of the larger system – elections, legislation, court judgments, etc.

      • Theresa Klein

        There is certainly room for civil disobedience and various other forms of “illegal” resistance. Especially when it comes to issues involving human rights. If it’s your mother or wife being deported, I suspect you would agree.

      • Dave Lindbergh

        Sure. But there’s a vast difference between not following particular laws – speeding on the highway, not turning in friends who use drugs, or are “dreamers”, or cheat on their taxes, etc. – and overthrowing the basic foundations of our society.

        Elections, constitutional rights and separation of powers, the rule of law, respecting the decisions of courts are fundamental to the way our society is organized.

        To reject those is to start a civil war, because without them we have no peaceful way to resolve disputes.

        It’s not the same as double-parking.

  • stubbs

    “I don’t believe in apocalyptic—until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”

    Barack Obama (post election), quoted by David Remnick in the 11/28 New Yorker

  • Map ≠ Territory

    “Many of our institutions function well because most participants set aside immediate selfish aims in order to conform to social norms”

    Again with the disregard of history, in this case, that the Electoral College was set up by slavers for slavers to have presidency: https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/time/4558510/electoral-college-history-slavery/%3Fsource%3Ddam

    There are factors why the Electoral College is doomed to further decreasing voting power of some citizens, thereby violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the prohibition of unequal vote dilution: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/17/the-electoral-college-badly-distorts-the-vote-and-its-going-to-get-worse/