Book Review: “Will He Go?”

Will He Go?, by legal scholar Lawrence Douglas, is, at 120 pages, a slim volume focused on a single question: what happens if the 2020 US election delivers a narrow or disputed result favoring Biden, and Trump refuses to concede? This question will, of course, either be answered or rendered irrelevant in half a year. And yet, in my estimation, there’s at least a 15% probability that Will He Go? will enter the ranks of the most important and prescient books ever written. You should read it right now (or at least read this Vox interview), if you want to think through the contours of a civilizational Singularity that seems at least as plausible to me as the AI Singularity, but whose fixed date of November 3, 2020 we’re now hurtling toward.

In one of the defining memes of the past few years, a sign in a bookstore reads “Dear customers: post-apocalyptic fiction has been moved to the Current Affairs section.” I was reminded of that as Douglas dryly lays out his horror scenario: imagine, hypothetically, that a President of the United States gets elected on a platform of racism and lies, with welcomed assistance from a foreign adversary. Suppose that his every outrage only endears him further to his millions of followers. Suppose that, as this president’s deepest (and perhaps only) principle, he never backs down, never apologizes, never acknowledges any inconvenient fact, and never accepts the legitimacy of any contest that he loses—and this is perfectly rational for him, as he’s been richly rewarded for this strategy his entire life. Suppose that, during the final presidential debate, he pointedly refuses to promise to respect the election outcome if he loses—a first in American history. And suppose that, after eking out a narrow win in the Electoral College, he then turns around and disputes the election anyway (!)—claiming, ludicrously, that he would’ve won the popular vote too, if not for millions of fraudulent voters. Suppose that, for their own sordid reasons, Republican majorities in the Senate and Supreme Court enable this president’s chaotic rule, block his impeachment, and acquiesce to his daily cruelties and lies.

Then what happens in the next election?

Taking the existing catastrophe as given, Douglas asks: is America’s Constitutional machinery up to a challenge that it’s never yet faced, of a president who accepts democracy itself as legitimate only when he wins? Douglas concludes that it isn’t—and this is the book’s terrifying and non-obvious part. There are no checks or balances in the Constitution that will magically ensure a smooth transition of power. On the contrary, the design flaws of our antiquated system make a meltdown more likely.

OK, but then why hasn’t America’s Reactor of Democracy exploded yet (or at least, not since the Civil War)? Douglas spends a lot of time on historical parallels, including the Tilden-Hayes election of 1876 and the Bush-Gore election of 2000. In each case, he finds, collapse was averted not because of mythical safeguards in our rickety, Rube-Goldberg system, but only because the relevant people (e.g., Samuel Tilden, Al Gore) stood down, having internalized the norm that the national good required them to. But that’s precisely what Trump has telegraphed that he’ll never do.

The class of scenario that most worries Douglas runs as follows: just like last time, the election comes down to a few swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Crucially, right now all three of those states have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures … and there’s no clear law about which of the two (the governor or the legislature) gets to certify election results and send them to Congress! So suppose Trump has a slight edge on election night, Fox News calls the race for him, but then an avalanche of absentee or provisional ballots shift things in Biden’s favor over the following week. Can you imagine Trump or his supporters accepting the latter?

Or suppose that, on election day, Russian hackers cut off electricity or voter registration databases in Philadelphia or Detroit, via computer systems that we know they already broke into and that remain exposed (!). Hundreds of thousands are unable to vote; the Democratic governor orders a revote; the Republican legislature tries to preempt that by sending the original tally to Congress.

The final authority over election results rests with Congress. The trouble is, the Senate is currently under Republican control and the House under Democratic control—and once again, the Constitution and federal law provide no clear guidance on how to resolve a deadlock between the two on presidential succession (!!). So what if Michigan or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin sends two separate sets of election results, and (predictably) the House accepts one and the Senate accepts the other? And what if there’s no resolution by noon EST on January 20, 2021? Then by law, the Speaker of the House, currently Nancy Pelosi, becomes acting president. Can you imagine Trump willingly vacating the Oval Office if that comes to pass?

Douglas seems to have finished writing Will He Go? just as the coronavirus shut down the planet; he includes some comments about how that will massively exacerbate the above problems. Election officials expect a historic number of absentee ballots, from people—disproportionately urban—who will (reasonably) consider it unsafe to wait in line for hours in a room packed with hundreds of strangers. Alas, Trump has already told his followers that voting by mail is a scam to be fiercely opposed, never mind that he uses it himself. Worse yet, the laws governing mail-in ballots—the signature, the postmark, the deadline for receipt—are byzantine, open to interpretation, and wildly different from county to county. So again: imagine if mail-in ballots overturn what looked like a Trump win on election night. The 2000 Florida recount battle was tea and cookies by comparison.

Douglas doesn’t mention, because it happened too recently, the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests (and in rarer cases, vandalism and looting) set off by the horrific murder of George Floyd, and the often shockingly militarized response. But assuming the protests continue through the fall, they’ll of course give the Trumpists even more pretexts to meddle with the election, in the name of imposing “order.”

This is not a sound statistical methodology, but if I imagine a gong every time the US inches perceptibly closer to collapse—gong when Trump got elected, gong when covid made landfall and the states were abandoned to fight each other over medical supplies, gong when George Floyd was murdered and staid, conformist liberals suddenly became anarchists demanding the complete abolition of all police—well, the gongs seem to be getting more frequent! Almost as if they were building toward a gongularity that was, I dunno, sometime around November!

Douglas never mentions the prospect of a second Civil War until literally the book’s last sentence, but it’s the undercurrent of everything he writes—particularly given Trump’s frequent glorifications of violence, and his heavily armed base. Having spent his career studying American jurisprudence, Douglas is willing to guide our imaginations all the way to the precipice but not over it. Part of me still finds the possibility of going over unthinkable—although wasn’t the first Civil War similarly unthinkable until shortly before it happened?

If there is to be a Chernobyl-like meltdown of the Founding Fathers’ machine, at least it would retrospectively make sense of a lot that’s confused me in the past few years. As I’m far from the only one to notice, “my” side, the left, has seemed less and less interested in debate and discussion, and more and more eager to denounce, ban, shame, and no-platform. As just one example, out of hundreds that would serve, last week a 28-year-old analyst named David Shor was fired from his job for politely tweeting about an academic paper offering evidence that peaceful protests are effective at winning public support for progressive, antiracist causes, while violence is ineffective. Hopefully I won’t now be fired for mentioning this!

Of course every cause has its extremists, but the puzzle is that I know plenty of people who will eagerly join whatever is the shaming or firing campaign du jour. And many of those people strike me as friendly, insightful, honest, balanced, wise—at least when the topic is apolitical, as (alas) less and less seems to be these days.

Thought experiment: two protesters meet on a street, carrying huge signs that say “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “ALL LIVES MATTER” respectively. Can you imagine the following conversation ensuing: “Ah, my good fellow, it looks like you and I are allies, sharing deeply compatible moral messages with the world … one of us merely focused more on a special case, and the other on its generalization! Shall we sit in the park to discuss our joint strategy?”

I guess it takes an Aspbergery STEM nerd even to ask why that never happens. To spell it out: both sides are deploying English words, not for what they explicitly assert, but as markers of tribal affiliation, of which side they’re on.

It’s much the same with “Believe Women.” “Believe all women, always?” asks our hapless STEM nerd. “Women are goddesses who never lie? Feminism is no longer the radical notion that women are people?” “No, you sexist asshat,” replies the normie. “It means listen to women, empathize with women, believe women, be on their side, be on our side. What about that is so f-ing hard to understand?”

Or consider the slogans now conquering the world: “abolish the police” and “defund the police.” “You mean fundamentally reform the police, right?” asks the STEM nerd. “Eliminate qualified immunity, bust the unions that protect abusive cops, get rid of military gear, provide de-escalation training, stop treating homelessness and drug abuse as law enforcement problems, and all those other no-brainers? But not, like, literally end all law enforcement, leave the 911 calls unanswered as machete-wielding rapists run free, and let gangsters and warlords fill the vacuum?”

“No, abolish the police means abolish the police,” reply the activists sternly. “You refuse to listen. You’re not our ally.”

Imagine a ragtag guerilla army encamped in the jungle, surrounded by a brutal occupying force and facing impossible odds, constantly on the alert for turncoats and spies and fair-weather friends in its midst. Would it surprise you if these guerillas had a macabre initiation ritual for new recruits: say, slicing off the tips of recruits’ fingers?

Now suppose you reckoned that truth and justice were at least 3/4 on the guerillas’ side, and so decided to join them. At your initiation, would you ask the guerillas if they’d analyzed whether finger-slicing actually leads to greater effectiveness in battle? Or, as you swore the oath of eternal allegiance to the cause, with one hand on your heart and the other on your Kalashnikov, would you add: “… assuming that we continue to represent Enlightenment values like science, free speech, and intellectual charity”?

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, it suddenly became reasonable to take the side of the bloodthirsty Stalin. And it would’ve been praiseworthy for a Russian to say: “I now pledge my life to fighting for the Soviet government—even if, likely as not, that government will thank me afterward by sending me to the gulag for an invented crime.”

Five years ago, thousands of woke activists shamed me for writing about my teenage experiences on this blog, a few even calling for an end to my career. Especially if those activists emerge victorious from a turbulent 2020—as I hope they will—I expect that they’ll come for me again. (Well, if they get around to it. I’m nowhere near the top of their list.)

And yet, if Lawrence Douglas’s scenario comes to pass—if, for example, the 2020 election leaves Trump barricaded in the White House with his loyalists, while a duly elected government waits in limbo—then I pledge to render whatever assistance I can, and even risk my life if needed, for the same side that the woke activists will be on.

I’d rather not, though. As Douglas points out, the more overwhelming we can make Trump’s electoral defeat, the less chance that it ever comes to this.

157 Responses to “Book Review: “Will He Go?””

  1. Douglas M. Says:

    Scott, Dr. Aaronson, here’s a mostly side question: What does 15% probability mean to you, and how did you arrive at it? You’ve probably written about this before – sorry for only giving your previous posts a quick search. But in case you haven’t – well, it doesn’t feel totally irrelevant. Within the next year, almost certainly, it will have happened, or it won’t have happened, with 100% probability. Anyway, I’m sure you have thought about this idea of probability for a one-off event much more carefully than I have, and I’d love to read more about it.

    And, of course, if this is too distracting from the horrifying outcome that is the subject of this post – well, I’m happy to be shouted down or ignored.

  2. Karen Morenz Says:

    So, can we expect you back in Canada any time soon?

    All kidding aside, it really seems like the tribalism is getting out of control. We need to get back to discussing issues as rational individuals, not slogan-toting members of the good guys vs the bad guys.

  3. Swany Says:

    Mostly cogent argument, and the humorous dash of Russian influence was welcome. We wouldn’t want to think that the United States could sink that low on its own.

  4. Justin Y Says:

    Sounds like a really interesting book. However, after seeing in the Vox interview that Douglas really does claim that there is no resolution for if states submit competing election results, I’m concerned. US law is currently quite clear about how to certify presidential election results.
    In summary, even if there are irregularities in the electors submitted by the states, the house and senate then separately vote whether to accept them, and if they disagree, then the governor of the state has the final decision which electors are the valid electors.
    Of course it’s another question whether society will accept such a result. But the law is clear.

  5. Scott Says:

    Douglas #1: It’s just a way to put a number on a subjective feeling, that’s all. When I don’t put numbers, my Bayesian friends give me a hard time, so I try! Just adjust up and down until it feels right. I’m not a superforecaster.

  6. historynoob Says:

    I am more optimistic than you because no man can rule on his own and
    Trump is a very weak president.

    The establishment of the Republican Party largely despises him. Though
    unwilling to suffer the loss of power that would have resulted from
    ousting Trump by impeaching him, I expect them to accept an electoral
    defeat. This is absolutely in their interest because they cannot expect
    to succeed with a coup d’etat and there will be a time after Trump.

    Trump is opposed by almost all media in the Western world. Social media
    companies can be expected to do anything (I explicitly wish to mention
    manipulation of search results and the like) to prevent his reelection.
    Major corporations do not care about him. He has no wealthy backers,
    nor celebrities or academics to grant him prestige. Hardly any powerful
    politicians (like governors and mayors) owe their political careers to
    his support. The biggest risk seems to me that some military leaders
    favor Trump, but his troop withdrawals have not endeared them to him.

    If Trump loses the next election, his political opponents will avenge
    themselves, possibly by trying to incarcerate him and likely by ending
    the careers of his former supporters. But if he tries to be a dictator,
    the consequences for his allies will be much worse, unless his rule can
    indeed survive indefinitely. Yet I doubt that this is their expectation.

    I am frankly amazed at how often Trump is blamed on problems within the
    US (especially when they have existed for decades before he got elected)
    given that he spends most of his time doing nothing. He did not build
    the wall, illegal immigration is roughly what it was during Obama’s
    presidency, there has been no healthcare reform and America has not
    gotten safer. Overall, he has badly neglected his voter base. When I see
    him tweet “LAW AND ORDER!” I do not feel threatened, but sense that the
    man is utterly incapable of imposing it.

  7. Bunsen Burner Says:

    Call me perverse but I would love it if Trump won the popular vote and Biden the Electoral College. The sound of heads exploding would be deafening right around the world.

  8. John Figueroa Says:

    This has been intermittently crossing my mind ever since that awful November night in 2016, and I have to agree that the GONG!s have been getting more frequent.

    One offsetting factor worth mentioning is Trump’s overwhelming incompetence. As I understand the situation, so far, Trump has mostly failed to do the first thing any self-respecting authoritarian would do—consolidate support in the military. Instead, the top members of the military have ramped up their signalling that they oppose the worst interpretations of what Trump flailingly gestures towards. As far as I’m aware, so far they’ve only just signaled. Still, if Pelosi becomes the lawful president and Trump declares himself the actual one, I think there’s something like a 60% (!!!!) chance that the implicit promise of letters like this will be fulfilled. (The fact that the figure isn’t 99% is just one more sad consequence of me becoming disillusioned in the America I believed in, prior to that heart-wrenching November night.)

    As a resident of a safe state, I wish I knew of more I could do than donate (and keep my tank fueled and backpack packed in case I feel a sudden need to drive to DC(“A”Z?)).

    (As for the other direction, I’m also finding the “‘No, abolish the police means abolish the police. You refuse to listen. You’re not our ally.'” thing frustrating. Most of all because different factions, with equal condescension, explain that “No, ‘abolish police’ DOES NOT mean to abolish the police, it means rejecting reform and instead fixing the corrupt system to its core [note: I am not completely sure what sense the self-styled illiberal left means by the word “reform”]. You are buying into right-wing propaganda aimed at discrediting the movement at precisely the moment when unity is what we need most!”, they tell me.

    I really wish the seventy million or so sane people in this country could just, like, call a time-out, take a breather, and have a nice friendly discussion about our shared values and all the stuff that’s going on. Then, we could coordinate on the most effective messaging strategies & best ways to bash the fash. Only after that do we unpause and go back to politics with a unified core to our disparate voices.)

  9. John Figueroa Says:

    (ADDENDUM: s/worst interpretations/worst (and most accurate) interpretations/)

  10. Henry Miller Says:

    You are way too optimistic.

    There is 99% chance Trump will win the electoral college with good margin (and of course lose the popular vote). This is not a subjective feeling. I had some hope until I watched the Kill Chain documentary and digging deep into the malfeasance behind Georgia 2018 election. Trump will blame the second wave of COVID (for that matter even the first-wave) on the protests and that neutralizes the horrible way that was handled. Popular memory is Markovian with space complexity 1 bit.

    I am truly saddened to see the story about David Shor – could very well have happened to me. Like with the recent furor over J.K.Rowling’s post. Honestly, I don’t see her posts or language coming from hate in any way and that is where all the commentary/editorials have it. Have to commend your bravery for this post but be careful :).

  11. JimV Says:

    I saw in passing recently that a city (I think in the northeast) which had a big police corruption problem actually did disband its police force and replace it with some kind of Neighborhood Watch system, and that crime in that city has gone down since then. The trick seems to be to get ordinary citizens involved as moral role models in their local communities, and remove the “not my problem, the police should handle it” attitude. It probably wouldn’t work everywhere.

    I had another daydream today, that the federal and/or state governments should pay each student who graduates from high school or gets a GED $100 (or some number to be determined by experts). At about 3.7 million graduates a year, and say that becomes six million, that would cost the USA $600 million a year. Heck, make it $1000/graduate. Take it out of the military budget, it’s almost a rounding error there.

  12. E. Harding Says:

    “what happens if the 2020 US election delivers a narrow or disputed result favoring Biden, and Trump refuses to concede?”

    Nothing. Recall Park in South Korea attempted something quite similar when she was impeached; sanity prevailed. For the record, it is Dems (in regards to the election of Donald Trump; cf., Electoral College shenanigans and the impeachment fiasco, and in regards to the election of Brian Kemp in Georgia) who are most insistent about trying to overturn perfectly clear and obvious, if close, election results (so far, to no effect). It’s better to focus on more realistic questions like: “what if a state governor attempts secession”?

    “imagine, hypothetically, that a President of the United States gets elected on a platform of racism and lies, with welcomed assistance from a foreign adversary. ”

    When did Trump ever mention support for the White race? Trump was certainly dishonest, but no more than his opponent. There is nothing about Russia that makes it an “adversary” other than the United States’ hostility. Also, considering the evil of the United States’s government, any country with even a remotely moral government should be an adversary of the United States.

    The real reasons Trump won are very mundane: he was viewed as “good on the economy” by the White working class and faced the least popular Democratic nominee since John W. Davis.

    “when George Floyd was murdered”

    Murder is a strong word; let’s see how the trial plays out.

    If there’s one thing you (bizarrely) seem to have not learned over the past four years, it is that Trump is far more bark than bite. But that might not be the case for a future governor attempting secession.

  13. John Figueroa Says:

    Henry Miller #10: Since you are so confident, are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? Your $9.50 to my $0.50, you win if Trump wins the Electoral College, me if Biden wins (or it’s a tie)?

  14. Peter Says:

    I think you do your own argument a disservice by putting “defund the police” (for example, in NYC the specific proposal is reducing the NYPD budget from six billion to five billion and spending an extra billion on social services) in the same category as “abolish the police”.

  15. Sniffnoy Says:

    Regarding civil war, here’s a good article by Samo Burja (yes, the notorious neoreactionary) from a while back on why another American civil war won’t happen:

    Regarding police abolition, defunding, and the calls for such:

    The idea of police abolition is not as crazy as it initially sounds. Originally America didn’t have what we’d now know as police, it had sherriffs, which would round up a posse of civilians as appropriate. Investigations I think were handled by prosecutors. (Do I have that right? I’m not the clearest on the history here.) But, it’s pretty doubtful that such a system could work in America today, with its much larger scale.

    Of course, there’s always the anarcho-capitalist version of police abolition, where government police are replaced by private security firms. That seems much more workable, but it sure doesn’t seem to be what the leftist “abolish the police” crowd have in mind. They seem to have something “community-based” in mind (which, I suspect, should be read as “suits oppressing nerds”, because that’s what such communities do, even if the people calling for this may not realize that).

    My problem with “abolish the police” isn’t that abolishing the police is by itself such a crazy idea. It’s that, as you kind of talk about, it’s being used more as a slogan than as a proposal. My Facebook wall is full of people explaining why “abolish the police” (or “defund the police”) doesn’t mean what it plainly means. Meanwhile, as you point out, others insist it does. Basically… it’s a slogan, and people will use it to gain support while equivocating about what it actually means. (People… if you have to explain “No, my slogan doesn’t mean the thing people will obviously think it means”, then it is a misleading slogan and you are misleading people. Maybe… just don’t do that, and instead win people over by stating exactly what you want?)

    I don’t think abolishing the police is actually a good idea — I don’t anticipate the ancap version happening, and I don’t think the leftist version makes much sense. But its use as an ambiguous slogan makes it impossible to try to have a sensible argument with those shouting it.

    Defunding the police I have a different problem with. I mean, it sure does seem like the government is spending way too much on policing, especially given how the police in this country don’t do their actual jobs. But “defund the police” stinks of Republican defund / starve the beast tactics. It gives up on treating the government as a machine to be designed and instead treats it as an enemy to be thwarted. Like: Right now the police are doing the wrong things. We want the police to do the right things. Defunding the police won’t get them to do the right things, it just means they’ll do the wrong things less effectively. But get them to do the right things, and, like, the budget will naturally shrink, you know?

    Of course, if “abolish the police” just means “fire every existing police officer and hire from scratch, the good ones can re-apply for their jobs” then yeah I’m totally in favor of that (indeed I called my representative on the city council earlier today to demand it, among other things). But does it mean that? Most say no, but some say yes! Fricking slogans, am I right?

    (Another ambiguity in this slogan: Does it mean abolish all the functions of the police, or just some of them, with the remaining ones being split up over other organizations (e.g. investigations being handled by prosecutors’ offices)? (I mean, prosecutors are lagely awful too, but one thing at a time I suppose.) The naïve reading is the former, but apparently some people mean the latter… again, fricking slogans.)

    Of course, firing the whole police force and rehiring from scratch won’t fix the problem in the long run, because the fundamental problem is that the feedback loop isn’t closed (and unfortunately many of the police reform measures being floated right now don’t do anything to address that, though thankfully a few do). But even if you do close the feedback loop you still need to fire everyone and rehire from scratch, because you can’t rely on rules for everything; you do in fact have to rely on good intentions and professionalism to at least some extent. Otherwise you just end up micromanaging people who despise and resent you. Don’t micromanage… just fire them all and restart from scratch. You have to fix both the bad system and the bad equilibrium.

    That got a bit off-topic. Idk. I guess I’m rambling. I guess I’ll stop there.

  16. John Figueroa Says:

    There’s a sobering set of facts relevant to the Congress-doesn’t-certify, Pelosi-becomes-lawful-president path (please someone correct me if I get any details wrong).

    As you may know, one early recognized flaw of the Constitution was that non-electoral succession was underspecified. The Vice President came after the President, and Congress is authorized to pick what “Officer” is next; nothing else is said. Further amendments have patched some holes, giving a path for an ascendant Vice President to pick their own VP, and giving a way out for brain damage, but the line of succession after the VP is not specified in the Constitution or any amendments (beyond the fact that Congress can pick an “Officer”).

    The line of succession we all know about comes from a 1947 act of Congress, not an amendment. But lots of legal experts think it’s unconstitutional, apparently because “Officers” is more restrictive than it sounds. I can already hear Dershowitz arguing before the Supreme Court that “Officer” clearly cannot include Congresswomen and to say otherwise is a gross violation of the spirit of the separation of powers, etc. The Vox article you linked actually alludes to part of the counterargument, saying: “Nancy Pelosi could become acting president, but only if she resigns her House seat”. Whatever John Roberts decides, I doubt the other half of the country would view it as legitimate.

    If he picks wrong, I don’t know what happens—does Pompeo become President? Will Pelosi be acting president before the Supreme Court case finishes, and will McConnel accept a compromise of, I don’t know, Mitt Romney as Secretary of State? Will that pick even still be valid, after the SC rules that Pelosi was never president? Will she ever be president under this scenario, or will the House vote for Joe Biden as Speaker (Constitutional quirk: you technically don’t need to be in Congress to be Speaker)? And the three big questions, of course, stay the same: what will Trump’s twitter feed do to 40% of the country as this plays out, what will Trump do, and what will the White House security do in the event Trump is legally an intruder?

  17. Sniffnoy Says:

    JimV #11:

    You’re thinking of Camden, New Jersey. IINM, the new thing is still a police force, just, y’know, organized more along community-policing lines…

  18. Sniffnoy Says:

    Peter #14:

    See, that’s exactly the sort of thing I’m complaining about. Does “defund the police” mean what it sounds like or doesn’t it? If that’s all it means, you should stop calling it “defund the police”, because that’s then a misleading name!

  19. Anonymous Ocelot Says:

    Peter #14

    Maybe your facebook feed is different from mine, but “defund the police” is understood by many to mean 100% (ie. “abolish the police”) for many advocates. You’ll face pushback from many advocates if you say “you mean, like, reduce the police budget, right?”. See eg the recent New York Times “The Daily” podcast on this issue. You can say this is unwise, but if so, it’s not Scott’s mistake.

    I think another way to frame it is: there are some innocent people in society who don’t feel safe calling the police, and those people would willingly trade away the protection the police offers them in exchange for having nonviolent workers they can call to respond to their problems and who patrol their neighborhoods. Which, you know, it’s hard to argue with that preference; if people are so scared that they’re not willing to call the police, they don’t exactly get much protection from them.

    I disagree with this proposal; unfortunately, at some point people have to be able to be arrested. Bernie Madoff never threw a punch, but when he stole a thousand lifetimes of wealth, the state had to act and he is currently serving 3 life sentences for it. No police would mean no state ; “oh, a court summons? I’ll just ignore that.” ; eventually, you have to be able to arrest people for violating the laws, and trying to use unarmed workers to arrest someone in a country with guns is basically just asking people to die (and still fail to arrest the sociopath).

    That said, I’m all in favor of the “everything up to the abolishment of the police” approach; wherein armed police are used sparingly. Overton window, successfully shifted!

  20. Allemaraiccire Says:

    This whole scenario has it backwards. It was Trump who won in 2016, and it was the Democrats who colluded with Russians to try and prevent that, who are always looking for ways to cheat in elections, and who have been engaged in coup attempt after coup attempt ever since. (Anyway, the Russians just want to sow chaos, not take sides, whereas the Chinese (CCP) definitely want Trump gone, and the Democrats appreciate the CCP’s efforts including the intentional spreading of the coronavirus.)

    It is the Democrats who are constantly spouting messages of hatred, bigotry, intolerance, identity, division while Trump and his supporters oppose all that.

    One poster had it right that Trump is opposed by most institutions and elites. The truth is that these powerholders are mostly very corrupt. Trump’s entire support basically comes from the people, which is the way it should be in a democracy.

  21. Lyle Cantor Says:

    Very concerned about destabilization. See very worrying things on both sides. If you buy the elite overproduction theory of political instability, we are in trouble as we have been massively subsidizing elite overproduction for the last several decades, and have placed a significant fraction of potential elites in a state of indenture with student loans, this on top of demographic changes.

    Less concerned about Trump than you are. He just strikes me as very dumb, and more importantly the permanent government hates him. I don’t see him being able to pull it off. He is no Caeser. Hell, he is no Drusus.

    Regardless, much is up for grabs these days. Bull market in politics. Could see the republic ending. Could see a Sulla. Could see a cultural revolution. Considering looking into a second citizenship.

    History is a fine thing, but I would not like to live in it.

  22. Justin Y Says:

    John #16: I don’t think you had anything factually wrong, and I’m not a lawyer, but I would heavily bet in favor of the Presidential Succession Act being upheld by the Supreme Court, and the Speaker being recognized as president as needed.
    For one, the 20th Amendment Section 3 says “declaring who shall then act as President”, nothing about officers.
    For two, although many people hate the conservative wing of the SC because their philosophy often leads to Republican policy wins, the entire conservative wing is big on executive power in crisis and would have little tolerance for arguments that get in the way of it. Also, Roberts is all about stability, and 80%+ of people who know about presidential succession assume it will be the speaker, so even if it comes down to his swing vote, it would swing towards the speaker.

    *Either way though*, I don’t think the premise of congress deadlocking is realistic. The votes in the house and senate only have to be majorities. The house is blue. Romney would be reasonable in the senate, and some other senator would break the tie.
    In the end, it isn’t so important what the correct answers to these legal questions are (as much fun as they are to consider) – our laws are made to let congress decide things politically as a last resort.
    The big problem is if there’s any debate at all. Without clear answers, legitimacy is lost, and riots begin. I don’t have a solution to that, other than talk to your neighbors.

  23. Justin Y Says:

    Harding #12 and Allemaraiccire #20:
    Page 48, bullets 3 and 4. Released by Republican controlled committee. Sounds like an adversarial relationship to me. Supported candidate Trump in 2016.

  24. Deepa Says:

    This post is one of my favorites among the ones I’ve read on this blog. The use of “gong” really makes it come alive. Then, the pitching of the 2 fighting sides as mere misunderstanding of semantics (one side being too pedantic) is a take I’ve bever seen before. Very intriguing ideas.

  25. Allemaraiccire Says:

    Adding to #20, I forgot to mention (as examples of it actually being the Democrats engaging in corruption to overturn democracy) that the Democrats deliberately dragged out the “Mueller” “investigation” (even though they knew long before that “Trump-Russia collusion” was a complete hoax) past the 2018 election, so that they could hoodwink voters and steal the 2018 election, which is how they got control of the House.

  26. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Allemaraiccire #20:

    I fervently hope this is another instance of Poe’s Law at work. On the off chance that I have not been deluded:

    Claiming that the losing party colluded with international aggressors while the winning party exploited easily hackable voting systems, archaic and imbalanced institutions, and openly benefited from as well as invited foreign interference belongs in the realm of the insane. If the DNC colluded with the Russians to hack their own servers and start the self-propagating “but her emails” conspiracy, they must have been staffed by RNC staffers.

    Russia has clearly benefited from the election of Trump, what with him still openly advocating for their admission into the G7. Your unsubstantiated conclusion that China helped spread the coronavirus (as opposed to merely developing it, which at least has a few circumstantial facts in support) must rest on a foundation that they thought the best way to cripple the US was to… Cripple their own economy first?

    The standard prevarications about the DNC being the real spreaders of hate will be afforded the respect claims deserve without evidence: none, especially given his calls to dominate the protesters in this tragic struggle (“force with compassion”… Isn’t a thing). As for the claims that he somehow represents the “people’s choice”, that’s certainly an interesting strategy to take seeing how he lost the popular vote by the minor sum of 3 million, although I’m sure you think those are “ghost votes” too. And for the final blow against the out of touch mainstream media- funny how easy we can forget America’s biggest news network, eh?

  27. Anonymous Says:

    I agree that BLM being treated as the opposite of ALM is particularly dissonant to the small minority of people in possession of the concept of set relations and support reframing the protests as being about police misconduct regardless of race. This still leaves plenty of room for debate along the C ⊆ B ↔ ∀ c ∈ C : c ∈ B vs. C ∩ B ≠ ∅ ↔ ∃ c ∈ C : c ∈ B line.

  28. Jon Says:

    A standard of slogans exactly encapsulating their meaning seems unreasonable. We don’t even expect this in a math/cs talk/paper — details and precision are glossed over to convey the essential ideas. This is despite the fact that we’re talking about puny and extraordinarily simple problems compared to social structures and agreements.

    We also use terminology in inconsistent ways (e.g., independent set) and rely on context to identify the correct meaning. For more complex problems where axioms are unclear at best, I don’t see why we would expect consistent usage of terminology or slogans. Some individual groups do pretty good jobs of concisely articulating what they take slogans to mean, e.g., Jumping into a conversation is always going to be a bit fraught.

  29. Odd-Bjørn Says:

    Scott, I have some doubts regarding your rationality calculations: have the Trump fanboys ever tried to end your career and send you to a re-education camp in the alaskan wilderness?

  30. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott : you write “And yet, in my estimation, there’s at least a 15% probability that Will He Go? will enter the ranks of the most important and prescient books ever written.” what are the details of the calculation you did to get an estimate ‘at least 15%’ ? or did you just make that number up (and if so, do you consider it okay for other individuals to simply make up whatever number they feel like using?

  31. Scott Says:

    Jon #28: I completely agree that exact precision in language is an unattainable standard, one not achieved even in math and CS. I’d gladly settle for people wanting to convey a clear meaning, rather than wanting to pull motte-baileys (i.e., equivocate between something exciting and indefensible and something boring and defensible depending on whether they’re being challenged).

  32. Scott Says:

    Odd-Bjørn #29:

      have the Trump fanboys ever tried to end your career and send you to a re-education camp in the alaskan wilderness?

    No. With them, my worry is merely that they end the entire world, not my career in particular! 🙂

  33. Scott Says:

    Richard Gaylord #30: Please see comment #5. The entire point of Bayesianism is that you get to make up probabilities—that they can communicate nothing more than subjective feelings—so long as they’re consistent with your other probabilities.

  34. James Cross Says:

    “what happens if the 2020 US election delivers a narrow or disputed result favoring Biden, and Trump refuses to concede?”

    Does it even have to be narrow? He disputed the last election that he won by claiming millions of votes were fraudulent.

    If the scenario plays out, keep in mind that they will have guns.

  35. JimV Says:

    Sniffnoy @ #17: I stand corrected. Thank you; and thanks for being a voice of reason on this blog.

    On the Trump supporters that have shown up, I wonder if they are trolls, Russian-affiliated bots, or just deluded. Some sort of tracing mechanism to check for the second option would be useful, but probably could be misused. I guess we just have to suffer them.

  36. lewikee Says:

    15%? More like 99% Can you give me a plausible scenario where Donald Trump leaves the White House of his own volition?

    Say Biden wins by a large margin. Do you really think Trump will stop himself from declaring the election was rigged? It would be in his interest to say it was rigged, so therefore he will say it. And as I’m sure everyone should understand by now, his supporters will fully and vigorously back him on that.

    Biden winning by a large margin is the best case scenario, and even that results in Trump refusing to go. How can you say 15%?

  37. Oleg S. Says:

    Scott, what do you think about alternative vote?

    CGP Grey has great explanatory videos in his “politics in animal kingdom” series

    Do you think it became a common knowledge that polarization, hate and authoritarism grows naturally in First Past The Post Voting system which US still uses today?

  38. Scott Says:

    JimV #35: Would readers prefer if I banned the Trump-trolls? Honestly, they no longer bother me any more than flat-earthers would—unlike with most people who argue with me here, I find that I don’t feel myself obligated or even tempted to respond.

  39. fred Says:

    Thoughts on the science shutdown:

  40. Scott Says:

    lewikee #36: Douglas struck me as having extremely clear-eyed appraisals of Trump’s psychology, and his assessment is that, if Trump loses unambiguously, then he’ll

    (1) claim the election was stolen anyway, and refuse to attend Biden’s inauguration, but also
    (2) leave, maintaining his connection with his aggrieved supporters by returning to being a TV star.

    Even if not, in publicly breaking with Trump over the last week, the military has sent a pretty strong signal that it would escort him from the White House if the rest of the system was urging it to.

    And then there are the scenarios where Trump unambiguously wins—or “wins” by hacking the election in an undetected or undemonstrable way. Those outcomes are of course also terrible, but in a different way from what we’re talking about.

    In Douglas’s estimation, the true meltdown scenario for the US is with a close and disputed election.

  41. Scott Says:

    Oleg S #37: Of course, virtually any reasonable election system would be better than what the US does. The problem is that there seems to be no path to changing things, since amending the Constitution would require the support of the very states that benefit from the current unjust system.

  42. Radford Neal Says:

    Scott, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

    Your comments like “a President of the United States gets elected on a platform of racism and lies, with welcomed assistance from a foreign adversary” contribute to the polarization of US politics, and to the danger of a breakdown of the US into civil war. Trump is not racist – not in any explicit sense, and if he has some racist attitudes, they are no worse than typical of people who grew up when he did. There is no evidence that Trump “welcomed” Russian interference, and Russian actions in any case had a negligible impact on the election. (And the idea that Trump has governed in a way favourable to Russian interests is just laughable.) As for “lies” – well sure, like just about all politicians, but Trump is not outside the typical range.

    Regarding refusal to yield power if he loses… An exercise for you: Provide a list of the court rulings that Trump has defied, the executive orders he has issued that clearly contravene the US constitution, or illegal actions by federal government officials that were directed by Trump.

    An empty set? If you come up with borderline cases, compare their level of egregiousness with previous presidents.

    Sure, Trump sometimes SAYS dumb, authoritarian stuff. Like that he has total authority to order whatever he wants regarding public health. But then he left actual policy regarding covid-19 largely to the states.

    If you want to reduce the possibility of disaster due to a close, contested election, you should be advocating for voting to be done as much as possible by marking paper ballots on election day. If protesting George Floyd’s murder is enough reason to ignore public health dangers, then avoiding civil war must surely be reason enough to endure the dangers of in-person voting, which could be reduced quite a bit with quite feasible measures like increasing the number of polling stations.

  43. lewikee Says:

    My internet went out last time I tried posting a version of this, so apologies if this is a repost, please remove.

    40%+ of the country have shown that they will support Trump no matter what, and will do so after the election regardless of its outcome. I doubt the military will escort him from the White House if such a large chunk of the American population thinks he is a legitimate president trying to fend off a coup through a rigged election. “A Coup In Progress?” will be a Fox News chyron under images of the military on White House grounds. Any act from the military would itself “confirm” his claim of a coup and cause a legitimacy crisis.

    So to avert that, his claims will be considered potentially legitimate, and worthy of examination. He will have his usual outsized control over the narrative covering the subsequent extremely political process. That is of course where Trump shines, since he need not play by any rules, he just needs to make assertions and label any disagreements as partisan smears.

    If you give me that his base is zealously loyal, and that he has no qualms about putting the country’s stability behind his own interest, I have a tough time understanding how you can arrive at a different conclusion.

  44. Nick Says:

    One more thing for everyone to keep an eye on is the outcome of Derek Chauvin’s prosecution.

    Here is a falsifiable prediction: if Chauvin walks, there will be a lot of violence, much worse than anything that has taken place so far.

    I believe that, and I suspect that politicians and cops believe it, and in the interest of your own personal safety, you should believe it too. (I’m not making any bets, because the scenario in which I win the bet is one in which I may not be able to collect.)

    The Rodney King riots provide a historical precedent. There was a highly publicized trial of violent cops in which justice could have been delivered but wasn’t, despite irrefutable evidence. Justice was not delivered, and the people revolted. Los Angeles suffered dozens of deaths and hundred of millions of dollars in property damage.

    Supposing justice is not delivered for George Floyd’s murder, what do you think the outcome will be this time?

    A related question is: how likely is it that justice will be delivered? Concretely: how likely is it that Chauvin will go to prison?

    Again, the Rodney King trial gives a precedent. The authorities made a series of decisions to ensure that the four cops on trial would go free (moving the trial to the cop suburb Simi Valley, putting no black people on the jury, etc), and they did go free. Everybody had already seen the irrefutable evidence though, so it was clear to the whole world that justice had not been delivered. This predictably led to anger and violence.

    The authorities involved in the trial in effect chose to expose Los Angeles to violence in order to save some cops. That could very well happen again, except that this time it will mean exposing all of us (Americans) to violence.

    I’m sure if it comes to that, there will be more chatter about “the right way” to change things, whether or not to call in the military, etc. But remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Violence can be averted by delivering justice. Delivering justice is already the right thing to do, but it’s the expedient thing to do too.

  45. fred Says:

    As an immigrant who only got his citizenship recently (aka not a Real American), I’m quite confused a few things, for example:

    – what’s the point of having laws without law enforcement?

    – what’s the difference between CHAZ in Seattle and something like the Waco siege situation? One would think that taking over a police station within a major US city would be at least as bad (from a legal standpoint) as the suspected possession of illegal firearms, no?

  46. Anonymous Ocelot Says:

    lewikee #43

    I think the Republican establishment has too much pride to declare a contested election a “coup”. “‘Coup’s are what happen in distant, foreign countries … not in our amazing USA!”, they’ll be thinking and/or feeling; and so, such inflammatory rhetoric will be avoided, and eventually the contested election will be decided by the system (eg. many, many recounts followed by eventually one side being deemed the victor).

    This is actually why I don’t have too much concern about November; I could be proven wrong, and I plan on remaining vigilant; but, I think that patriotism and American Exceptionalism includes a strong bias against these kind of politically-destabilizing behaviors. The conservative side, as willing as it is to bend the rules of the system (I am still pissed about supreme court seats stolen), still derives much national pride from that system and would not want to sully it with the kind of breakdowns you see in other states.

    I guess our main difference is how we see Trump supporters– you see them as stubbornly supporting Trump the man, with all his bluster, for his own sake and no matter what he does. I see they as supporting Trump as a Republican, whose actions they are happy to excuse because (A) they don’t know about them, or (B) they think that “obstruction” is sort of a weird abstract accusation that doesn’t amount to anything by itself. Ie. “it’s our republican vs your democrat, as it always is, may the best candidate win.”

    I mean, if we ask which side of the US liberal/conservative divide has the most members who want to tear down and rebuild the system, I don’t think the answer is the conservative side.

  47. fred Says:

    Nick #44,

    waving the threat of the LA riots – isn’t that reinforcing the racist stereotype that non-black communities in the US should be scared of the black community?

  48. fred Says:

    Nick #44

    because we have another precedent, the Tony Timpa case, according to the wiki,

    “The officers involved were Sgt. Kevin Mansell and Officers Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard.[22] Criminal charges against three officers were dropped in March 2019 and officers returned to active duty.”

    And as far as I know, no riots took place after that.

  49. Sniffnoy Says:

    Jon #28: There’s a big difference between omitting details while preserving the idea, and omitting details in a fashion that will mislead people!

  50. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Scott #38: Please do. Effective discourse requires a shared ground truth to function properly, and allowing trolls in just pollutes the environment for everyone else (if nothing else, it makes reading the comments more painful than they ought to be).

  51. fred Says:

    Apparently the moment of danger is from the time the popular votes are cast until the electoral college meets, and casts its vote, middle of December.
    Once the electoral college vote is registered, a president that tries to stay in power after this is simply outside the law.
    So Trump would have to stop the meeting of the electoral college.

  52. jonathan Says:

    Trump “never backs down” until he does. He’s been involved in many fights, tough negotiations, and court cases in his life, and he’s settled plenty of times, or gone along with what the court decided.

    If he does dispute the election results (and this might well happen, in part because of issues surrounding vote by mail), I imagine this will eventually end up in the courts, and then perhaps before the supreme court. If the courts rule against him, I fully expect him to go (though doubtless with much complaining). Some of his supporters may think that he was wronged, but I strongly doubt this will start a civil war, partly because he won’t want that.

    He’ll be looking ahead to 2024.

  53. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #38: Yeah, it’s just tiresome.

  54. Scott Says:

    Radford Neal #42: Sorry, I’m not going to argue with you about Trump; I’ll leave that to others if they have the patience or energy.

      If you want to reduce the possibility of disaster due to a close, contested election, you should be advocating for voting to be done as much as possible by marking paper ballots on election day.

    I certainly agree with you that paper ballots are the best! That’s exactly what election security advocates have been saying for years. Alas, Mitch McConnell blocked most of their efforts, refusing (like so much else) even to bring the bills to a vote.

    The position of the election security experts I’ve talked to is: paper ballots filled out at a polling station are ideal, but in a pandemic, mailed paper ballots are a clearly superior alternative. There are ways to cheat, of course, but they don’t scale nearly as easily as with the electronic voting machines that much of the country still uses anyway.

      If protesting George Floyd’s murder is enough reason to ignore public health dangers, then avoiding civil war must surely be reason enough to endure the dangers of in-person voting, which could be reduced quite a bit with quite feasible measures like increasing the number of polling stations.

    Isn’t it a shame, then, that the Republicans have so famously been doing the opposite, closing polling stations in poor and urban and student areas and reducing their hours, to make the crowding even worse? In addition to purging voter rolls and forcing through voter-ID laws justified by invented “fraud” claims—laws whose real purpose is as obvious to you as it is to me and everyone else?

    If an extraterrestrial wanted to know in one sentence why I always vote for Democrats rather than Republicans, I could simply respond: because the Democrats are the ones trying to make it easy for as many citizens to vote as possible, and the Republicans are the ones doing the opposite.

    I don’t know if you were ascribing such a position to me, but personally I don’t think that anyone should ignore public health dangers to protest George Floyd’s murder. And I’m dismayed that so many public health experts seem to have sacrificed their credibility to say otherwise. I think that, if people are going to protest at all, then for their own safety (not to mention others’), they should wear masks, maintain a reasonable distance, and of course stay outdoors. Given the pandemic, though, I also think that the police should completely eschew the use of tear gas.

    My wife and I will try to get approval to vote by mail in November. If we can’t—Texas makes it nontrivial—then yes, we will risk a horrible disease to vote in person. But I’d feel terrible telling an elderly or immunocompromised person to do the same, just like I’d never urge such a person to go protest right now.

  55. Jon Says:

    Sniffnoy #49: Sure, I agree. For the example of ‘defund the police’, the link I provided gives a reasoned position which is, I think, accurately summarized by the slogan. It’s only misleading in the sense that you can project onto it what you want — but this is also true of ‘independent set’.

    Different from the technical setting, though, is that at a macro level it serves the purpose of collecting people who have broadly similar views. Having ‘defund the police, y/n’ as a ballot question would be a problem, but I don’t think anyone is proposing this.

  56. Sniffnoy Says:

    Jon #55: “Independent set” isn’t misleading because it has no pre-existing meaning. “Defund the police” has a pretty plain meaning that the more detailed proposal does not in fact reflect. If you read the proposal first it might sound like an accurate summary, but if you see the slogan first you would not generate anything like the proposal.

    I do not think it is OK to mislead people in order to collect together people with broadly similar views. If doing so is the only way you can think of to do so — well, find another way. In this case, why not just say “police reform”?

    Or if you think that’s not specific enough because it doesn’t specify reallocating money away from them, why not say, I don’t know, “cut police pork” or “cut police waste”? “Defund” implies cutting money until they can’t properly operate anymore. Saying “cut police waste” makes the real implication clear — it’s not about preventing them from operating properly, but about cutting extraneous stuff that they don’t need to be doing at all. This can possibly be improved upon, but it’s a lot less misleading.

  57. Anon Says:

    I think Trump is the most successful troll in history. His strategy is divide and conquer: he doesn’t aim to be inclusive or polite or gentle, but the absolute opposite: he tries to be as offensive and triggering as possible in order to draw out the “monsters” of the other side. He’s succeeding.

    He managed to draw out all the anarchists, the self-righteous of the most annoying kind, the hypocrites, the feminists and gender-study, the anti-police, the anti-capitalists, and nearly every fringe left ideologies. He’s intentionally infuriating them as much as he can, disrespects them and triggers them to radicalize and gain spotlight. I’m amazed that Minneapolis reached a point of disbanding police. This divide and conquer is actually amazing (and horrifying).

    By the time the election comes, the sane left will be so fed up from the insane left, and from the tolerance and lack of action given to the insane left, that they will vote for Trump in desperation. And then there’s the issue of the lack of tolerance to anything not “politically correct”, and guys like David Shor getting fired, people getting told it’s racist to criticize the protests for their blatant disregard for public health, and other generally centrist views. He’s getting the center spooked by the insanity of the radical left.

    When rioters and looters are getting tolerated and intelligent nerds get scorned and fired over nothing, you know you’ve gone insane. I hope I’m wrong but given how well his strategy seems to work so far, I doubt it. He’s going to pick up the business owners whose stores got burned, the nerds who got burned by social justice warriors, and generally everyone who got bullied and fed up by the self righteous impossible standards of the left, and convert them to vote for him.

    His way of dealing with racism accusations aren’t to reject them, instead he will take those and heat and infuriate the activists into action so much that nearly everyone will get called racist by some activist, and that point that same person will no longer care that Trump is racist because he has seen how impossible are the standards. He is the ultimate troll.

  58. Steve E Says:

    This is a great blog post, which I think encapsulates what a lot of us are thinking but may not have the courage to articulate so pointedly.

    Also, you wrote:

    Thought experiment: two protesters meet on a street, carrying huge signs that say “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “ALL LIVES MATTER” respectively. Can you imagine the following conversation ensuing: “Ah, my good fellow, it looks like you and I are allies, sharing deeply compatible moral messages with the world … one of us merely focused more on a special case, and the other on its generalization! Shall we sit in the park to discuss our joint strategy?”

    This would make a great premise for some YouTube sketch comedy.

  59. Sniffnoy Says:

    Jon #55: Actually I guess a better version would be just “reduce the police” or “reduce policing”. Like… that’s pretty straightforward right there. Don’t put the emphasis on the money, which doesn’t seem to be the real point, put the emphasis on the actual result you want — reduced policing. That seems pretty straightforward. Just saying that there’s too much policing, without implying that you want to cripple policing entirely. “Cut police waste” isn’t quite as good because it suggests that it’s cutting pure waste, and would not lead to reduced policing.

  60. Radford Neal Says:

    Scott #54:

    My understanding of the US political system is that voting procedures are largely under the control of the states. So I don’t see how Mitch McConnell comes into it. Many states are wholely or partially controlled by Democrats, including I think many swing states.

    If you think that Republican concerns about voting fraud must just be an excuse to disenfranchise likely-Democrat voters, then I’d say that that is a good illustration of how you are contributing to the breakdown of your country by assuming that anybody who isn’t on your side politically must be evil.

  61. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott, could you break down your probability estimate? What probability do you put on the election being close enough that it matters, and conditional on that, what probability do you put that Trump refuses?

  62. Scott Says:

    Radford Neal #60: The fact that elections are under state control is one of the main problems (historically, you might remember, it’s what led to the massive disenfranchisement of African-Americans, starting after Reconstruction and incredibly continuing right down to the present). The more specific problem is that state electios are massively underfunded—in urban areas, there aren’t enough polling places, hours, workers, or voting machines, and many of the voting machines that there are are insecure. McConnell scuttled federal funding that would’ve fixed these problems. Just like with blocking Merrick Garland, he barely even tried to hide his reason for doing so: that for him, subverting the electorate is a feature rather than a bug.

    No, not everyone who isn’t on my side is evil. Within my friend group, I can think of perfectly decent libertarians, traditional conservatives, SJWs, and socialists … and even a few decent Trump supporters who “know not what they do.” But the current leadership of the GOP is evil. At least, I expect that to be the near-unanimous judgment of posterity, assuming that there is a posterity.

  63. Scott Says:

    Anon #57:

      By the time the election comes, the sane left will be so fed up from the insane left, and from the tolerance and lack of action given to the insane left, that they will vote for Trump in desperation.

    Sorry, but anyone who’d even consider voting for Trump doesn’t belong to the “sane left”—I’m not even sure they belong to the “sane right”! 🙂

    If the “sane left” wanted someone who agreed with the protesters on the reasonable things where they’re right, but who wasn’t a crazy anarchist or SJW … well, I heard there’s some “Biden” candidate they might look into?

  64. smokethebarbecue Says:

    While we’re on the subject of (among other things) left wing idiocy, I’m curious whether any readers of this blog want to defend this:

    “What many tech companies call software components — “master” and “slave” is written into the computer code — wherein one process controls another. Not “controller” and “follower,” say, or “manager” and “worker.” Should an African American software developer be required to write code wherein a master process commands slaves?”

  65. Oleg S. Says:

    Scott #41: Do you support the alternative voting enough to make another update to the banner on top of your site? (maybe after Covid vaccine is developed and November election is over)

    Personally, I think this is one of few positive causes to fight. I haven’t encountered systematic opposition to this, but I never really probed far outside my echo chamber, so maybe it’s time to try the waters.

  66. Scott Says:

    Oleg #65: Instituting a rational voting system is a much, much longer-term fight. As I explained earlier, it will probably require a Constitutional amendment, and those who stand to lose from a fairer system (typically Republicans) will fight any change tooth and nail. For this November, it will be enough of an achievement to make our irrational, unfair system deliver a result as “designed,” without plunging the country into chaos!

  67. gt Says:

    smokethebarbecue #64: Well, to start out with, master and slave isn’t even explanatory terminology for the system. “Master/slave” systems don’t have one master that tells the slaves what to do, they have one master than all the slaves copy. Much more explanatory would be “leader/follower” or potentially “Simon/follower” if you wanted to be funny.

    In addition, yeah the terminology is pretty bad for historical reasons too. I don’t think a lot of people in the US would be happy if computers had developed in Germany and this had been called “Führer/Folger,” but in German “Führer” just means “leader.” (A manager at a company is a “Geschäftsführer”)

    Similarly, a lot of people have bad associations with the terms “master” and “slave” and I think that’s a perfectly reasonable change to make.

  68. jonathan Says:

    JimV #11 and Sniffnoy #17:

    Here is a long and very nice article about the situation in Camden written back in 2013. Current reporting is politically motivated and suffers from hindsight bias.

    As far as I can tell the real story supports precisely the opposite position to “defund the police”. Christie initially cut the funding of the corrupt and inefficient Camden police, and they had to pull back policing. This lead the city to spiral into full-blown criminal chaos. He then dissolved the department and reformulated it at the county level (removing it from local control), rehired most of the officers, and got rid of the cushy desk jobs. The result was many more officers on the streets, and aggressive policies of crime suppression. This predictably lead to a steep reduction in crime. (I say predictably because the general result of the academic literature is that more cops = less crime. See here. And see Tabarrok’s description of the Camden experiment here.)

    Anyway, if someone were interested in using the best research to save the greatest net number of black lives (ala effective altruism) they would probably consider greatly increasing policing of poor urban black neighborhoods.

  69. Nick Says:

    fred #47

    > waving the threat of the LA riots – isn’t that reinforcing the racist stereotype that non-black communities in the US should be scared of the black community?

    The racist view is that black people are dumb animals who should be feared because they are inherently violent. According to this view, there is nothing to be done about the situation other than wait for outbreaks of violence, then respond with force. That is a stupid way to look at things, and it’s not what I’m saying. What I am predicting is that if black people are not delivered justice for their utterly justified grievances, they will be angry and there will be violence. This means that there is a way to avert future violence — namely, by delivering justice.

    Again, delivering justice is not just the right thing to do. It’s beneficial for everyone. In Los Angeles, many Korean businesses were destroyed during the riots. Do you think those Korean business owners would have been worse off or better off if justice had been delivered? Do you think the cops and politicians who rigged the trial gave a shit about the welfare of Korean business owners?

    fred #48

    > because we have another precedent, the Tony Timpa case…And as far as I know, no riots took place after that.

    It sounds like you’re trying to get at a specific point here, but I don’t know what it is. Please clarify.

    To save everyone the trouble of looking it up, Tony Timpa was a unarmed 32 year old white man who was choked to death by police in Dallas after calling 911 during a mental episode. There is a dumbass claim going around in conservative circles that BLM protesters don’t care about white people murdered by police, like Tony Timpa and Daniel Shaver. This is misdirection and a lie. Just in case anyone here is under that delusion, I’ll point out that I was here one week after George Floyd’s murder warning that any white guy could end up like Daniel Shaver [1]. Personally, I first learned about Shaver and his murderer, Philip Brailsford, from a black blogger [2].

    I’ll admit, this is the first I’ve heard of Tony Timpa. He was choked to death by police in 2016, but the bodycam footage was only made public in July 2019 (less than one year ago). Why do you suppose the cops didn’t want it released? The cops who choked him to death were indicted, but the charges were dropped. The footage shows them joking and laughing and having a gay old time as they murder him.

    If you’re curious, here’s the highlight reel [3] and here’s the full bodycam footage [4].

    If you are a “geek” or “nerd” who feels like “radical leftists” are out to get you, keep in mind that your life means nothing to the police. If they kill you, there will be no justice. You do not matter to the “justice system”.





  70. Scott Says:

    “Master/slave” does seem a shade worse to me than “quantum supremacy” or “ancilla” or “NIPS,” which didn’t even have any negative associations for me until others uncovered or invented them. I’ve never worked in any part of CS that used “master/slave” terminology, but if I did, I could imagine it being a little awkward.

  71. jonathan Says:

    By the way, I will just register the opinion that we should keep qualified immunity. I don’t think that’s a no brainer at all. Cops can still be fired or held criminally liable for breaking the law. It just protects them from civil suits from use of discretion in fulfilling their duties. Of course, you can still sue the department (and they are subject to department discipline for their actions). If you got rid of it individual cops would be subject to tons of harassment from civil suits. Given how many litigious people are out there, and people who want to stick it to cops, it would greatly hamper their ability to do their jobs.

  72. anonymous Says:

    smokethebarbecue #64: Don’t think I’ve ever seen master/slave in software. But it’s definitely there in electronics (makes sense, since that’s an older industry). I once worked with a black guy with an EE degree and had a conversation using these words. I seriously think he was trolling me, to see how long I could deadpan it without breaking a sweat. Made me want to crawl under a rock. Point definitely made. So, if even just for the sake of polite whites like me, these words have to go.

    “Quantum supremacy” and the other ones Scott lists: it really takes a stretch of the imagination to find offense. People need to choose their battles.

  73. anonymous Says:

    fred #45: My understanding is that the Waco siege, and Ruby Ridge, are in fact exactly the reason why CHAZ cannot be taken by force. These events caused the feds to take a step back and say “woah… that was too far.” There was a real policy change after this. Can’t remember the specifics, but somewhere there is a guy who’s been in a police standoff for something like a decade (maybe more?) Supporters keep bringing him food.

    Even if you imagine a hypothetical where Waco and CHAZ were happening simultaneously, these are not the same situation. The Branch Davidians were a cult, and there was pedophilia. You can bet if anything like that develops in Seattle, it’ll get cleaned out. But as of now the politics are not even close to favoring massive violence for this. I haven’t been there, but it sounds like just a bunch of hippies hanging out.

    Bundyville is perhaps closer to CHAZ. A bunch of people taking over an area as a political statement. Both are kind of egg on the government’s face. This was of course more tense, since they were heavily armed. Only one person was killed, and he was essentially drawing a weapon on an officer.

  74. Raoul Ohio Says:

    E. Harding #12,
    “Trump is no more dishonest than … “? You have got to be kidding. Trump is the most dishonest person in public life. Can anyone name anyone who lies a larger fraction of the time? He is hardly even lying, he is just making stuff up on the fly with little or no thought about it.

    It is quite astounding that he managed to swindle so many people in real estate deals. Who were these people? Who can’t tell that Trump lies like a rug? Are some people born without a dirtball detector?

  75. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Richard Gaylord #30,

    Not sure what your background is, but a big part of being a competent scientist is being able to estimate things at a “better than a guess” level. Physics grad students are (well, were 50 years ago) assigned “Fermi Problems” for homework, which basically means “Given scant information, come up with a number, and defend the calculation. Maybe estimate how likely is it”. I got this one once on a quiz: “How many pharmacies are in Omaha NE”. So I can play that game OK. If I thought about the chances of this coming to pass, 15% would be a reasonable number.

    I based my Omaha estimate on having hitchhiked through once and guessing it was half as big as Columbus OH, and then extrapolated that number from the town I was living in. Later I sent a letter to the Ohaha CofC asking, and someone there sent me a page torn from a yellow pages. That was not definitive, because it hard to say what is a pharmacy and what “in Ohaha” means.

  76. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Agree with lewikee #35.

    I posted my guess a couple weeks ago that the scary orange clown would NOT walk out, but would be dragged kicking and screaming. Probably crying more than screaming, that’s how it goes with “wanna-be tuff guys”.

    I am in touch with lots of people, about 80 or 90% of whom are somewhat to a lot more left than me, many of whom prefer their politics unsullied by contact with reality. So I spend lots of time promoting the idea that being sane is a good thing.

  77. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott #40,

    In the 60’s I was worried about a right wing and/or military takeover. Of course, we also worried a lot about the Russian’s “dropping the big one” in those days. As you get older, you see that a lot of the time, things somehow muddle through. However, I was very happy to see Trump insulting and pissing off the military from day 1. Even thought there are a lot of right wingers and religious nuts in the military, they don’t like “crazy”. they don’t like “dumb”, and the don’t like “fuck ups”.

  78. Shiva D. Says:

    I find it a little uncanny that despite a coordinated cultural crackdown, propaganda and virtue-signalling campaign by all major media, corporations and government simultaneously, the likes of which we’ve never seen in the (so-called) Land of the Free, and which looks more like something you’d expect in a place like China, that so many people still think Trump is the great threat to our freedom. I fear competent, efficient, coordinated technocratic authoritarianism much more than inefficient, bumbling, narcissistic strongmanism. The former has vastly greater potential to become a totalitarian nightmare, if you ask me. Someone once said that fascism will come to America wrapped in an American flag, but Stalinism is coming wrapped in social justice rhetoric right now. You might respond that Trump represents the former; if so, I’d like to know exactly which freedoms you’ve lost over the last 3.5 years due to the “fascist” Trump? You’ve personally experienced how nasty and deceptive the Stalinist social justice warriors can be; what kind of nastiness have you experienced from Trump supporters?

  79. Jon Says:

    Sniffnoy #56 / #59: I don’t think I’m going in a productive direction here, so I’m going to stop after this. I agree your proposal in #59 is better than #56, but it still carries a rather different meaning (to my ear!). Reduce the police / reduce policing both suggest the opposition is to the quantity of policing, and is impossibly vague as to this quantity. This *would* be highly misleading / an inaccurate summary.

    Of course, I don’t think we are going avoid the fact that summaries and slogans carry information loss, and `defund the police’ isn’t perfect. I don’t think this is a big problem — slogans and summaries are meant to be starting points, and rely on non-universal context to be brief — but I get the sense we have different feelings here.

  80. Anon Says:

    Scott #63: The problem is that Biden completely ignores the madness. The democrats look at the madness and are powerless to stop it. This is dangerous. I think Trump winning will be horrible thing, but I think the democrats are making historical mistake of not putting a red line to the madness from their radicals. These radicals would have never voted Trump anyway, but those suffering from them might.

    From game theoretic perspective, politicians should aim to be as centrist as possible to get as much votes from the other side, and these radicals are successfully pushing them in the wrong direction. Don’t take me as some Trump supporter, but don’t be so surprised when Trump suddenly wins in these locations where the radicals are celebrating. If you’re concerned about Trump winning, you should be more concerned about Biden’s anemic response to the madness.

  81. Bunsen Burner Says:

    “Thought experiment: two protesters meet on a street, carrying huge signs that say “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “ALL LIVES MATTER” respectively. Can you imagine the following conversation ensuing: “Ah, my good fellow, it looks like you and I are allies, sharing deeply compatible moral messages with the world … ”

    No of course not, because the slogan “All Lives Matter” was not created by a movement protesting police violence, but as a deliberate way of trying to shame BLM activists. It certainly is conceivable that an ALM movement can arise, with people that bring up the class aspect of police violence, and the large number of white people killed by the cops. However, the current ALM people do not do this. They bring this slogan out only in bad faith to try and deflect from police violence.

  82. Scott Says:

    Shiva D #78: But did woke virtue signaling actually recede in any way under Trump? No, it greatly accelerated … just as Scott Alexander presciently warned would happen if Trump won, right before the 2016 election. And if after all this he were to be reelected, you haven’t seen anything yet!

    This should not surprise us: in a sense, Trump is the woke virtue-signallers’ best ally. He’s the embodiment of everything they’ve always believed about the rich, conceited, ignorant, racist, pussy-grabbing old white men who rule the world, the ultimate vindication of their entire worldview.

  83. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Shiva D. #78 Only such minor contrivances as “blood and soil”, backed up by the frequent flaunting of militia assault rifles. And, you know, the implied cleansing of the impure from “their America”.

    I remain less than convinced that the “militant left” possesses the capability to create a stalinist dictatorship (and the major corporations you so decry would very much prefer soft libertarianism backed up by continual virtue signalling and carefully sculpted, consumer friendly, action-deficient “wokeness”), if only because the few with the will or desire to do so seem to spend most of their days arguing with… The other parts of the left, some of whom would prefer no government at all.

  84. Erik Caine Says:

    Just for moderator

    My first post didn’t pass moderation and this is the last I will bother you. I fully support your efforts to eliminate Legacy admittals to elite universities. There is one other very large policy that discriminates against the poor. It truly is systemic discrimination but neither of the parties discuss it and that is the elimination of the estate tax. Phased elimination started most currently in 1998 with bipartisan support. It is another blow against meritocracy. In my view much better for society as a whole of each generation started on an equal playing field but politics has come to provide wealth and politicians want to provide for their heirs. No Trust Funds, close dodges as possible and every generation competes on a level field.

    I believe the elimination of the fairness doctrine for media has contributed to the current political polarization. It was eliminated because congressional dems threatened conservative commentators I believe. Little fairness left on either side now.

    Good luck to you. If possible I request development of a somewhat benevolent AI to take over as permanent president of the US. 🙂

  85. Deepa Says:

    What are the chances Trump is sued by someone (say an ambitious district attorney)? There are so many cases that could be made against him. This is if he loses 2020 of course. This was a great point : “Trump is the woke virtue-signallers’ best ally.”.

  86. Deepa Says:

    Anonymous #72:
    A couple of anecdotes.

    As a female studying engineering in India, I was in a class of 60, with 2 girls. Everyone was required to do shop. We had carpentry, smithy etc. It didn’t all seem relevant to my engineering major but everyone was required to do this. If you are familiar with this, you’d know they have many technical phrases describing interlocking parts that women could find offensive. It made me uncomfortable, but it was not the end of the world. I just ignored it. I don’t think anyone used it in an offensive way. I don’t know what I’d have done if they had. I am not saying ignoring it is the right way, but it is one way to deal with it.

    Many years later when I worked for , we all had to go through mandatory diversity training. I found it very interesting. India needed to get this, I said to myself. A year after this, my manager (who also had to attend this training) drove me to a conference, and played the Howard Stern show on his car radio. He said, “I hope you are not offended by this, because this is not my idea of offensive.” Something made him switch it off anyway in a minute. Later, I looked up that show and thought this was highly inappropriate for him to play. This was well before the extreme sensitivity to such things began in the culture. Having been through that training, I was emboldened to go and complain to HR. Looking back, the manager was simply an idiot and I shouldn’t have taken it that far. But I think, to some degree, I was enjoying feeling like a victim. I was also thinking, he needs someone to tell him officially that this cannot happen again, to me or to anyone else who reported to him. HR today might have taken this very far. But in 1996, they simply convinced me it was not a big deal! I definitely know he had no business playing that show (and I guess good sense prevailed when he switched it off in a minute). This is my 2020 perspective of events that might have taken a very different turn if they happened now.

    I think it is better to try to change hearts and minds, rather than take the legal angle or get someone fired or think the absolute worst of the offender (and very quickly blame all men!). Most people respond well to a sincere expression of how something made you feel. This is what I feel now, with the wisdom of hindsight.

  87. Sniffnoy Says:

    jonathan #68:

    Ah, thanks. I feel a bit foolish for not looking into this more.

  88. Sniffnoy Says:

    Jon #79:

    Of course, I don’t think we are going avoid the fact that summaries and slogans carry information loss, and `defund the police’ isn’t perfect. I don’t think this is a big problem — slogans and summaries are meant to be starting points, and rely on non-universal context to be brief — but I get the sense we have different feelings here.

    Again, the problems is not about information loss, it is about being misleading, adding information that is not correct. It’s the difference between saying that 9 is “about 10” and saying that it’s “about 1000”. One of these is information loss; one of these is misleading.

    “Defund”, to my mind, has a pretty specific meaning, namely, to remove funding something — as much as you can, the usual implication is almost all — in an attempt to cripple its capabilities rather than fix its operation or properly get rid of it. If that’s not what you mean, you shouldn’t use that word.

    I don’t think I’m going in a productive direction here, so I’m going to stop after this. I agree your proposal in #59 is better than #56, but it still carries a rather different meaning (to my ear!). Reduce the police / reduce policing both suggest the opposition is to the quantity of policing, and is impossibly vague as to this quantity. This *would* be highly misleading / an inaccurate summary.

    I am confused what your intended result is. A lot of what I see is opposition to the quantity of policing. So you want to reduce the police’s funding… but neither to cut waste, nor to reduce how much policing occurs? I don’t understand. To what end do you want to reduce the police’s funding, then? What is your intended result, other than “the police department gets less money”? You’re telling me about how you want to change the inputs, but now how you want to change the outputs.

  89. fred Says:

    Anonymous #73
    “My understanding is that the Waco siege, and Ruby Ridge, are in fact exactly the reason why CHAZ cannot be taken by force. These events caused the feds to take a step back and say “woah… that was too far.”

    Right, Waco was a low point during the Clinton administration.
    I also heard that Seattle is a strange place when it comes to citizen violence, for example the police department there has recognized the principle of “Mutual combat”, where two citizens are free to fight as long as they don’t injure bystanders, although I doubt it’s relevant in the case of CHAZ.

    Nick #69

    “It sounds like you’re trying to get at a specific point here, but I don’t know what it is. Please clarify.”

    First, here’s the Tony Timpa video,

    For those who don’t know, it’s about a white guy who himself called 911 because of a drug problem he had, he was restrained by a security guard when the cops showed up. After that they kept him subdued while using what they thought was regular force, and they never even believed he was having a problem, so there were joking throughout, there was nothing especially difficult going on. Still, after 13 minutes of being squeezed to the ground, he died.

    As for my point bringing this up, well Sam Harris just made the same point in his latest podcast.

  90. 1Zer0 Says:

    “… has seemed less and less interested in debate and discussion, and more and more eager to denounce, ban, shame, and no-platform. …”. This is something I can personally never accept, no matter the political views. Both society and science require an open culture of discussion. I may disagree with someone, sometimes in severe cases even make fun of it (Flat Earthers and such), but I would never attempt to “deplatform” them. Society needs to (re)learn the ability to hear controversial opinions without it causing a complete outrage.

  91. Deepa Says:

    I think this current culture can be explained with this brilliant analysis of how cults work:
    Every one in the cult does ever more bizarre things in public, to prove their dedication to the cause.
    It is an inexpensive way for cult leaders to figure out who the true devotees are.

  92. Nick Says:

    fred #89

    > … [Timpa] was restrained by a security guard when the cops showed up. After that they kept him subdued while using what they thought was regular force, and they never even believed he was having a problem, so there were joking throughout, there was nothing especially difficult going on. Still, after 13 minutes of being squeezed to the ground, he died.

    > As for my point bringing this up, well Sam Harris just made the same point in his latest podcast.

    Alas, I do not have Javascript enabled, so I cannot watch your embedded video. Please clarify your point using text, because I still don’t know what it is. It sounds like you are sympathetic to the police who killed Timpa. Are you using his death as a political prop?

  93. DJS Says:

    Anyone else of the camp that both Biden and Trump are awful? I suppose I could give a slight edge to Biden because I’m told he’ll have a better cabinet… We’re talking about a 77 year old career politician known for lying (look up his old campaign vids). Crime bill anyone (AFAIK it has not been debunked that it was bad)? Iraq war? Persecution of Snowden and other journalists under Obama admin? How is Biden anything other than a career corporate Democrat whose real interests lie with his donors? I’m struggling here because a lot of smart people are saying Biden is the choice. I don’t see why we have to keep settling for the lesser of two evils.

  94. Scott Says:

    DJS #93: “Lesser of two evils” strikes me as an almost cosmic understatement. For me, the difference between Biden and Trump is the difference between a pizza that’s a little old and doesn’t have exactly the toppings you ordered, versus a pizza laden with shit, ground glass, and also a deadly virus.

  95. Joshua Brulé Says:

    > for example, the 2020 election leaves Trump barricaded in the White House with his loyalists, while a duly elected government waits in limbo

    I’ll take a bet at 9 to 1 odds (say, my $450 to your $50?), that neither this, nor anything more extreme happens regarding the election/inauguration come January 20, 2021.

    I realize that “more extreme” is somewhat subjective. I’m willing to defer to your judgement as to what counts, if you pledge to consider the question as dispassionately as possible when evaluating if something “more extreme” happened with regards to the transfer of the office of the president. Alternatively, we could try to pick a third party to make the call.

  96. Radford Neal Says:

    Scott #94: ‘“Lesser of two evils” strikes me as an almost cosmic understatement… [ Trump is like ] a pizza laden with shit, ground glass, and also a deadly virus.”

    I’m curious. What do you think about the fact that Trump has involved the U.S. in considerably fewer foreign military engagements, killing considerably fewer people, than Obama/Biden?

  97. William Gasarch Says:

    The republicans think that vote-by-mail benefits the democrats.

    They may be wrong on this:

    I wonder if some of what they believe is tribal and not connected to an philosophy (e.g., smaller government) or even their own interests.

  98. DJS Says:

    Scott #94: I respectfully disagree. Look past the fact that Trump is gross. Look at Biden’s actions through an apolitical lens and ask yourself if that’s really what’s good for the people.

    Granted, you probably don’t have the time for that. All I’ve got to say on the matter is that Trump is what the corporate Democratic party represents just a ramped up, blatantly ugly version. This is how I see it. I may be and hope I am wrong.

  99. Scott Says:

    Radford #96: Well, a lot of what Obama did was just to manage the historic mess that Bush II created by invading Iraq with so little analysis of the consequences (or rather, ignoring the analysis that was available to him). I haven’t studied his (halfhearted?) interventions in Libya and Syria enough to express a confident opinion, but I have the impression that they were crises that presented few good options.

    As for Trump, I was horrified by his decision to abandon the Kurds to be slaughtered—reneging on the American assurance to protect them in return for their help, and devaluing any such assurance that the US might ever need to offer anyone else. I’m likewise horrified by his praise for (and obsequiousness toward) Putin and Xi and Kim-Jong and MBS and just about every other murderous autocrat. Though I’m a Zionist Jew, I also thought it was a grave mistake to renege on the Iran deal, and to grant Netanyahu’s every shortsighted wish with no conditions in return.

    But I’ll give you this: contrary to the fears I expressed four years ago, Trump has not started a nuclear war because someone insulted him on Twitter. Maybe we’ve gotten lucky, or maybe he actually means what he says with his isolationism (unlike Bush II, who—incredibly—ran in 2000 as an isolationist opposed to “nation-building”).

    If someone told me in 2016 that Trump’s narcissism, incompetence, and incuriosity would indeed be partly responsible for (what’s now on track to be) several hundred thousand American deaths, and they asked me to predict why, I don’t think a pandemic would’ve been one of my first three guesses.

  100. Scott Says:

    Joshua #95: Sorry, but I promised my wife I wouldn’t make any more blog-bets! In any case, I trust I’ve made it clear enough what I’m worried about; if a close or disputed Biden win happens at all, then it should be easy enough to judge whether these worries were prescient or overblown.

  101. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #99:

    I think the way Trump has pushed the US’s involvement in the war in Yemen shows he’s not any sort of peaceful isolationist, sorry. Or look at the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. Trump seems to have a thing for violence, he just isn’t the most focused on it.

  102. Joshua Brulé Says:

    @Scott #100

    I understand.

    (Counter?) offer: Same bet condition, but the terms are: if you win, I owe you a favor. Need a place to crash? Food, water, a ride to/from BWI or Reagan National? (I live in Maryland.) I got you covered.

    If I win, you send me an email that says, “Okay, you won the bet.”

    (I offer this in the spirit of, “I think you’re widely overestimating the probability of this happening and wish you weren’t worrying/stressing out so much.” Not trying to trivialize your concerns, but, well, in rationalist-speak, I’d say that I think you’re wildly miscalibrated.)

  103. Scott Says:

    Joshua #102: Agreed! (Of course, I already predict that you’ll “win” much more likely than not. And this is one bet that I’ll be incredibly relieved to “lose”!)

  104. Some Indian Says:

    Sounds pretty bad, what you describe, but still in many ways better than the situation in India. We have a dictator (and his sidekick) here in India, who is equally (if not more) malicious and incompetent and has done all the “tricks” (and more) that you mention Trump does to stay in power.

    However in our case this problem is being institutionalised in the sense that there does not seem to be any mechanism to prevent this onslaught of fascism (the usual ones courts, media, “enlightened” elites in Universities etc are mostly compromised/shut in jails). The current ruling dispensation is essentially is the “political wing” of a full fledged Fascist force (complete with our own version of Black/Brown/whatever shirts) and the “HE-man” on top of it enjoys the popular support (See the results of the last two elections, yes two). Added to that, we do not have the “only two terms for a person” rule in India and a weak and fragmented opposition party in an essentially parliamentary system means that we will have to put up with this for decades to come.

  105. PTT Says:

    A non-hypothetical question for Scott:
    “Suppose you’re an Aspergery math professor who just wants to, you know, do math. You’re not interested in politics and don’t even have strong political beliefs. You just want to be left alone to prove theorems. Still, you’re intelligent and observant, and like to take things to their logical conclusion (see: Asperger). So you ask yourself: What is the best strategy to be allowed to continue to do math with minimal harassment? You’ll sign a diversity statement and even churn out a boilerplate one of your own — no skin off your back. You’ll put whatever sign on your door they require. But suppose, in the middle of a lecture, a mob bursts into your classroom demanding that you take a knee? You’d be wise to consider this non-hypothetical contingency in advance.”

    What would you do in such a situation?

  106. Scott Says:

    PTT #105: Under the assumptions about personality that you yourself stated, it sounds like the professor takes a knee and then continues with the math lecture.

  107. PTT Says:

    Not necessarily. She might come to the conclusion that compliance will only invite further harassment and choose to resist. But enough abstractions: What would *you* do?

  108. DJS Says:

    True, foreign issues are often complicated. But one issue that isn’t is Snowden. Biden and Obama both viciously went after him (see: Biden calling South American leader, I forget which one, to specifically not grant him asylum…) Now you might say these are the doings of the intelligence agencies… but I’m not so willing to give these guys passes any longer. For what it’s worth, it’s clear Trump doesn’t care for Snowden or other whistleblowers exposing Big Brother’s crimes either.

  109. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Deepa #85,

    Good point. Trump won’t just get sued, he is likely to be going to jail. He has probably stolen and given away $1T or more, and fired the official watchdogs. That is another reason he will be desperate cling to office for as long as he can.

  110. Raoul Ohio Says:

    DJS, Trump and Biden both awful?

    You cannot be serious. Biden is kind of a so-so old school Dem, probably used to be a bit of a racist in his youth, because, you know, that was 50 years ago. No one to get particularly excited about. EXCEPT FOR ONE THING: He is not a monster.

  111. DJS Says:

    Raoul Ohio #110:

    So, we give passes now for racists because it was somehow less wrong 50 years ago? (Unless you were being sarcastic. It’s always hard to tell over text.)

    I’m tired of the left (which I consider myself a part of) giving passes to these corporate bullies. You’re not actually making any tangible arguments based on the sum-total of Biden’s words and more importantly his voting history and his silence. Everyone just keeps making appeals to Trump’s toxicity. If you’ve got half a brain, you know Trump is vile! But to say Biden is just a pizza with not-so-ideal toppings is a huge understatement. As long as Dems don’t take a stand against getting the corporate BS out of politics, then they’ll gladly keep taking your vote even though everyone knows it’s not who you want in office. Please stop with the “he’s some regular old man” BS. Take a deep, apolitical dive into Biden’s past and ask yourself if that’s what we want. Of course, this is a “childish” position since we’ve only got two options on our multiple choice test. Here’s an idea: rip up the test and say this doesn’t make one bit of sense.

  112. Anon Says:

    The nerd strawman seems quite rose-colored. I’m not american, but those that I chat with (STEM college students, gamers, mostly white) see the additional layers of meaning just fine, but paired with the deplatforming it’s considered rhetorical blackmail. The response to that is defecting.

    If the message is are you with us or a white supremacist then those who would normally be disinterested in the matter may see themselves pushed to cooperate with the white supremacists as a strategic matter (enemy of my enemy) in the form of abstaining. For them the reason to vote democrats are environmental issues and tech-friendliness. With the “techlash” and the protests dominating the discussion the excluded middle ground may cause trump to win.
    This would be far less of an issue if the US had a multi-party system to represent more moderate positions.

  113. Randall K McRee Says:

    Biden is not a shill for outside interests IMHO. He has a fairly effective media campaign soliciting money from individual voters.

    I have contributed and do so regularly, as have literally millions of others. (My first ever contributions directly to any presidential candidate, ever, btw).

    Trump gets huge amounts from PACs and wealthy individuals as seen in the link.

    Also, let me say that the folks who are talking about erosion of freedoms are missing the point: history will look back on the Trump administration and decry the lack of support for fixing environmental problems and the reversal of environmental controls.

  114. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Anon #112: If the people you regularly communicate with see allying with white supremacists as a “tactical convenience”, perhaps I may tentatively suggest that their moral compass is less “neutral” and more “Werner Von Braun” as illustrated in this famous song: (Some highlights: “A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience… Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?)

    I also note with interest the fact that you emphasise that they are white. So they support white supremacy so long as the they are not personally likely to be victims?

  115. Vaarsuvius Says:

    A separate question for Scott: In your article on reforming education you mention a change in priority for present admission systems, namely a renewed emphasis on academics as the primary vector for entry. What is your opinion on a significant reform of the secondary/tertiary educational system relationship- namely, increasing flexibility by opening up more standardised tests at varying difficulty levels to younger populations (i.e. 12-15) and making high school diplomas optional (thus increasing ease of access to University for talented students who wish to bypass high school entirely)?

  116. Scott Says:

    Vaarsuvius #115: I’m in favor of what you write with every atom of my being, and to whatever extent I’ve ever been in favor of anything.

  117. DJS Says:

    Randall K McRee #113:

    How do we explain Biden taking on Larry Summers of all people then as an economic advisor? He’s kinda controversial especially as far as climate goes (see Keystone XL pipeline). I’m sure there are others too. I haven’t the time or effort to go through it all. Again, I hope you’re right about him. I hope it’s not just another “Oh, he tried to better the climate but the Repubs wouldn’t let him.”

    Also, your point on folks missing the point talking about erosion of freedoms is laughable (if I’m understanding you correctly).

  118. Bunsen Burner Says:

    Radford Neal #96

    Unfortunately, nuanced policy analysis is a thing of the past and I doubt most people will be capable of it at all soon. Not only do we not have a media with the institutional memory for it anymore, but we now have a whole generation who are only capable thinking in twitter messages. So forget about Syria, Libya, and Yemen, including covert ops that not only cost the lives of many people but also put lots of weaponry in terrorist hands – Orange Man is Bad! Forget that thanks to Obama boys over 16 killed in drone strikes are automatically labeled as terrorists… Trump Lied About The Weather! Forget about The Deporter In Chief and the horrific history of Southern immigration… Trump Puts Children In Cages. Forget about the 700km of border fencing… Trump Is Building A Wall! (any of that wall actually built?) Forget about letting the crooks at Goldman Sachs off the hook (Obama even got 100s of thousands of dollars from them for talks!), forget, forget, forget… because… Orange Man Bad!

    No, I’m not a fan of Trump. I consider him a vile cretin. However, a lot of US politicians including former presidents have also been vile cretins.

  119. anonymous Says:

    Vaarsuvius #114: You’re not getting it. This attitude is exactly what he’s talking about – the “you’re either with us or against us”.

    Nobody wants to be on the white supremacist side, but when the other side decides to sow chaos, destroy the police, flinch at every hint of disagreement with exaggerated accusations (like you questioned his morality immediately just because the current voting system might force him to take the white supremacist’s side), at some point you’ll realize the moral high ground you climbed doesn’t have any human being in it, including yourself.

    Climbing to impossible moral high ground, people won’t look up to you, they will call you a hypocrite and they will probably be right.

    By the time the Democrats have reached that point, they will have alienated too many potential voters, and lose the elections. There are definitely more than 50% who want trump gone, but not 50% who want to destroy the police. Trump is pushing the elections to be about trivial questions that the left can’t answer correctly without climbing down their moral high ground.

  120. Anon Says:

    Vaarsuvius 114: Perhaps I have framed this very poorly. It is not about allying with white suremacists. At the end of the day it is more about allegiances (or lack thereof) and whether they will vote for one of the two american parties (no matter how incongruent the mapping of the political spectrum onto those two is) or abstaining.

    What makes things troublesome that there is an inherent, symmetrical topic that gets needlessly conflated with an artificial one that skews in the favor of the right. The left cares about minorities, the right prefers the status quo. The left villainizes anyone who is indifferent or undecided. The right is happy with them as long as they don’t get in the way. Since both feed into an overall opinion it skews things towards the right. But the latter is not an inherent part of the conflict! It seems like an utter waste of sympathy points and potential votes.

    If there were a third, centrist party then it wouldn’t be an “us or them” situation, instead you’d only have to gain more votes than the opposite party and could form a coalition with the center after the election.
    Pushing away the indifferent seems like a losing strategy.

    Also, I must note that being compared to von Braun could easily be a compliment. And I wouldn’t equate caring about the environment more than people to being indifferent whether rockets get used for war.

  121. JimV Says:

    Scott @38, not that my opinion is important, but since you asked: if I knew they were trolls or bots I would be happy to have them banned, but not if they are just deluded. That’s why I said that I guessed we would just have to suffer them.

    I’ve done a few regrettable things in my life, so I can always tell myself I don’t deserve any better.

  122. JimV Says:

    Now that I’ve read through all the current replies, I’ll thrill people with my off-the-cuff opinion of Biden. I’ve lived through Biden’s political career. He used someone else’s words in some early political speeches. Without crediting the actual author. I learned somewhere in high school that is a moral lapse, before that my instinct was that it was okay. It’s not okay, but sometimes that is how you learn something is not okay. Rather lately, in his case.

    In the Anita Hill-Thurmond Thomas hearing, as then chairman of the Judicial Committee, be bent over backwards to be fair–to the Republicans.

    My uniformed take on the Iraq War was that Bush & Co were probably telling the truth as they saw it because if they were lying and no WMD were going to be found, they would never get re-elected. So I didn’t disagree with the vote at the time. I did think Powell’s speech to UN was a crock, because he said something like, as an experienced military soldier he had no idea why mortar tubes would need to be polished on the inside, and I had seen “Schindler’s List” (the scene with the children at Ostwald). Sure enough, later I heard the polishing spec was right out of the US Army Manual that we gave Saddam. So Biden had a vote and I didn’t and he should have prepared for that vote.

    All told, Biden was about my least favorite of the Democrat candidates (Warren by far my favorite). He seems a run of the mill politician, not too bright. But he got a lot of support from black voters. They seem to trust him. One thing I’ll say for him, he seems like someone who might listen when you talk to him.

    Trump takes every one of Biden’s flaws and lot more, and magnifies them by 100. Moral lapses? How about picking up an opponent’s golf ball near the pin before the opponent gets to the green and throwing it in a bunker? How about lying all the time, about everything? How about getting a citation from the Civil Rights Office for refusing to rent to black applicants with the same qualifications as white applicants? How about declaring bankruptcy so as not to have to pay construction workers? How about the adultery and harassment? How about making Secret Service people buy rooms in his hotels to accompany him on his golf weekends? How about demanding public officials be loyal to him above the Constitution?

    Not prepared or willing to get prepared to make good decisions in a crisis? I’ve said enough, I rest my case.

  123. DJS Says:

    JimV #122:


    This sounds like someone who might listen when you talk to him? Biden told this climate change activist to go vote for someone else. It’s laughable how we’ll bend over backwards trying to justify a crappy candidate. He didn’t even care to listen to what they guy had to say. Maybe someone will reason by saying Biden was in a rush? There were plenty of other candidates to choose from. I guess the people wanted Biden though.

  124. golem Says:

    I think there are some careless assumptions here. My concerns:
    1. There will be election interference. We haven’t fixed known problems with the systems in the last four years, he’s a dream come true for all of the US’s enemies, and we already have suppression supporters promising to police the polling places.
    2. Trump will contest the election. There is no downside personally (the only thing he cares about) to challenging the election. He would have no problem creating (more) riots among his supporters (again.) Mr. No-mask convention will gladly sacrifice anyone.
    3. Trump doesn’t need a pretext. All he has to do is ask leading questions. He’s never scrupled at it before. Besides, even interference from his supporters would be used as a pretext to undermine the legitimacy of the election.

  125. Supersymmetry Says:

    @Raoul Ohio 110

    “Biden is kind of a so-so old school Dem, probably used to be a bit of a racist in his youth, because, you know, that was 50 years ago.” – surely you applied the same principles and standards to Kavanaugh, with no partisanship…

    @DJS 111
    “Here’s an idea: rip up the test and say this doesn’t make one bit of sense.” – what does that actually mean? Really – is there any meaningful reading of these words beyond “vote Biden but don’t forget to hold your nose and wash your hands”?

    @Vaarsuvius 114
    This is an appalling lack of charity. Can’t you see how the “white genocide for tech bros” culture *correctly* pushes people who happen to be white but who are definitely not von Braun away from would-be progressives?

    One sees some parallel to the Jews of Los Angeles who were widely and wildly supportive of the protests – but then had some kristallnacht-style fun in the fight against racism (to maximize the irony – a few were actively protesting at the time. To maximize irony further, Scott was writing about how he only experienced anti-semitism once in the US while this was happening. I am still deeply disappointed in you, Scott, for not breathing a word about it all. So much for lessons learned from childhood.). Think those Jews might reconsider their alliances? Think they might be justified in doing so?

  126. jphamlore Says:

    There is nothing you can say against President Trump or any Republican short of it being a criminal act that would lead to any sanction of you by either the state or your university, and arguably, there are many statements that could be regarded as potential crimes for which your university would fully and without reservation defend you and your position. You are secure no matter what you say about President Trump or the Republicans.

    But there are countless things you could say, especially now, that are not close to being crimes, but that within 24 hours would get you suspended from your university position, with a near certain path towards losing that position, tenure or not.

    So which side do you really fear? Which side is your true oppressor that restricts you from free inquiry about truth? Which side does not even permit you to ask certain questions? Which side has the power to not just strip you of your current position, but also to deny you employment anywhere else?

  127. Bunsen Burner Says:

    So much hand wringing with so little analysis. Doubly depressing given that it’s been four years now and plenty of election memoirs have come out. We know that Trump did not expect to win, and that even his family were not exactly thrilled at the prospect. It’s unlikely any of them want to stay for another term, but yeah, if you up the stakes with threats of impeachment and so on then maybe you’ll get a fight on your hands.

    The thing no Dems seem to have an answer for is why thousands of voters in the Midwest, many who voted twice for Obama, decided to vote for Trump instead. We know Hilary refused to campaign there against the advice of Bill, thinking she would instead pick up middle-class Republicans in the big cities. But keep blaming the Russkies ‘cos it’s easier and requires less thinking.

  128. Vaarsuvius Says:

    jphamlore #126: Your friends called- they disagree.

    The actual video of the interview:

    Transcript (For context, this is a discussion of government regulation of social media featuring Richard Spencer):

    Conte asked Spencer, “Are we even pro-free speech?”

    “No, of course not,” Spencer said. “But we have to use this platform in order—“

    “So, we’re being radically honest, here?” Conte asked.

    “Yes, radically pragmatic,” Spencer replied.

    (Also, you know, n-chan and Alex Jones exist.)

  129. fred Says:

    A strange thought experiment for those interested:
    imagine an alternate universe where the entire US population would have its skin color swapped (all other things staying the same), so the white majority becomes black, and the black minority becomes white (*). So, Black Lives Matter now becomes White Lives Matter.
    Given this picture, upon being teleported into this society, which side would you personally identify with?

    (*) this kinda assumes a binary situation, which doesn’t apply for many other minorities (latino, asian, indian,…), but those minorities are never be considered in such discussions anyway, even though we all know that racism does exist between all those communities. My theory for this is that the white majority and black minority always consider them “immigrants”, expected to work hard, behave, and shut the f#$% up.

  130. fred Says:

    Hey Scott,

    I was listening to the Mindscape episode where you’re the guest.

    At some point you mention Plato, and his “weird tripy ideas about perfect triangles and perfect squares”, but, assuming that one electron is just the same as all the other electrons in the universe, isn’t an electron then a “perfect” object in the platonic sense?

  131. Nick Nolan Says:

    Scott says: “And what if there’s no resolution by noon EST on January 20, 2021? Then by law, the Speaker of the House, currently Nancy Pelosi, becomes acting president. Can you imagine Trump willingly vacating the Oval Office if that comes to pass?”

    I suspect that the aftermath of elections will be huge mess no matter what happens. But if things go this far whatever Trump does is insignificant. The power of the present is not coming from occupying physical location. Pelosi only needs a phone to issue commands.

    Coup d’État does not just happen by itself[1]. Favorable conditions are not enough. You needed strategy, planning and good execution. Tactical aspects are important. I don’t think Trump and his closest allies have done anything to get US national security apparatus or DOJ rank and file to be loyal to them. They have no plans to disrupt the communications, media, roads or neutralize rest of the government. Not to mention neutralizing the armed forces response. Joint Chiefs, CENTCOM etc. will have their personnel next to Pelosi ready to take commands immediately after noon.

    [1]: Luttwak, Edward (1979). Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook. Harvard University Press

  132. Shiva D. Says:

    @ Scott 82, isn’t blaming Trump for the increase in woke hysteria a lot like blaming Clinton for the rise in right wing militias in the 1990s?

    @Vaarsuvius 83, how did a few guys demonstrating with guns impact your life? What freedoms did you lose? What property did they destroy?

    As some others are pointing out, the ability to curtail your speech, fire you, de-platform you, send you to digital Siberia, etc. is coming from the “Resistance” side, who show a willingness to use their power to control society in a way that I find far more threatening than anything Trump is doing. It’s the *scale* and *coordination* that is disturbing–giant corporations, media, tech companies, all pushing a party line, with no vote and no dissent tolerated. What it indicates to me is that the technocratic elites have too much centralized power, and we the people need to take it back. And that is a large part of Trump’s appeal: people perceive him as standing up to these giant, faceless forces of control. And those forces have done nothing but confirm this perception with their continuous anti-Trump propaganda and attempted coups since Trump was elected. I’m not saying I entirely agree with this perception, but can you at least see where it comes from, and consider the possibility that you are buying into a false narrative?

  133. fred Says:

    Nick #92

    sorry, here’s an alternate link, Sam Harris putting the current outrage in terms of known data

  134. rob5289 Says:

    I agree with you 100% about Trump, but jphamlore has a point.

    Thanks for hosting this discussion.

  135. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Shiva D. #132 As it turns out, they “impact” quite a few lives. And perhaps its just me, but I would rate “being corralled and threatened by men with guns then trapped in a campsite because my family is multiracial” slightly above “I said the blacks are just animals and now twitter doesn’t like me” on my list of “threats to my life and property”.

  136. anon Says:

    Why do you always want to underestimate your opponent? Trump is clearly your opponent but he is not stupid. Strike him down electorally and he will arise more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

    Trump has not tried to become a dictator. He fought the impeachment and the Muller investigation using lawyers and regular politics.
    He uses twitter and the media. The fact that he insults the media that opposes him. So what. Those who claim it is media suppression are insane in the modern internet world. Newspaper journalists are printed blogwriters. Those on the major networks just have a legacy video channel.

    Trump can insult and do whatever he likes just like everyone else does. Clearly you do not give him more respect because he is president. You disagree but clearly there is nothing special about those who work at the major networks or at the newspapers. Those who write on blogs or post on youtube or on podcasts can do as much or more work to report and analyze.

    He and the republicans are following the law and rules more than Obama and the FBI and the DOJ when they spied on the next President and his team. Trump could clearly try to use the FBI and the DOJ that way if Obama, Comey etc… get away with it.

    Understand the system that you are in.
    The government is thousands of elected politicians and appointed bureaucrats. Trump can win in the system as it is. Dictatorships or for losers who cannot win other ways. Trump made his billions in real estate, mastered controlling media in New York for decades.

    Here is the way I think it goes.
    Trump buys one of the twitter competitors. (Gab) or cuts a deal with them and encourages his followers to go there over a few months.
    Trump sets up his own TV network and other media. He had the most popular TV show for almost a decade. He was going to setup his own media before.

    His media will probably have twice the viewership of Fox. Twice the viewership would mean about $20 billion per year in revenue. By staying private, he will have the freedom of a private citizen. He will probably try to set up his media globally. Instead of $17 billion net worth like Rupert Murdoch, Trump will be $40-60 billion.

    He will still have rallies. They will be conservative woodstock every month. 200K and paying $100-500 per event. Say $200 avg. $40 million per year from rallies. He can push candidates for state and other positions. Instead of $1 million speaking gigs. He will have $40 million to 80 million per month from rallies.

    King of media and king maker will be far more lucrative and powerful than President.

    If he uses his fundraising power, he will control politicians who need funding.

    $1-2 billion per worth of fundraising capability
    $20 billion per year worth of media coverage from an owned network.
    $500M from rallies.
    30M followers. Maybe growable to 50 million.

    Double to triple by moving products and services.
    A boring guy like Al Gore turned his almost presidency into $330m in net worth. Trump will cash in without having to compromise with others or to sellout whatever he does not want to. More power and more money outside Presidency. He can start in 2021 or 2025.

  137. If Trump is president in 2022 Says:

    So if Trump wins again then what happens?

  138. Gerard Says:

    fred #133

    Thanks for posting the Sam Harris podcast, it was an interesting listen.

    While I tend to agree with much of what he says I also think that his analysis with respect to the police problem is shallow. Clearly he takes a fundamentally conservative perspective that assumes that the problems of society are fixable without radically rethinking the assumptions upon which that society is based.

    I can’t help but feel that much of the energy behind the demonstrations we have been seeing comes not just from a, perhaps partially inaccurate, perception of racial injustice in policing but also from a much deeper frustration with the contradictions with which millennia of human civilization have burdened us.

    Ultimately we are individuals who know only our own self and our own will and yet society expects us to sacrifice that will on the altar of “the law” which was written by power seekers and enforced by other power seekers. We live in a country that claims to value liberty and individuality and yet we are taught from birth that we must bend our will to that of the other, first by parents, then by teachers, then by the government.

    Perhaps we would be willing to accept this so called “social contract” if :

    – (a) We were actually given a choice in the matter rather than having it shoved down our throats as a consequence of being born.


    – (b) The sacrifice were clearly worth it in the sense that society and civilization represent some clear greater good that is otherwise beyond our reach. But for many of us this is far from clear. Far more are born than society is able to find worthy roles for and this problem will only increase in the future with greater automation. In the end it seems like we only sacrifice ourselves for the ego gratification of those with greed for power and/or wealth and the luck to attain it.

  139. fred Says:

    Gerard #138

    “the contradictions with which millennia of human civilization have burdened us
    We were actually given a choice in the matter rather than having it shoved down our throats as a consequence of being born.
    The sacrifice were clearly worth it in the sense that society and civilization represent some clear greater good that is otherwise beyond our reach.”

    I guess it’s human nature to assume that our generation gets it while the billions of people who’ve lived in the past somehow didn’t get it because they were too confused about the true nature of lightning or didn’t have youtube.
    I just finished a few books on ancient Greece and Rome. Everything you bring up here, they considered it and struggled with it just like we are.

    I would also point out on the dangers of local governments having knee jerk reactions based on protests which only involves a small fraction of the entire population that elected them. Following the loudest minority isn’t democracy, so before throwing everything out of the window, I would suggest running referendums. But I guess most of the people involved aren’t even interested in democracy anymore, but I fail to see how this can lead to anything good.

  140. fred Says:

    anon #136

    In the end I think it all depends on how much faith one still has in the US democracy.

    Many people thought that Trump was so bad that his very election proves that democracy no longer holds – first he must have got elected by twisting the rules and now, obviously, he will never go.
    Basically he’s a new Hitler, and the USA is Germany circa 1933.
    Once someone really believes this, there’s no room left for discussion, and I can understand why.

    There was also a minority (who didn’t like Trump) who thought that, sure, Trump won, let him have is four years, and if he turns out that incompetent, then the correct and easiest way to defeat him would be to just focus on selecting a better candidate for Nov 2020, which should be a piece of cake (I mean, look at his approval rating)…

    but, no, somehow Trump is so bad that the majority of the Dems were too outraged and distracted to get their shit together, which again is proof for them that Trump is a new Hitler, so good at manipulation that he used chaos to turn democracy against itself.

  141. Anonymous again Says:

    Shiva, your comment is incredibly short-sighted. You may not have been affected by Trump’s insane policies, but others have.

    My friend’s wife visited her native Iran and was unable to return to the United States because of the ban for 2 years.

    My boyfriend is a serial entrepreneur in tech who has had multiple successful exits, so he’s obviously one of the best candidates the visa system is supposed to work for, as he’s been creating jobs, yet he’s had to worry several times about having to leave the US because the renewal of his Visa has been delayed, and now Trump is discussing various levels of bans on Visas and/or green cards. We don’t know how this will affect us yet, but having to be prepared mentally to move his daughter and himself in the middle of a pandemic hasn’t made life easy in light of Trump’s impulsive and sudden executive orders.

    I know of other stories, but I’m not going to spell them all out. It’s enough to say that I know from experience you are wrong.

    Also the people he appointed for the FDA and CDC (have obviously failed miserably with testing and preparation) – Robert Redfield, Trump’s pick, has stated publicly that AIDS is God’s punishment for bad behavior. The former director of the CDC has called for an investigation in the CDC’s recent blatant failures.

    So here we are.

  142. Anonymous again Says:

    Furthermore, Shiva #132

    if you think that the technocratic elite is a real threat (which I agree with), Elizabeth Warren is the only politician I know of who has even started a conversation about breaking up massive tech monopolies:

  143. Gerard Says:

    fred #139

    > I guess it’s human nature to assume that our generation gets it while the billions of people who’ve lived in the past somehow didn’t get it because they were too confused about the true nature of lightning or didn’t have youtube.
    > I just finished a few books on ancient Greece and Rome. Everything you bring up here, they considered it and struggled with it just like we are.

    I’m not convinced current generations “get it” at all. If they do they certainly aren’t articulating it very well because the whole identity politics thing is a complete sideshow that may lead us down a very dark path.

    As for Greece and Rome, maybe they considered it but society has evolved a lot since then. Remember slavery was one of their major institutions and, as far as I know it went unquestioned, even by as radical an outsider as St. Paul.

    In any case for at least the last 2000 years we’ve been living with the assumption that there has to be some kind of government to “run the country”, the only question being what form that government should take, in other words which particular set of power grabbers the people will need to bow down to.

    Of course there have been anarchists for a long time, but that word is now practically synonymous with chaos.

    But are chaos and tyranny really the only two alternatives we have ? Why is it so impossible for people to just live together and follow the principle of reciprocity: “what is hateful to you do not do to another” without the need for force and coercion ?

  144. anon136 Says:

    fred #139

    It is not about democracy. If Trump loses, then he leaves and makes $40B+ but with a highly activated and engaged politically motivated support. King of all media and Kingmaker is where his power will be. It will be legal. George Soros has 282K twitter followers.

    The top political funders spend about $30 million each year. Mike Bloomberg pissed away $1 billion to not get close to winning the nomination. The “idiot” Trump actually connected with 63 million voters in 2016. Trump spent $302 million. Somehow was given some free publicity. And it was the $1 million and a dozen Russian hackers that put him over the top. By April, Trump has raised over $300 million again. Probably will raise another $600M-$1 billion. How will it look when Trump News channels are bigger than Fox and four times bigger than MSNBC or CNN? Romney bent the knee at the dinner to try to get a job in the administration. Trump able to mobilize $1-2 billion per year from the outside. Who had the power in Game of Thrones? The Iron throne or the Iron Bank? How about an Iron Bank with 30-65 million followers?

    Why worry about just one election and just the presidency?

    So good news Trump will not try to hang around as president. Bad news for those who hate Trump. He will ascend to maker of all Kings and King of Media. As Don Corleone said to Michael. I wanted you to be the one to hold the strings. That is what Don Jr and Ivanka will get. A vast media and business empire and tens of millions of followers. It will strongly influence all elections.

  145. das monde Says:

    Here is a curious article on the Russian revolutionary experience:

    “No enemies to the left”

    “the Kadets argued that ‘while they themselves did not subscribe to violence as a means of struggle, it was not the business of a political party to pass moral judgement on the actions of other parties or movements. They also argued that the savage policies of the government were responsible for the revolutionary violence.'”

  146. STEM Caveman Says:

    There’s an interesting “Will He Go” situation brewing with Steve Hsu. The Twitter mob is agitating for his comeuppance.

    Hsu’s activities are light-years beyond what got Larry Summers fired, and the firing threshold has gotten much lower since then. Unlike Summers, Hsu has absolutely no defense, except to mouth the words “academic freedom”, and his is not an academic position. So it is likely, as in 99+ percent, that he has only a few business days left in his job.

    Hsu is trying to fight back by gathering letters and signatures for a counter-petition. The Will He Go question is what level of counterattack and publicity campaign he will wage once removed from the position. His supporters are not wrong that his is a crucial, perhaps watershed, case for whether academic freedom is to mean anything from now on.

  147. Jelmer Renema Says:

    @ das Monde 145:

    The Kadets’ position becomes a lot less strange once you realize that in the previous big revolution (that of ’48) the liberals achieved democratic reforms (or at least made big strides in that direction) in many Western European states by first siding with the revolutionaries, and then switching sides at the right moment.

  148. Mitchell Porter Says:

    Not an American but I find the loose coalition of Democrats, media and mob to be far more threatening than anything Trump stands for.

  149. Jon Tyson Says:

    Oh no, there has already been nasty clash between protesters for “black lives matter” and those for “all lives matter”:

  150. James Cross Says:


    “If Trump loses, then he leaves and makes $40B+ but with a highly activated and engaged politically motivated support”.

    Or he goes to jail.

    He can be indicted once he leaves office.

  151. fred Says:

    Jon Tyson #149

    It’s been pointed out that, while (almost) noone disagrees with the sentence “black lives matter”, this also happens to be the name of a social/political movement which has goals with which many do not agree (defund police, etc). And then whenever anyone is saying that they don’t agree with “black lives matter”, the movement, its supporters recast this is as a proof of racism.

    To put it as a silly example, imagine if Nazis circa Germany 1933 had called their party “two plus two equals four”.

  152. fred Says:

    James Cross #150

    Apparently he could pardon himself.

  153. John Stricker Says:

    James Cross #150:

    “He can be indicted once he leaves office.”

    True, but I don´t think he will be, because the whole point of the allegations against him is to weaken him politically and to prevent him from being reelected.

    (Too bad it won´t work, and so we won´t be able to verify this fact for another 4 years ;-D. )

  154. Gerard Says:

    fred #151

    > (almost) noone disagrees with the sentence “black lives matter”

    They should, for two reasons.

    First there’s the well known ambiguity of natural languages which, in conjunction with the terseness of this slogan, lead to several possible interpretations of what the speaker intends.

    One possible interpretation is “black lives and only black lives matter”. Most people are charitable enough to assume that this is not the intended meaning, but I find it very troubling if the users of this slogan then reject the phrase “all lives matter”. “All lives matter” clearly means that black lives matter and other lives matter as well, which is compatible with the charitable interpretation of “black lives matter”. Hence logically one would expect that proponents of “black lives matter” under the charitable interpretation should also accept “all lives matter”. If instead they reject it, then what does that imply about their true intentions ?

    However even if one insists that the proponents of “black lives matter” intend the charitable interpretation I still see a problem because then “black lives matter” really means something like “black lives matter, too”. But that, it seems to me, is implicitly accepting some kind of anti-black racism because it’s suggesting that black lives come last, after all the other lives that matter. I know that sounds paradoxical but I think it illustrates the difficulties one gets into with any sort of anti-racist discourse that itself focuses on race.

  155. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Gerard 154,

    The BLM supporters are right to oppose “all lives matter”. ALM is a subversion of the rhetorical point of the phrase “black lives matter”, which is the claim that black lives have not mattered as much as white lives until today (and less than the lives of any other large group) and a call to change that from now on. This is further alleged to be a black-specific problem, and not nearly as much a question of racism in general, or police brutality in general. To the extent that other groups are also affected by those problems, BLM would argue that fixing it for blacks (as the presumed worst-case) would also fix it for everyone else, so that generalizing the problem is both superfluous and distracts from the core claim that blacks are uniquely disenfranchised.

    So the problem is not that BLM are “racist” by opposing a rhetorical move they rightly consider oppositional and an enemy tactic (even coming from friends). The trouble is that they are demanding to unconditionally and uncritically institutionalize the notion that armed whites routinely hunt down blacks for no reason, to teach that as a pervasive National Fact without the minor detail of marshalling evidence that it’s real; to restructure society around this new religion (with reparations and a permanent combination of socialism and anarchy, at least for blacks); and with nothing given in return such as a drastic reduction in crime rate disparities.

  156. Tim Gross (/:set\AI) Says:

    “In any case for at least the last 2000 years we’ve been living with the assumption that there has to be some kind of government to “run the country”, the only question being what form that government should take, in other words which particular set of power grabbers the people will need to bow down to.

    Of course there have been anarchists for a long time, but that word is now practically synonymous with chaos.

    But are chaos and tyranny really the only two alternatives we have ? Why is it so impossible for people to just live together and follow the principle of reciprocity: “what is hateful to you do not do to another” without the need for force and coercion ?”

    it is almost as if civilization- despite the roiling desperation of it’s constituents- is bowing it’s knee in anticipation of some global hyper intelligence which will seize the reigns-

  157. Steve E Says: