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.
« TODAY IN POLITICS »
(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.
« SNAPSHOT »
(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.
« IDEAS AND ARGUMENTS »
(SHANNON STAPLETON / REUTERS)
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.
« EVENING READ »
(AL DRAGO / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY)
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.
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.
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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.
Did Donald Trump destroy political prognostication forever? – CNN
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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