The Weak State Myth

Dunbar’s Number is 150. That’s the number of people anthropologist Robin Dunbar claims we humans can maintain social relationships with based on our cognitive limits. Dunbar calculated that number from the ratio of the size of the human neocortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher thought function in mammals—to the size of the rest of our brain. Continue reading

The Rule of Law

America is eiight regional cultures. At least that’s what historian Colin Woodard says in his extremely relevant book American Nations: A History of Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North AmericaEach culture was created by a region’s original settlers or those that came immediately after. All those that followed for centuries were assimilated. Continue reading

The Coming Storm

Between 1974 and 1991, thirty nations around the world formed democratic governments where there were not democratic governments before. It was what we now call the third wave of democratization. The first wave started within a generation of American independence, as suffrage and liberal humanism took hold in Europe. The second wave was after World War II and the defeat of nationalist fascism in Europe and Asia. Today, planet earth is about 40%, democratic if you hold the standard of true liberal democracy without including democratic autocracies like Russia or Venezuela.  Continue reading

The Loop

Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro of the Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper a few years back on political media bias in American print newspapers. It was the kind of study that told you something you already knew but couldn’t prove before the dawn of the digital age. Continue reading

Small Thoughts

Dan Pfeffer. Kevin Sullivan. Jen Psaki. Ellen Moran. Jennifer Palmeri. Anita Dunn. Nicole Wallace. Dan Bartlett. Karen Hughes.

Recognize any of those names? I don’t. If you do, you’re probably a White House wonk. But my guess is that you don’t either. Those are the ten White House Communications Directors that held the position before Donald Trump came to office. There’s been 33 of them in all since the role was founded in 1960. I’ve heard of two of them. Continue reading

The Fourth Estate

The first Saturday after the 2016 election, I sat down with my kids to eat breakfast at our kitchen table. Cheerios and bacon. It was a Saturday morning dad breakfast if ever there was one. I did my best to engage them in conversation but I was a distracted. The election was on my mind. I had a few thoughts I wanted to put down and post on my then small but growing political blog. So, after they cleaned up their plates and wandered off, I opened up my laptop and took about thirty minutes to cobble together a few paragraphs that captured how I felt about the previous few days. I did a too brief once over to proof read it, hit the publish button, closed my laptop and went about my day.  Continue reading

The Marital Bliss of Green Politics

Nothing so much reminds me of the bickering of a dysfunctional married couple than environmental politics.

He does something wrong. She points it out. He refuses to acknowledge it. Over time the unresolved issue gets brought up more and more with more frustration and energy. He ignores it. Her frustration and focus on it grows until it’s all she ever brings up. She’s angry. She can’t believe how stupid and pigheaded he is. He can’t believe how much of an oversensitive alarmist she’s being. Soon it’s all they ever talk about. He refuses to change, maybe even leans into the behavior because he’s sick of hearing about it. She insists that the marriage has become entirely about the problem. Eventually, they drift apart and stay unhappily together, or they split. Continue reading

The Consequences of Democracy

“This is political Jihad perpetrated by the Democrats.” James Woods of 80’s movie character actor fame and more recent but less entertaining conservative tweet fame tweeted.

He’s right.

Though, I’ve been through Jihad up close a few times. And it’s a little different. I think the word he’s searching for is actually opposition. But I’ll give him a pass because Against All Odds still holds up.  Continue reading

Settling for Different

In a little less than six weeks this past winter, the Republic of Korea, South Korea as we say it here in the States, impeached their president and arrested the CEO of Samsung, the country’s largest corporation because of an influence peddling and bribery scandal that involved both.  It was the South Korean equivalent of impeaching Donald Trump and arresting Apple’s Tim Cook. It was kind of a big deal.

One might think that the sacking of arguably the nation’s two most important people would signal deep societal problems in South Korea. Nothing could further from the truth though. What South Korea just signaled to the world, in addition to their strong market driven economy and highly inclusive democracy, is that they are a government of laws, for the people. And that no one is bigger than the cause. And no one is safe from the consequences of upsetting it.

As recently as 1974, in America, many of us felt the same way. While Watergate was a personal failure for Richard Nixon and a handful of others close to the scandal, the accountability exacted on the nation’s highest office was one of our our great triumphs of democracy. The most powerful man in the world lost his power because he covered up the fact that a few men broke into a rival campaign office during an election that he won by one of the largest landslide margins in American history. The crime, literally, was an inconsequential action that had no tangible impact on a single outcome. But the intent threatened democracy. And in America, that meant you had to go. We were after all, a government of  laws, for the people.

We’ve been at that promise for 240 years. And though we think of ourselves as a “new people” relative to Europe and Asia, our government is old. As standing democracies go, no one is older. We Americans have had a long time to game the system. And though it’s still pretty good at enabling life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for many Americans, our government gets used to do quite a bit more than that these days. Corporations use it to seek rent. The media uses it to sell advertising. Individuals use it to grab or broker power. And as those groups get better and better at those things over time, the promise of why we started, begins to weaken. Until it weakens to the point where we’re no longer confident it will do what we’ve sacrificed so much to insist that it does.

When you invest the level of resources in and grant the broad powers to an entity like the United States Federal Government, a loss of confidence isn’t a small problem. It’s a dire one. Which is where this really starts to get a little fuzzy right now. Because I just said that the system is rigged. And that it needs a shock to it to change. And my argument is going to get confusing for many of you when I say the next thing. Donald Trump cannot continue to lead our government behaving the way that he is now.

One of the great risks of upsetting the status quo in government is that you replace it with something worse. My great critique of the candidacy of Donald Trump and then his presidency is that one does not generally learn how to serve others after they sit down at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. And what little trust we have left in our government is that even if the people we trust it to can’t do enough good, we, the people still hold enough power to keep them from doing too much bad.

When you fire the Director of the FBI while his organization is actively investigating your campaign for collusion with a foreign power, the optic alone, is enough to break that trust. When the Attorney General recuses himself from the investigation because he’s a part of it, then actively interviews candidates to lead the organization that conducts it, that doesn’t help either. It’s starting to feel less and less like the executive branch of our government believes that it answers to the people.  Or at a minimum, they don’t care if it appears that way. Both are unacceptable.

Different isn’t the same as better. The American standard, is better. Settling for different means that you’re comfortable with worse. And I’m not. The world is watching. And they’ve been waiting a long time for the American people to feel this bad about their government.