Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Power, Misbehavior, and Sorrow

Like anyone not deliberately cutting themselves off from the news, I've been inundated with the daily drumbeat of stories regarding Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court confirmation process, and the increasing number of women accusing him of various assaults and misbehaviors in the past. I finally had to shut it all off, because in the end it all just makes me sad.

The chances are extremely high that Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. As a justice on the bench, he will likely add another (hopefully thoughtful) conservative voice. I don't go in much for Court politics, and tend to eschew predictions of the end of the world because the 5-4 split on the court shifts.

So up until a few weeks ago, I wasn't overly concerned about Kavanaugh's nomination. In the traditional sense - in the realm of concern for how the Court will rule on various matters - I'm still not. What will be, will be. I realize this isn't everyone's view, but it's mine.

What makes me sad about the whole thing is the damage that this process is doing once again to the right of women not be assaulted/harassed/abused by men. Just like Anita Hill a generation ago, women across the country are being re-taught the lesson: if you tell your story about a man in power, you will lose.

We thought we were making progress. Bill Cosby fell. Harvey Weinstein was brought down. Louis CK, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Les Moonves - a host of figures from TV and Hollywood were (at least temporarily) laid low by what seemed like a burgeoning movement. #Metoo seemed to finally have broken down the walls, gotten people to listen to women and brought men to account for their often atrocious behavior.

A few voices pointed out that all of these figures were in show business. What we're learning now, I believe, is just how powerless those men are. Or how much power women have obtained in that particular sphere. Which would be a good thing, but it's clearly limited to that arena.

Other areas are different entirely. Men in sports seem to continue to enjoy protection against similar accusations. In sports, the crime of choice is often domestic violence rather than sexual harassment - arguably worse than the depredations of Harvey Weinstein, or at least equal to them. But coaches and players alike seem to continue their careers unaffected by the discovery that they beat their wives or girlfriends. Kneel during the national anthem, and your career is over. Hit your girlfriend repeatedly on camera and you get to keep playing. Joe Paterno was brought down because he failed to report child abuse. But Urban Meyer just enjoyed a brief vacation from his job for failing to report spousal abuse.

Then there's politics. When Rep. Jim Jordan was tied to a sexual abuse case at Ohio State on the wrestling team, his party and his fans flocked to his defense. Catholic priests accused of the same are defrocked and shamed, but not politicians. We believe the accusations when the target is a priest. When it's an elected official in our own political tribe, we don't.

Then there's the President, who has so far been unscathed by a host of credible allegations of his own misconduct, bolstered by his own on-mic admissions, to say nothing of his tone-deaf, retrograde tweets that make it clear that he doesn't understand women's point of view and has no interest in trying. If ever there were a poster child for the protection that politics affords men who abuse women, Trump is it.

So even as the #Metoo movement forges ahead, winning well-deserved victories, I can't help but wonder if they're only working on the fringes of the problem. Those with relatively little power - entertainers, Catholic priests, local high school teachers - can be brought to account. But the truly powerful remain unaffected, perhaps immune.

And that makes me sad. I am sad that after so much time - the entirety of my lifetime, now approaching 50 years - women (and some men) have been struggling to right this wrong, to afford to women the basic dignity of their persons, to win the right simply to be people. And in far too many ways, we seem little nearer than we were back in the 1970s and 80s.

When Kavanaugh is confirmed - and I expect that he will be - it will be yet another reminder that power and abuse go hand in hand, that our systems of justice are still radically imperfect, and that women are still denied the dignity afforded to men.
I recognize that by "men" here we need to acknowledge that this is largely about "white men". Men of color, especially black men, face their own problems in our society, from Colin Kapernik to Tamir Rice and too many others. But that's a topic for another day.
And so I am sad to see daily the evidence that for far too many men, partisanship and "victory" for their party is more important than women's right to be heard, to be respected, to be granted dignity, and for men to be held to account for their behavior. We want very much to claim that "we're better than this". But I have yet to see evidence that we are. And until powerful men change - or are forced to change - it is who we will continue to be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Did Hegemonic Stability Theory Predict Trump?

When I was in graduate school, we spent a lot of time studying theories of international politics - how the world works at the macro level. The dominant theory of the day was Ken Waltz' structural realism, which purported to explain how a bipolar system (two superpowers, the US and the USSR) could be so hostile and yet produce a world without major war. The historian John Lewis Gaddis picked up this theory and used it in his seminal work The Long Peace.

But while structural realism and its major competition, Keohane's neoliberalism, were all the rage, I was always drawn more to an offshoot of the realist world - hegemonic stability theory. Robert Gilpin's War and Change in World Politics, penned in the early 1980s, seemed to me to offer a better explanation of the Cold War. The superpowers were clearly not equal; by the 1980s it was clear that the US was far superior to the USSR in every category save one: the destructive power of its nuclear arsenal. On this, and this alone, were the two sides equal. But in terms of alliances, economic strength, prosperity, and the influence of "soft power" (Keohane's contribution to the discussion), the US was clearly way ahead.

Gilpin's theory postulated that world stability comes when a hegemon - one clearly dominant power - establishes order and a set of rules for the international system. Those rules are plain to see, and are embodied in the many structures built up after WWII - the UN and its Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank, and the GATT (which eventually became the World Trade Organization). Later we added to these the World Court and the International Criminal Court. All of these structures were, for the most part, written up by Americans - in part to make a better world, but in larger part to make a better world for the United States. Because that's what hegemons do - they write the rules of the world to advance their own interests.

The United States, moreover, seemed to have pulled off a singularly historical feat: it wrote a set of rules for the world that benefited not only itself, but also others. Anyone who agreed to play by those rules could participate and prosper*. Those that refused those rules - as the communists of the USSR did, preferring their own - were left out.
* An argument can be made that the prosperity afforded to others was limited and, to some significant degree, racially biased. It is true that chunks of the world were still exploited and left out of opportunity - though the causes were complex. Suffice it to say that the rules written by the United States were more open and inclusive than those of previous empires, even if they were not perfectly so. Africa has not faired well, but South Korea, Brazil, Turkey, and a number of others have.
Gilpin pointed out that the stability thus produced by a hegemon and a stable set of rules would last only so long as the hegemon could maintain its position against potential challengers - other powers that aspired to be hegemon themselves in order to impose their own rules. The Soviet Union was one such challenger, and not a terribly good one. It eventually drove itself into the ground in the effort. The end of the Cold War ushered in an era in which the US has, until recently, been largely unchallenged as the dominant world power.

Challengers do have a structural advantage: they don't have to pay the costs of maintaining the international system, whereas the hegemon does. Eventually, Gilpin argued, that structural advantage would cause a challenger to catch up, leading to a systemic war that would produce a new order - either the hegemon would reestablish itself, or the challenger would upend the existing order and take over. Either way, a new period of stability would then ensue.

Gilpin also pointed out that internal politics play a role, particularly within the hegemon. Because the hegemon has to bear the cost of maintaining the system, it's entirely likely that over time it will grow weary of spending the resources necessary to keep its position. The longer stability lasts, the more people will take it for granted as "the natural order of things", and forget that stability takes effort to maintain. The US did a good job to some degree of sharing those costs (the creation of NATO, for example), but there have been "burden-sharing" debates for decades about whether the US is "paying too much" to "be the world's policeman".

Into this world steps Donald Trump, who understands none of this. As many (supporters and detractors alike) have pointed out, he views the world in very transactional terms: every interaction is a separate, independent event producing a winner and a loser. These interactions appear in his worldview to have no connection to each other. He is the embodiment of Robert Axelrod's early experiment in multi-player prisoner's dilemma (though he obviously never read that article).

Viewed in this way, a trade treaty with South Korea (for example) has particular terms which favor one side or the other (the possibility that both gain is not entertained either - Trump's worldview is clearly always and everywhere zero-sum). The possibility that we might be willing to give something (or gain less) in this one interaction in order to gain something else in another arena (say, security cooperation and basing rights) does not occur to him. "Issue linkage", long a staple of American foreign policy, has been banished. In Trump's view, we must "win" on every single issue, or else pick up our marbles and go home.

The possibility that we might be willing to give up something as the cost of maintaining the international order is completely foreign to this President. Trump assumes that the United States is the dominant power, and the world is structured the way it is, because - divine right? Providence? I don't think he has any idea, because he's never asked the question why the world is the way it is. He is oblivious to the costs that the US has borne over the last 60+ years to establish and maintain the world that he has grown up in.

And so Trump is seeking to stop paying those costs, not because he wants to change the world but because he doesn't understand the consequences. He is like the homeowner who wants to rearrange the walls in his home without first asking which walls are bearing the load of the upper floors. In his view, it is better for us to keep and hoard our money than to spend it maintaining a system that clearly benefits others (as well as us). In his own words, doing so makes us "losers" and "suckers".

This is exactly the kind of behavior that Gilpin predicted 30+ years ago - that the hegemon will eventually grow tired of paying the costs of system maintenance, thereby hastening its own demise as the dominant player. In seeking to "Make America Great Again", Trump is actually moving in the opposite direction, driving the United States towards second-tier status on the world stage.

He does so, unfortunately, at a time when there is a real and viable challenger in the world: China. The Chinese government has made no secret at all of its desire for hegemonic dominance, and its plans for getting their are fairly plain to see. It will take some time, but that is the direction they are pushing in. As they move up, the United States is rushing downwards to meet them.

This, I suspect, is the source of much of the "resistance" within the Administration to Trump himself. Nearly everyone else in the government - certainly Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Mike Pompeo, Dan Coats, and their many underlings - understand American power and how our place in the world is maintained. This is not the "deep state", nor is it necessarily the "steady state" - it is simply the state, the natural outgrowth of two generations of foreign policy development in the United States that has always been more bipartisan than it appears.

What the result of this will be is yet unclear. The Trump Administration is young, and already faces resistance to Trump's apparent desire to chuck the role of hegemon and withdraw from the system we built. The midterm elections will matter, as will the next Presidential election. If Trump is just a blip, a future American President could restore the United States to its usual course - one that might forestall, or better manage, the growing conflict with China. On the other hand, if Trump gets his way then we may see a substantial rewriting of the rules of the international order - and not in America's favor.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Minor Controversy, a Major Problem

I read recently about a minor news story in my local paper. It's the kind of story that likely won't make the national news, and if it did it would be for 15 minutes or less:
Beef O'Brady's Beavercreek: No NFL Games Again This Year
The story is about a local pub owner who, for the second year in a row, is cancelling his business's subscription to the NFL direct service so as not to show NFL games in his establishment. Given that he runs a pub, this is fairly significant since some portion of his clientele presumably go to watch sports.

The article points out that the owner is a Marine Corps veteran, and that he has taken this position because his disagrees with some NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Presumably, he regards that action (and the NFL's tolerance of it) as disrespectful to values that he holds in high regard. Not all military veterans feel this way, but some do.

So far, this is all fine. He's a private citizen running his own business. He's entitled to run that business as he sees fit, and to express his opinions as he likes. Others are welcome to either support him (as many have online) or disagree with him. Nothing unusual or particularly problematic here.

What caught my eye about the story was a quote from the owner explaining his decision:
“The outpouring of support the Beef ‘O’Brady’s family has received over the past year for taking a stand proves one thing. The majority of the American people is on the side of freedom. We’ve received tens of thousands of visits, emails, and letters from patriots in all fifty states. Donations accompanied hundreds of those letters.” [emphasis added]
The underlined sentence is problematic for three reasons. First, however many letters he has received proves nothing about what the majority of Americans think. We all have a tendency, of course, to assume that most people agree with us. But we're often wrong.

Second, there is an irony here in casting this side of the issue as standing for "freedom". That freedom apparently doesn't extend, in this business owner's mind, to NFL players expressing their own opinions in their place of business. This, too, is common: we tend to use the word "freedom" as a talisman, but what we really believe in is freedom for "us", not for "them".

But the primary problem I see is a microcosm of our failure as a society. By casting the issue the way he has, this gentleman has made it clear that he has not the slightest interest in what other people think. As far as he's concerned, he and those who agree with him are on the right side of everything - freedom, Mom, apple pie, and America. By implication, those who disagree stand against all of those things.

Most folks I know would greet this observation with a shrug. So what? People do this all the time. We constantly denigrate those with whom we disagree and dismiss them as cranks, or unhinged, or up to no good.

Or as Enemies of the State. Or Traitors. Or Animals.

This is why this small thing looms so large. Because this is the moment we are in. We are tearing at the fabric of our society, led by "leaders" who desire power over all things and will do anything to obtain and maintain it - up to and including destroying America as a society.

We know where this leads. It's not a new pattern. But it is new to the United States, at least within living memory. We thought we were different, exceptional. Turns out, not so much.

What we have lost is the capacity to listen. I was reminded of this recently when the following passage from the Letter of James came around in the lectionary:
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. (James 1:19-20)
There's a lot of "righteous" anger these days, and precious little listening. For those who claim to be faithful, Bible-reading Christians, apparently this passage has been forgotten. But for all of us, regardless of our faith or religion, we have lost the ability (or the willingness) to try to understand one another.

The pub owner above is not unusual. As he has discovered, there are many who agree with him - people who would rather feel comforted in their tribal righteousness than try to listen to others who might disagree. To understand why some players might choose to kneel during the national anthem rather than stand. And maybe, to work towards solutions instead of divisions.

So two cheers for the anonymous author of yesterday's New York Times op-ed in calling for us all to be Americans first. But that piece, and most others I have seen recently weakly extolling that same virtue, have forgotten the hard work of how we get there. We have to shut up and listen. That's hard work. And it's something we have largely forgotten how to do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us: Higher Education Edition

The old saying has it that "what you don't know can't hurt you". I believe that we are living through an era in which what we don't know about each other is hurting all of us, because that lack of knowledge fuels unnecessary conflict.

This is absolutely true in my industry of higher education. Universities all have varying levels of conflict, of many types. One of the most common is conflict between faculty and administration. Much of this conflict is unnecessary and stems from a lack of knowledge.

I have been reminded of this in many ways in recent weeks, but most proximately by a social media post from a friend which read in part:
My school has an "enrollment management" office with a multi million dollar budget that seems to go up every year. I have no idea what the hell they do, and why that money is spent, especially when my scholarship and other support dollars are at an all time low and will not go up anytime soon. Meanwhile, enrollment at the university as a whole has gone down, and continues to plummet, even while [our department's] enrollment grows each year. ... Bureaucrats will multiply and take all the money, meanwhile, people in [our field] will continue to connect and develop life long meaningful relationships.
To be clear: I have great respect for the faculty member who wrote this post, which also included excellent examples of the work going on in that person's department. I also have great respect for the department as a whole, and the ways in which it has succeeded despite having few resources at its disposal. I think these are excellent people doing great stuff.

My concern, as is often the case, is the characterization of the faceless "they" and the conflict which this needlessly perpetuates. The post above has a few problems caused by a lack of knowledge:

1) The budget of the enrollment management office in question has been going down, not up. The phrase "seems to go up every year" hides the fact that the author doesn't really know, but suspects. Often times, what we suspect to be true isn't. In this case, the office in question has been pushed to do more and more with less and less, just as (perhaps even more than) the academic departments have. And unlike some faculty, nobody in the enrollment office has tenure - many can be (and have been) fired.

2) The phrase "I have no idea what the hell they do, and why that money is spent" is honest, but conveys a suspicion that those efforts are wasted. Not knowing should be an occasion for either humility or research, or both. Negative speculation is harmful.
     In this case, the work of enrollment management is extremely difficult. If it were easy to control enrollments, more universities would do it - most except for the very elite struggle with this constantly. Moreover, the university in question has historically under-invested in marketing itself (an assertion which faculty might dispute but which in fact holds up under scrutiny if you take the time to look comparatively and to understand how marketing works).

3) The claim that "[b]ureaucrats will multiply and take all the money" is both broad and inaccurate. The contrast with the second half of that sentence reveals a broader narrative: faculty are the ones doing the important work of the university, whereas "bureaucrats" are wasted money whose work does not contribute to the education of students or the health of the university as a whole. Professional staff see these comments and know this attitude is out there.

Again, to be clear: faculty DO very important work. I agree that the work that faculty do directly with students is THE work of the university. It is in those relationships that education happens.

But it is also true that without the work of the "bureaucrats", the work of the faculty would be impossible. There is a vast amount of effort that goes into recruiting, admitting, housing, advising, scheduling, and providing for the needs of that student before she ever reaches the classroom. Most of this work is invisible to both students and faculty, as it should be. Ideally, all of this is as seamless and efficient as possible.

But seamless and efficient does not mean free. And while I believe that everyone within a university, at all levels, should be accountable for the quality of their work, the conflicts that arise between faculty and administration often aren't about accountability. They're about tribalism, about them being "them" and us being "us". They are always wrong, and we are always right. And because we are always right, I don't need to know anything about them, because they are wrong anyway, so why learn?

This is the very essence and root of our conflict. Yes, there are disagreements over interests and policy directions and so forth. But if we really understood each other, if we understood how things work on "the other side", and if we ceased doubting (or assuming) each other's motives, the concrete disagreements would be vastly easier to resolve.

Now that I have the position I do, I have few avenues to make these kinds of arguments. Faculty at many institutions are allergic to being "told what to do" by administrators, even if all we're saying is that we would like to develop a common understanding of how the world works. The narratives that drive these conflicts on our campuses are rooted in a fundamental mistrust about motives, but they are fueled and maintained by our steadfast refusal to learn more about each other. That's a problem we can fix - if we want to.

This is, of course, true in our broader society as well. I have previously argued that we don't really have an "America" anymore, but a feuding set of tribes that know less and less about each other. The antidote is always knowledge - not knowledge of facts so much as knowing and understanding people. We claim in our universities to be laboratories for solving society's problems. Perhaps we should start with this one.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Alliance Politics: Emotion over Reason

There are policy decisions which most people agree on. There are policies that reasonable people disagree about. There are policies that are so extreme that few people embrace them.

Then there's Donald Trump's foreign policy.

Over the last few days, Trump sowed chaos at the NATO summit in an unprecedented fashion. At the height of his extremity, he called on NATO members to boost their spending on their militaries to 4% of their GDP.

Nobody in their right mind would call for such a thing. Even the US doesn't spend that much, and the US outspends the next dozen or so countries on the planet combined.

Trump later appeared to drop that particular target, calling instead for the 2% target to be met immediately - after earlier signing a joint statement that called for meeting that target by 2024. Later, he mentioned 4% yet again, then dropped it again.

None of this makes any sense, if you assume that the President is a minimally rational human being for whom words and numbers have meaning.

But Trump is none of these things. He is not rational, in the sense that he does not select strategies that are aimed at achieving goals. He has said himself that he doesn't prepare, he "goes with his gut" - the very antithesis of rationality. He is driven by feeling, by instinct. This is many things, but it is not rational in the standard definition of that term.

News networks have been tying themselves in knots trying to make sense of these varying and contradictory statements. Some have taken the time to look up facts that clearly demonstrate that a 4% target is an absurdist fantasy.

All of this is a waste of time. When Trump says 4%, he doesn't mean what you or I would mean. He doesn't mean anything. He doesn't understand the numbers, doesn't know what the right number would be, and doesn't care.

When Trump says that everyone else should spend 4%, what he means is, everyone else should do what he says. He means simply to project power, to demonstrate that he is right and everyone else is wrong. That, in his own words, only he can save us.

So let us not waste our time arguing with facts that are obviously and absurdly wrong, or policies that are obviously beyond the bounds of reason. None of this is about policy. It's about a man on the world's biggest stage trying desperately to convince everyone (or maybe just himself) that he has all the answers, and that everyone else is wrong.

God help the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Why the Administration's "Advice" on Affirmative Action Doesn't Matter

There is lots of concern on the left about this recent headline story:
Trump administration reverses Obama-era guidance on use of race in college admissions
As someone who works in higher education administration, this is the least concerning thing the Administration has done in months. There are several reasons why this isn't worth our time and attention:

1) It's pointless as a symbolic gesture. I've heard it argued that one reason why folks on the left are upset about this is the symbolic message is sends, that the Administration is hostile to the rights and welfare of minorities. I would have thought that referring to neo-nazis and white supremicists as "fine people" was more that sufficient to make that point. As a symbolic message, this doesn't say anything Donald Trump hasn't been saying for decades.

2) It's non-binding advice. The "guidance" in question doesn't change the law, or the boundaries of the law. There may be a message in here about what this Justice Department is or isn't willing to argue in court cases that may come up, but again we already knew that (see #1 above). Otherwise, this just amounts to a set of suggestions that universities are free to do with as they please.

3) This only applies to institutions that are selective enough for these kinds of things to matter. If you only read the New York Times, you would get the impression that higher education in the United States consists of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and a few other schools here and there. But the reality is that genuinely selective schools are only a very, very small slice of the higher education landscape. Most schools, public and private alike, are desperate enough for students that they will happily accept as many qualified students as they can find, even as they also want to admit diverse groups of students. The number of schools that might conceivably turn away a white applicant in favor of a black or Latino one is extremely small.

4) Because of #3, we need to understand that this isn't about creating a more racially just society in any broad kind of way. This is a rich people's argument, because only the very well-off can afford to send their kids to the kinds of schools for whom these sorts of decisions are relevant. Yes, every year Harvard or Yale or Williams or Stanford will let in a handful of minority students on full ride scholarships. That number is a fraction of a drop in the bucket. For the vast majority (95%+) of minority families who pin their hopes on higher education to lift them out of poverty, their kids aren't going to go to those schools. They're going to go to regional public institutions for whom this argument is irrelevant.

If you care about a more racially and economically just society, and if you believe that higher education is a means to that end, don't spend your time agonizing about this "guidance". Focus that energy on getting your state legislatures to re-fund their public higher education systems, gutted and increasingly expensive after decades of budget cuts. Don't get distracted by red herrings. Focus on what matters.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

We're Thinking About the Court All Wrong

So Justice Kennedy announces his retirement and the internet blows up. Liberals are screaming in fear because they believe the court will be stacked against them for the next 20 years, and conservatives (or whatever they are nowadays) are shouting in triumph that they will finally have a bulletproof majority on the Court.

All of this is wrong. All of it.

I get that the court is, by necessity, something of an all-or-nothing institution. When it makes rulings, its rulings stand - at least until a later court overturns them. Another casualty of the politicization of the law may be the stare decisis standard, which appeared to take a bit of a hit today in the Janus case. I fear that future courts, both right and left, will see their job as undoing the work of the "other side" in the previous generation.

The reality is that we live in a diverse, often divided nation. And we live under a political system that is supposed to value that diversity, and to produce outcomes that, however imperfectly, reflect everybody's voices. If only 20% of people want something, they shouldn't be able to impose their will on the other 80%. That's what we call democracy, and it's what we all claim to value.

Yet the celebration on the right, and the yearning on the left, for a court supermajority are both repudiations of these foundational ideals. It's not just that the court is (by some necessity) a non-democratic institution. How we think about the court betrays how little we really value our democracy.

Take the issue of Roe v. Wade, one of the most oft-cited cases for the importance of getting "your" side to dominate the court. I get that there are people who believe that abortion should be eradicated entirely. I also get that there are people who would like it to be restricted much more than it is. Just as there are people who think it should remain available, and people who would like to widen that availability. I spent a semester in grad school poring over General Social Survey data on Americans' attitudes towards abortion. They are diverse, and remarkably stable, and on balance tend to fall into the "keep it legal but hopefully rare" area, with a large standard deviation around that mean.

So if you celebrate winning a supermajority on the court so that Roe can be overturned and abortion made illegal everywhere, you're in essence saying that winning a complete and total victory on this issue is more important to you than democracy. That even if your view is only held by 20% of the American population, you think you should win anyway and impose that view on the 80% who think differently.

The alternative approach, which is actually far more consistent with our claimed democratic values, would be to try to persuade enough of that 80% to see things your way, so that your view prevails across the population. This is basically why gay marriage is legal now - not because a court said it should be, but because over the course of a couple of generations most Americans have come to agree that people should be able to marry whom they want. Want to change that? Convince them back the other way (good luck).

That approach hasn't worked well on abortion, as the GSS data shows. Hence the arguing over the court - and the hidden abandonment of democratic ideals.

You can substitute any number of other issues for abortion here - gun rights, labor unions, travel bans, take your pick. For those who take the "long view" on the court, who are looking out over the next 20-30 years, it's not any one issue. It's the desire to see "their side" win all of the battles over that period.

If we really believed in democracy - if we really believed that we make our best decisions collectively when everybody's voice is in the mix - we wouldn't want a supermajority on the court. Or a permanent majority in Congress, as Karl Rove used to dream of. If we really believed in democracy, we would want Justice Kennedy replaced with another moderate, swing-voting judge. If Elena Kagan stepped down, we would want her replaced with another liberal justice. If Clarence Thomas retires, we would want him replaced with another conservative.

If we really believed in democracy that's what we all would want, regardless of our own personal views. But we don't really believe in democracy. We only support it when it means we get to win.

All of this is compounded by the fact that we are living through the most anti-democratic Presidency in modern US history. Trump has not the slightest regard for the views of others, and - by his own repeated admission - he wants to win all the time. He doesn't care about what other people think. If he could impose his will on the world, he would, even if nearly everyone disagrees with him.

The mood of the country as a whole is increasingly anti-democratic. Sure, lots of folks are saying, go out and vote. Voting is not a reliable indicator of democracy - just ask Zimbabwe, or pre-1990 South Africa, or Saddam Hussein's Iraq. On all sides, the act of voting - indeed, all political acts - have taken on existential proportions. Everything has become Chuck Norris' "1000 years of darkness" warning, on all sides.

Don't believe me? Watch Tucker Carlson, speaking to a national audience of millions, equate the desire to welcome immigrants with suicide. Translate that into Kinyarwanda and Carlson would fit in nicely with RTLMC radio just ahead of the Rwandan genocide.

This is not Schoolhouse Rock America anymore. We are not e pluribus unum - rather, our motto ought to be e unum pluribus. Out of one have come many. Where there was one nation, united by a common set of political values, now there are many, divided by fear and anger and hatred.

For those who look at Kennedy's retirement and say, this is why I voted for Trump - who believe that for all of his faults and problems, it was worth it to "secure the court" for the next generation - you're entitled to your reasons. If you feel happy today, you're entitled to that too. What you're not entitled to do is claim that you value democracy. Because in the end, if we don't value each other more than we value winning out over each other, then what are we?