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Women Have Been Winning Elections For a While: The Politics Daily – The Atlantic



It’s Wednesday, January 15.The 2010s were the hottest decade ever recorded in the modern era, and 2019 was the second-hottest year.

Did Virginia just amend the U.S. Constitution with this afternoon’s Equal Rights Amendment vote?

In today’s newsletter: The “are women electable” question bursts to the fore. Plus: The Space Force returns.



(Robyn Beck / AFP / GETTY)

Some Democrats still shell-shocked by 2016 are turning the political logic of electability on its side: Instead of supporting the candidate they like best, they’re supporting the candidate they think their neighbors would vote for.

Which candidate does this obsession with electability seem to hurt most?

As my colleague Russell Berman writes—citing research—voters are bearish on Elizabeth Warren’s electability not necessarily because of her unabashed liberal politics, but because of her gender.

The “are women electable?” question burst to the fore this week. News reports surfaced about a 2018 private meeting between Warren and Bernie Sanders, during which Sanders said he didn’t feel a woman could win the presidency. When asked about the hubbub at Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Warren sidestepped, and then had a rejoinder: Actually, women are more electable.

The argument has some wings:

‣ Democrats snatched back control of the House of Representatives in 2018. Women led that so-called blue wave: A record number of women won big races, setting a record for the number of women lawmakers in Congress.

‣ Suburban white women—historically fairly reliably Republicans—have left the party in droves since 2016. The president’s own standing with this group seems only to have soured since then: One poll found that after the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s net support among Republican women dropped by 19 points.

‣ Blue-collar white woman could become influential. While working-class men are more firmly MAGA-aligned, “clearly the women are in a different place,” one pollster told my colleague Ron Brownstein.

—Saahil Desai



(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Meet some of your impeachment managers: Adam Schiff of California, Val Demings of Florida, and Zoe Lofgren of California.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her seven picks to be House of Representatives managers—they’ll serve as the prosecutors arguing the case to remove the president in the Senate trial that begins next week. Stay tuned.




1. “No one really seized the opportunity, giving Biden a sort of win by default.”

After the debate hall had cleared and the candidates had left the stage, the sense of Joe Biden’s inevitably seemed to cling in the air, David Graham argues: He’s running as an incumbent, and his opponents are treating him like one.

2.  “The candidates agree that Donald Trump has gutted traditional American foreign policy. Where they diverge is in how to respond to that destruction.”

An exchange between Biden and Warren last night over the number of troops they would leave in the Middle East is representative of a larger split between the progressives in the race and everyone else, Uri Friedman writes: What is the future role of America in a world it has thrown into chaos?

3. “Even if so, Americans should remember that whether a president intends to prolong old, stupid wars or to trigger costly new ones is less important than whether his actions have those effects.”

After last week’s conflict with Iran, the political right has had to reevaluate where they stand on Trump’s foreign policy. While the president says he wants to stop endless wars, his actions speak louder, Conor Friedersdorf argues.




Episode VII: The Space Force Awakens

The Space Force is not a joke. It exists now. Our space reporter Marina Koren writes:.

Between the holiday season and more pressing military news, the creation of the Space Force did not initially make a big impression. But the president seems pleased with his newest armed service. “Everybody’s excited about that,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Ohio last week. The crowd responded with boisterous chants of “U-S-A.” Vice President Mike Pence celebrated “America’s heritage as the world’s greatest spacefaring nation” yesterday, as he swore in General Jay Raymond as chief of space operations.

It even enjoyed its inaugural controversy.


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an associate editor on our Politics team and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to

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Saahil Desai is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers politics and policy.
Christian Paz is an editorial fellow at The Atlantic.

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Commentary: Religion and politics? It’s good to talk – San Antonio Express-News



Most of us grew up being told to avoid talking about politics and religion with those with whom we disagree, especially loved ones and family members. While, no doubt, there are cases where this adage still holds in 2020, as a totalizing principle applicable to everyone, it no longer makes sense and arguably perpetuates obstacles to needed change.

Perhaps instead we should learn how to conduct civil and less inflammatory conversations on difficult and controversial topics. Otherwise transcending the polarization paralyzing the nation and inhibiting genuine democratic deliberation will never occur — something no one really desires.

Call me naive, but as a teacher and scholar of rhetoric for more than 40 years, I believe productive dialogue, though difficult, is possible. The challenge is how to engage in civil discourse. I hope members of my academic discipline (which includes public, interpersonal and organizational communication) will conduct research about how to do this, then teach what they learn to students and the public.

Maybe I am guilty of being overly optimistic; however, finding common ground, the hallmark of communication dating back to the writings of ancient Greek rhetoricians, is possible and a key part of meeting the challenge. A colleague and friend suggested that finding common ground requires that we approach discussion as having “positions” rather than “sides,” that we talk about “we” and “our,” not “us” and “them,” and that we avoid associating vitriol with disagreement.

For example, while we may not share truths about President Donald Trump’s performance and whether he should be re-elected, certainly there are other matters about which we do agree and share values. Using those sources of common ground affords the potential to create reflection, cognitive dissonance and compromise — whether we are Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives.

That in turn might yield productive outcomes on many important political issues demanding immediate attention and expedient action on problems that aren’t an all-or-nothing referendum on the current White House occupant. Creating safe schools, making health care available to more people, adopting measures to help address the economic and health suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and improving the environment are a few examples where common ground can be found.

To suggest this is impossible is tantamount to claiming that all of us are inherently dogmatic, never changing our opinions on personal and public issues — something that totally defies our experience. Research in rhetoric, for instance, offers the concept of “self-risk.” This suggests that when individuals genuinely argue with one another, they enter the exchange admitting the possibility that their worldviews will change as a result.

In essence, “self-risk” is the opposite of dogma; it documents a willingness to argue and be constructively responsive rather than just repeating our view over and over. Research shows “self-risk” is more than an academic platitude; as I am claiming here, it is principle developed precisely because it not only can be invoked but frequently is. I challenge readers to suggest they never “self-risk.”

So perhaps each of us should reconsider the adage about avoiding conversations about politics and religion with those who disagree with us.

Richard Cherwitz is the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Did Donald Trump destroy political prognostication forever? – CNN



These questions seemed particularly relevant in our current moment, as virtually every political pundit is in the business of making predictions about who will win the presidency on November 3. Some of these predictions are based purely on the numbers — figures are placed into a model and a result is spit out — while others are based on a blend of numbers and, for lack of a better word, gut instinct.
So, who’s right? Or is there even a right in all of this?
I asked those questions — and a few more — of Christopher Beha, the author of “The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” and also the editor of Harper’s magazine. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
CIllizza: The novel’s main character — Sam Waxworth — is a numbers guy who made his name by predicting every state right in the 2008 election. The obvious comparison is Nate Silver. Was Nate (or anyone else) in your mind when writing the character of Sam?
Beha: I started thinking about this book in the early years of Obama’s first term, more or less in the same period when the book itself is set. Most traditional pundits thought the 2008 election would be a nail-biter, but a few data-driven outsider types (Nate Silver most prominent among them) predicted a near-landslide for Obama, which is what happened.
If Obama himself appeared to represent something entirely new — not just because of his race, but because he was the first post-Boomer president, seemingly untouched by the Boomer-era culture wars that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in different ways represented; because he seemed pragmatic, technocratic, non-ideological; because he had not “waited his turn” and seemed less beholden to the traditional political power structures — these “data journalists” were the media equivalent of this newness. They quickly established themselves in the mainstream, despite predictable grumbling from the old guard. I found this generational tension interesting, and it was one of the elements that led me to create a character (very loosely) based on Silver. I was also interested in the limits of the kind of quantitative thinking that this new guard represented.
Here it’s worth mentioning in fairness to Silver — whom I don’t know at all — that he is generally very thoughtful about the way he uses data, and that he actually talks quite a bit about the limits of quantification. But there are many people in the “quant” camp who do not share this humility, and more extreme characters are naturally more interesting for a novelist.
So I would say that I borrowed some broad facts from Silver’s biography — Waxworth is from the Midwest; he went from baseball modeling to political modeling; he rose to fame after correctly predicting the outcome of the 2008 election — but that I borrowed Waxworth’s mindset from some of Silver’s less thoughtful brethren (whom I won’t name here).
Cillizza: A novel at least partly about electoral predictions, polls and modeling — and their limits. How much was this book influenced by 2016? And what does it say about 2020 — whether intentionally or not?
Beha: As I said, I started thinking about the book shortly after the data journalists rose to fame in 2008. I began actually writing it soon after the 2012 election, another win for the quant crowd. I was most of the way through it by 2016, when all of the prognosticators fell flat on their faces. All of a sudden, the world of the book seemed very far away, and the novel became almost a work of historical fiction. I tried not to let the post-2016 viewpoint seep into my Obama-era setting, but the fact of Trump’s election certainly changed some things.
We talk a lot about all the ways in which Trump represents something completely new and unprecedented, but he also represents a throwback to the pre-Obama era. He is of the same generation as Clinton and Bush, and he has stoked the culture war flames that were a signature feature of those earlier presidencies. We are all acutely aware of how naïve the “post-racial” dream of Obama’s election really was, but one could say the same about the dream of a post-ideological — technocratic, data-driven, pragmatic — America that Obama’s election also seemed to promise.
Trump destroyed whatever was left of that dream, and so it’s sadly appropriate that his victory also destroyed the credibility of many data-driven journalists who rose to prominence during the Obama years. After 2016, the book became, in part, about a moment when a particular dream of a rationally ordered society seemed within reach and about why that moment was bound to disappoint. I’m not sure what any of this has to tell us about 2020, except that even if Trump loses it won’t do away with the psychological undercurrents — particularly, our strange desire for chaos and disorder — that helped make Trump possible.

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Cillizza: The book feels like a running argument between what can be empirically known (in politics, baseball, life) and what, well, can’t. And which matters more. Where do you think media coverage of this election falls on that continuum?
Beha: On the most fundamental level, the future by definition can’t be empirically known, because it doesn’t yet exist. (These days we are more aware of this than ever: if you’d asked a thousand pundits and futurists in August 2019 what August 2020 would look like, not a single one would have said we’d be coming off a double-digit drop in GDP and that we’d all be wearing masks.) In that sense, the results of an election that hasn’t happened yet is by definition unknowable. It’s natural for us to want to know the results now, since the outcome is important to us. And it’s natural for the media to cover certain events by putting them in relation to this unknowable future, particularly now that the election is actually quite soon. Something like Biden’s VP pick can only really be understood in terms of how it relates to his election chances — how it relates to those chances is what the pick is “about.”
But it is not only when the election is a few months away that the media puts things in this context. I remember reading something in early 2017, soon after Trump’s inauguration, about how the polling on some decision of his affected the Republicans’ midterm chances. There seemed to me only two possible answers to that question — either “it doesn’t” or “we can’t possibly know.” In any case, the impulse to pose the question in the first place struck me as pathological. All these outlets had just completely whiffed on 2016, and yet they could not break themselves of the habit of talking in pseudo-empirical terms about completely unknowable things.
Cillizza: You’ve created a Twitter look-alike in the book: Teeser. Why — and what role (positive, negative, neutral, something else) does social media (and Twitter in particular) play in both the book and our modern politics? [Beha himself is not on Twitter].
Beha: There are various ways in which the world of the book is just slightly askew from the real world. For example, the major New York newspaper where one character works is the Herald, rather than the Times. These things allow me to place fictional characters within otherwise non-fictional contexts. The creation of Teeser serves a similar role. Twitter was not quite ubiquitous in 2009, and I did not want to be held to the standards of documentary truth for what is, after all, a novel.
As far as your second question, I’m on the side of those who think that social media’s influence on politics, journalism, culture, society, and just about everything else has been almost completely pernicious. There are some exceptions, but the net accounting has to be negative. Donald Trump is paradigmatic public figure of the social-media era. I think that about sums the situation up.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “If Sam Waxworth was handicapping the 2020 election, he would give Biden a _______% chance of winning.” Now, explain.
Beha: Oh, I don’t know, let’s say 73.2.
It’s worth noting here that even this way of putting it — not “I predict that Joe Biden will win,” but “I calculate that Joe Biden has a 73.2% chance of winning ” — has been bequeathed to us by the data journalists, who have taught us that predictions have to be probabilistic rather than deterministic.
In some ways, this is an obvious improvement over the alternative, since it acknowledges the fact that we can’t really know today what will happen four months from how. But it also introduces the false sense of precision that comes from numbers. If I say, “Joe Biden is going to win” or even “Joe Biden is probably going to win,” it’s obvious that I’m just making a more or less educated guess. If I say, “there’s a 73.2% chance that Biden will win” this suddenly seems much more empirical, but at the end of the day, it’s still just my best guess. And the nice thing about probabilistic predictions, from the pundits’ standpoint, is that you’re never wrong — either outcome is given some chance.
One of the things that the data journalists promised to add to the punditry mix was some sense of accountability. That sort of went out the window after 2016.

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State of democracy in Africa: changing leaders doesn’t change politics – The Conversation Africa



For the last few years the African political landscape has been dominated by high profile changes of leaders and governments. In Angola (2017), Ethiopia (2018), South Africa (2018), Sudan (2019) and Zimbabwe (2018), leadership change promised to bring about not only a new man at the top, but also a new political and economic direction.

But do changes of leaders and governments generate more democratic and responsive governments? The Bertelsmann Transformation Index Africa Report 2020 (BTI), A Changing of the Guards or A Change of Systems?, suggests that we should be cautious about the prospects for rapid political improvements.

Reviewing developments in 44 countries from 2017 to the start of 2019, the report finds that leadership change results in an initial wave of optimism. But ongoing political challenges and constraints mean that it is often a case of “the more things change the more they stay the same”.

Political change occurs gradually in the vast majority of African countries.

More continuity than change

From 2015 to 2019, the general pattern has been for the continent’s more authoritarian states – such as Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea and Rwanda – to make little progress towards democracy. In some cases countries became incrementally more repressive.

At the same time, many of the continent’s more democratic states – including Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, Senegal and South Africa – have remained “consolidating” or “defective” democracies. Very few of these dropped out of these categories to become “authoritarian” regimes.

A number of countries have seen more significant changes. But in most cases this did not fundamentally change the character of the political system. For example, Cameroon, Chad, Kenya and Tanzania moved further away from lasting political and economic transformation. Meanwhile Angola, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe initially made progress towards it, but these gains were limited – and only lasted for a short period in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

As this brief summary suggests, at a continental level the trajectories of different states have by and large cancelled each other out. Positive trends in some cases were wiped out by negative trends in others.

Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has thus seen no significant changes to the overall level of democracy, economic management and governance. For example, the index shows that between 2018 and 2020, the overall level of democracy declined by just 0.09, a small shift on a 1-10 scale. This suggests continuity not change.

Leadership changes often disappoint

In almost all cases, positive trends were recorded in countries where leadership change generated hope for political renewal and economic reform. This includes Angola, after President José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down in 2017, and Ethiopia, following the rise to power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. It also includes Zimbabwe, where the transfer of power from Robert Mugabe to Emmerson Mnangagwa was accompanied by promises that the Zanu-PF government would show greater respect for democratic norms and values in future.

Sierra Leone also recorded a significant improvement in performance following the victory of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio in the presidential election of 2018. Nigeria has continued to make modest but significant gains in economic management since Muhammadu Buhari replaced Goodluck Jonathan as president in 2015.

The significance of leadership change in all of these processes is an important reminder of the extent to which power has been personalised. But it is important to note that events since the end of the period under review in 2019 have cast doubt on the significance of these transitions.

Most notably, continued and in some cases increasing human rights abuses in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe suggest that we have seen “a changing of the guards” but not a change of political systems.

Nowhere is this more true than Zimbabwe, where the last few weeks have witnessed a brutal government crackdown. Not only have journalists been arrested on flimsy charges, but the rule of law has been manipulated to keep them in jail. Following this sustained attack on democracy, it is now clear that the Mnangagwa government is no more committed to human rights and civil liberties than its predecessor was.

There is no one ‘Africa’

So what does the future hold? I often get asked what direction Africa is heading in. My answer is always the same: where democracy is concerned, there is no one “Africa”. The Bertelsmann Transformation Index report shows how true this is.

In addition to the well-known differences between leading lights like Botswana and entrenched laggards like Rwanda, there is also a profound regional variation that is less well recognised and understood.

From relatively similar starting points in the early 1990s, there has been a sharp divergence between West and Southern Africa – which have remained comparatively more open and democratic – and Central and Eastern Africa, which remained more closed and authoritarian. There is also some evidence that the average quality of democracy continued to decline in Eastern and Central Africa in the past few years. Because it continues to increase in West Africa, we have seen greater divergence between the two sets of regions.

Figure 1. Average Democracy scores for African regions, BTI 2006-2020*

These variations reflect the historical process through which governments came to power, the kinds of states over which they govern, and the disposition and influence of regional organisations. In particular, East Africa features a number of countries ruled by former rebel armies (Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda). Here political control is underpinned by coercion and a longstanding suspicion of opposition.

This is also a challenge in some Central African states. Here the added complication of long-running conflicts and political instability (Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo) has undermined government performance in many ways.

A number of former military leaders have also governed West African states, including Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. But the proportion has been lower and some countries, such as Senegal, have a long tradition of plural politics and civilian leadership. In a similar vein, Southern Africa features a number of liberation movements. But in a number of cases these developed out of broad-based movements that valued political participation and civil liberties. Partly as a result, former military or rebel leaders have had a less damaging impact on the prospects for democracy in Southern and West Africa.

It is important not to exaggerate these regional differences. There is great variation within them as well as between them. But, this caveat notwithstanding, we should not expect to see any convergence around a common African democratic experience in the next few years. If anything, the gap between the continent’s most democratic and authoritarian regions is likely to become even wider.

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