Beware The Teflon Don

Yesterday I was interviewed by the WCAX reporter Darren Perron for his weekend show You Can Quote Me, an experience I always enjoy because of Perron’s sharp questions. The interview topic this time around, not surprisingly, was the recent “bombshell” revelation that Donald Trump, Jr. agreed to meet with what he thought was a representative of the Russian government who claimed to have information that could undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Perron wanted to know if, finally, this was the event that would serve as the proverbial “smoking gun” precipitating Trump’s political downfall. My paraphrased answer was, “Probably not.”  In fact, as I explained to Perron, I suspect the latest revelations won’t have much impact on Trump’s public support at all, at least not without additional incriminating detail.

As evidence, I pointed to the failure of any number of previous incidents, ranging from the Comey firing to Trump’s infamous Mika Brzezinski bleeding facelift tweet, to appreciably affect Trump’s popularity, despite being touted at the time as potential tipping points in terms of Trump’s support. Indeed, one of the remarkable and underappreciated facets of Trump’s presidency so far is that despite a historically unprecedented barrage of negative news coverage, his polling numbers have barely budged for more than two months. As Thomas Patterson documents in his study of news coverage by major media markets during Trump’s first 100 days, the tone of Trump’s coverage has been almost uniformly negative; in his words:  “Trump has received unsparing coverage for most weeks of his presidency, without a single major topic where Trump’s coverage, on balance, was more positive than negative, setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president.”  Indeed, as this accompanying chart from the Report indicates, Trump’s negative coverage is unprecedented compared to that received by his immediate predecessors.

There’s no evidence of which I know suggesting coverage has gotten any more favorable since the study was concluded. Mind you I make no judgement here on whether the predominantly negative tone of Trump’s coverage is warranted. But deserved or not, it seems not to be having much of an impact on Trump’s popular approval, at least not since late March, when opinions toward Trump seem to have settled in after a very brief and not very favorable honeymoon. According to the Huffpost aggregate poll, on March 27 Trump dipped to his lowest approval rating to that point, with only 40.7% saying they approved of the job he was doing.  Today, two and a half months later, Trump’s approval number stands at – drum roll please! – exactly 40.7%.  In the interim between March 27 and today it fell as low as 39.6% and rose no higher than 43.7% in aggregate polling.  In short despite the steady stream of media accounts breathlessly “Trumpeting” variations on the theme of  “White House in crisis”, “Embattled Presidency”, etc., Trump’s public standing, at least measured by polls, seems remarkably impervious to the overheated media coverage.

So why would the Trump, Jr. story be any different?  One answer is that it reveals, for the first time, concrete evidence that a member of Trump’s campaign team actively solicited information from the Russian government intended to undermine the Clinton campaign.  Despite Trump Jr.’s insistence that this was standard opposition research, most campaign veterans will tell you that opposition research doesn’t typically involve secret meetings with foreign governments. Nor is it normally conducted by the candidate’s offspring – far better to keep this type of activity as far from the candidate as possible.  Indeed, after prodding by Senator Lindsay Graham, Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, told the members of the Judiciary Committee that, “[A]ny threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”  That statement from Trump’s own nominee seemed to undercut the President’s defense that this meeting was par for the course when it comes to campaigns.

So this story seems to be different in kind from the previous stories alleging some type of collusion between Trump and the Russians.  At least superficially, it seems to provide the long-sought after smoking gun that proves collusion. Or does it?  As I told Perron, despite the effort of the Times to make the case that it was not a coincidence that public statements by Trump, Sr. on the campaign trail regarding Clinton’s emails followed closely on the heels of his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer, it is still not clear that anything of value was transmitted to Trump, Jr., or that the meeting had any impact on the campaign at all.  So once again we are left with rampant speculation, but no concrete evidence regarding actual collaboration between Trump and the Russians during the 2016 election.  Yes, Trump, Jr., might have violated campaign norms, but does the meeting conclusively show collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign that influenced the election? And how, if at all, does this meeting link to the President?  There’s still a lot we don’t know.

If I am right that, in the absence of additional information documenting actual collusion, the latest “bombshell” will likely be met with a collective political shrug by Trump supporters, the question is why?  Why are Trump supporters seemingly unconcerned with what my Twitter feed and email inbox assure me are actions that are almost certainly going to lead to the destruction of the nation, or of Trump’s presidency, or both?

One explanation, often touted by Trump’s critics, is that his supporters are a bunch of no-nothing dupes who are blind to any evidence contradicting their racist, xenophobic, narrow-minded world view.  To a certain degree, hyperbole aside, we are all subject to confirmation bias, although it seems particularly pronounced among strong partisans. So this is probably part of the explanation.  Nonetheless, as I’ve discussed in other posts, in talking extensively with Trump supporters during the campaign I found them quite knowledgeable about current events and quite willing to criticize Trump when they thought the criticism warranted.

Another explanation, offered by the New York Times, is that conservatives are not alarmed by Trump colluding with the Russians because they actually admire Vladimir Putin, the Russian allegedly behind the effort to throw the 2016 election to Trump. As the Times puts it: “The veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election — including recent reports that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle set up a meeting at which they expected a representative of the Russian government to give them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.”

Again, that may be part of the explanation. However, I suspect there’s another, more important reason to explain why  stories alleging collusion aren’t having the expected impact – one that media outlets such as the Times may be reluctant to acknowledge: most Trump supporters don’t think the allegations of collusion have been proven.  And they don’t trust the media to report this story accurately.  As evidence, note that a recent Pew survey shows a whopping 85% of Republicans believe the national news media has a negative effect on the country.  (Democrats don’t view the press very positively either, for what it is worth.)

I suspect that mistrust is fueled in part by a suspicion among Trump supporters that, given the overwhelmingly negative tone of the coverage documented by Patterson, the major news outlets must have a hidden agenda – one designed to portray the Trump administration in the most negative light possible. Editorials such as the one issued by the Times that claimed a link between Sarah Palin’s PAC ads and the shooting of Representative Gabby Gifford (a claim since retracted), only fuel this suspicion.  So, in the absence of conclusive evidence showing collusion, their default position is to mistrust the media coverage.

Again, it bears repeating that it may be the case that the negative coverage of Trump to date simply reflects the fact that Trump’s presidency has been unusually controversial and even ineffective, at least compared to his predecessors, and so the overwhelmingly negative tone is perfectly appropriate.  My sense from talking to Trump supporters, however, is that they think this coverage is motivated instead by the media’s ideological agenda, rather than any dispassionate coverage of events. Thus, absent clear evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians, they remain skeptical that there’s as much to the story as the pervasive media coverage would have one believe.  Moreover, most of them would prefer that the media focus on more important issues that concern them, such as jobs, health care, tax reform, and the economy.  Instead they get a steady diet of stories based on unnamed sources alleging potential conspiracies between Trump and the Russians.  It’s not surprising, then, that these stories, so far at least, haven’t seemed to gain much traction among Trump supporters.  I suspect the latest twist in this ongoing saga will be no different – Trump supporters will view the allegations with their customary skepticism.  But time (and additional evidence) will tell…

In the meantime, perhaps we should not be surprised by the stability in Trump’s approval ratings. We saw a similar dynamic during Obama’s presidency. After the end of his post-election honeymoon, one that was much more favorable and long-lived than Trump’s anemic first few months, Obama’s approval got stuck in a very narrow band between about 44% approval and 52% disapproval, (with a brief positive second honeymoon after his 2012 reelection) for most of his presidency, until the 2016 presidential campaigned elevated him to “elder statesmen” status and his approval ticked up to finish at a robust 56.1% – a level undoubtedly driven by how well he stacked up in public perception compared to the two presidential candidates!

This is reminder that in this era of ideologically distinct and well-sorted parties, presidential approval ratings seems to be governed primarily by partisan dispositions, and barring an unusual event of national significance, once opinions have been baked in we aren’t going to see much fluctuation. Hence, for all the talk about how Trump’s presidency isn’t normal, when it comes to popularity, it seems very normal indeed.  And we shouldn’t be surprised.

Just call him the Teflon Don.  And if Don, Jr. somehow gets run over by the media, beware the barrel of acid.

 

79 comments

  1. Matthew—thank you for your reply on my two questions about Ms. Stanger and enrollment. I hope the students getting probation learned something. IMHO, they should have been expelled. And, it’s great the College is expanding its invitations to a variety of viewpoints. Good on ya!! I appreciate the update. We live in interesting times.

    On re-reading my long comment, I found a few errors of English but can’t see how to correct them. Full disclosure—my mother was a very smart woman and constantly corrected our English (four sons), both spoken and written. In 1961, she, my MD brother (WWU), my wife and myself (U of W) all graduated in the same week. President Kennedy was our Univ. of Wash. commencement speaker. Anyway, my mother became a high school English teacher at age 47. Her first couple of years she flunked a number of the jocks who were not doing the work and that straightened out quite a few of them. They dedicated the annual to her when she retired.

  2. Shrug.

    1) I do not trust the MSM. They have a close and incestuous relationship with the Democrat party leadership, swapping personnel and ideology in equal measures (as well as vetting pieces, passing along debate questions, giving speeches to Democrat strategy sessions, etc). When every night on CNN and MSNBC is a ‘two minute hate’ on Trump, is my skepticism even questionable? So when all this ‘invalid election’ and ‘coup’ speculation is given huge amounts of coverage by the media…yeah. Very thinly veiled plausible deniability and they keep that ‘meme’ alive. But it allows Mr. Smith to sleep at night, untroubled by collusion issues.

    2) I am told Trump is unpopular due to polling. I was also told that Hillary had a 90% chance of winning. I was told that Brexit would never pass. I was told people loved Obamacare…right before Obama lost 1000 seats.

    But…you know…academia are the ones conducting such polls and certainly their objectivity is something to behold, particularly in recent years. Certainly it is unlikely that ideology could POSSIBLY blind their work.

    3) But…here is an inconvenient fact. There are 34 Republican governors. There are 25 states with Republican ‘trifectas’ in their governance. For such unpopular people, they sure seem to have a lot of state support. The Dems only hold 7. Odd that.

    4) I wonder, with Wolf Blitzer pining, ON AIR, about the possibility of Trump, Pence and Ryan all dying on inauguration day, if perhaps this ‘two minutes of hate’ that the MSM keeps spewing, might have a negative result on Trump or Republican polling. Mr. Smith will not concede this. This does not mean it is an unreasonable inference.

    5) I know there is a difference between LIKING Trump and APPROVING of his stances. So while I do not ‘like’ Trump, he is not against the First and Second Amendment like many on the Left seem to be. He is doing something about immigration, which is a big fear, despite the fact that Academics, who don’t need to worry about Julio replacing them, pooh pooh the issue.

    And if, correctly or incorrectly, the vast public is concerned, it is incumbent upon our officials to deal with that issue, not mock the populous. Maybe they know something that you do not.

    Know who isn’t in that ballot box? Rachael Maddow or Wolf Blitzer. So I am pretty good about Trump’s chances.

    And Mr. Smith…not to put too fine a point on it, but you are the very last person who has any moral standing to lecture on political violence. A) You are a Democrat who have been rioting for a year, B) you are an Academic and C) you are in Middlebury.

    Our kids did not leave their homes thinking it was socially acceptable to violate free speech and riot at an old man, up to and including assaulting people and jumping on cars.

    Where, or WHERE do you think they learned that kind of behavior?

    So when you clean out the Post Modernism and Red Guard out of your institution, maybe you’ll have standing. Not now.

    But right now, when it comes to political violence, Academia are a major part of the PROBLEM, not the solution. You can thank your comrades for that.

  3. Just to clarify. I am not asserting that Mr. Smith has personally rioted. But the Democratic party has had a violent and constant temper tantrum for a year.

    It does not speak well of them as a party. So while we are LECTURING, what do you think about a party who seems to disdain the peaceful transition of power by behaving this way, Mr. Smith?

    Should the Republicans behave the same way when the next Democrat rolls in? We did not with Obama. We didn’t have armed assassins shooting at Democrats. We didn’t have Terry McAuliffe colluding with the National Guard and police to make sure that Charlottesville was oh so MAGICAL an event. A thousand Antifa did not show up out of the blue.

    When you have the DNC deputy Chair holding an Antifa book…well sir, what message am I supposed to take from the Democrats?

    Hence…your side has a LOT of house cleaning to do if you want to avoid a Sulla/Marius situation in our near future.

  4. Hi all,

    Just a reminder – I exercise a very light hand moderating comments on this site, and encourage the airing of a diverse set of perspectives, and I appreciate that both academics and nonacademics feel comfortable posting here. And I don’t mind a vigorous debate on the issues. But please refrain from personal attacks – they add nothing to the exchange of ideas and viewpoints. (And be especially careful not to make disparaging remarks that contain incorrect claims!)

  5. I realized I edged toward the line and I regret the venom, but not the point.

    To wit: parts of Academia are propogandizing radicals. Violent radicals. What steps are Academia taking to fix this?

  6. J Dye – Thanks for the clarification. A paragraph that reads: “And Mr. Smith…not to put too fine a point on it, but you are the very last person who has any moral standing to lecture on political violence. A) You are a Democrat who have been rioting for a year, B) you are an Academic and C) you are in Middlebury.” – sure seems to suggest that Jeff is actually rioting, and that’s he’s a Democrat, and works at Middlebury! I can assure you he does not work at Middlebury, and I’m not sure if he’s a Democrat. And, of course, he never rioted here (or anywhere as far as I know@!) But even with the clarification, I’m not sure it’s accurate to use Jeff as a stand-in for the “Academic Left” if, in fact, that is what you are doing.

  7. J Dye: I don’t know of anyone on either side of the Murray debate here at Middlebury who condoned the violence that occurred during the protest. Certainly the faculty on both sides were unanimous in condemning it. As for “propagandizing radicals” – your criticism raises an interesting point. If we are committed to the free exchange of ideas on college campuses, should that protection extend to those faculty whose views you deem “radical”? I suppose the answer turns in part on what those radical views entail, but my general default position is yes, their free speech should be protected.

    You might be interested in knowing that in the wake of the Murray fiasco Middlebury put together a committee composed of faculty, staff and students representing an array of perspectives toward free speech, and asked them to develop a set of guidelines going forward for dealing with free speech concerns on campus. They just released what I believe to be a very thoughtful set of recommendations. In particular, they focused “on community standards, continuing dialogue, classroom climate, and the role of visiting speakers.” I can’t summarize the entire report here, and it would be incorrect that the committee members all agreed on every aspect of the report. Nor will all readers. But, based on my read of the report, the key takeaway is, and I quote, “We have found that the best way to address any issue is to consider how we talk with one another – how we listen and how we express ourselves. To expand our knowledge and enhance our relationships, students, staff, and faculty should make space for deliberation within and across different sectors of our community.” The Report goes on to model a few ways in which that type of deliberation can take place. My own experience is that contrary to media stereotypes, most Middlebury students are willing to engage in thoughtful debate on issues of race, class, ideology and other hot-button topics, and are quite receptions to listening to opposing views. But they are most willing to do so in small-group settings moderated by someone they trust to allow for, and encourage, the frank exchange of views. To be sure, there are extremists on the fringes who are less tolerant of opposing viewpoints – but my experience is that they are few and far between, at least at Middlebury. so, to anwer your question regarding what can be done to improve the campus climate – I think we can start by recognizing that not everyone is going to agree on how to address key issues related to speech. But if we can address our differences through mutual respect, and with a willingness to listen to the other side, we can go a long way to insuring another Murray-like incident doesn’t occur.

  8. I am mistaken. I thought I read in the Middlebury scrum that he DID work at Middlebury. The two of you seemed very collegial. And IIRC he did assert being an academic, though another field.

    That being said, the chance of him not being a Democrat or a liberal as an academic are less than 15% just according to statistics. When you add the context of his remarks, is there really any doubt which side he falls on? You have a major and self reinforcing diversity problem nation wide in the academic faculty.

    In fact, it seems as if you have more pseudo-Marxists than Republicans, but that is just how things look from the outside.

    The Point is still there. Democrats started the political violence and academics are still a major problem in the creation of radicals, so I shan’t be lectured to about the proper response. The noise from the Left to correct the Left from their violence has been…tepid. Weak tea. Extremely guarded. Equivocating. What is that word I am looking for…though all of these are good.

    Ineffective! The perfect phrase.

    Again…how many professors actually DEFENDED the Middlebury Rioters publically? What happened to them again for defending criminal acts?

    Yeah.

  9. The proof is in the pudding. And Middlebury certainly DID radicalize and toxically. So your assertion that the radical are few is…doubtful.

    But even so, if they are dampening what is allowed to be said, it doesn’t matter what their numbers are. You are ceding them the power because you want to be agreeable and they don’t care what social norms you adhere to.

    Chicago made a strong statement. Middlebury…had a blue ribbon committee.

    Do you really think the radicals are going to listen to your ‘policy paper’?

    What are you going to do if they don’t? You didn’t expel anyone last time. They have your number.

  10. J Dye – I’ll let Jeff clarify his partisan leanings if he feels so inclined. To your broader point – yes, there is overwhelming evidence based on surveys that the vast majority of academics self-identify as liberal, although the numbers vary somewhat depending on one’s subfield. However, this doesn’t mean they are all intolerant of non-liberal views, or that they advocate or support the effort to shut down speech that was exhibited by the Murray rioters. To me, the greater worry regarding the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is not that students are being taught violence, or intolerance toward others. It is that by not being exposed to opposing viewpoints, they don’t develop a deeper understanding of counterarguments. Nor do they have the opportunity to sharpen the defense of their own views. In short, they are less well educated. There are numerous studies that demonstrate the educational benefits of being exposed to diverse viewpoints. As a parent, I would want my children to go to schools that expose them to different ideological perspectives – not one that limits that exposure.

  11. Well, I know what I’m going to do – I’m going to continue to teach as I always have – by pushing my students to clarify their views, and to expose them to countervailing research and opinions. But I’m not a member of the administration – your questions are better directed at them! I do think you raise important points that, from the administration’s perspective, should be considered – and I’ve no doubt they have considered them. Also, FWIW (and I don’t take much pride in this!) – no one who knows me would say I’m “agreeable” – at least not in the classroom or broader academic setting. And I stand by my claim – I think very few of my colleagues – even those defending the goal of the Murray protesters – support radical efforts to fully shut down speech and none to my knowledge advocate violent efforts toward that end. I can’t speak to faculty on other campuses.

  12. Citing the administration is a dodge. You, as a professor, can strongly make your opinion known to them and to your colleagues. They will certainly listen to you before me…at least until the funding gets cut. How many riots should society entertain from the Academy? Just curious. You keep track of the polls.

    As far as that ‘teaching thing’. Well, there are two paths here.

    One is that of ‘misguided young innocents who used regrettable tactics’. Um.

    The other is that they engaged in criminal activities, that they had no legitimate provocation, went to a voluntary event LOOKING for trouble, were warned by the VP about proper decorum, and they attacked people anyway and violated not only the law but the entire idea of academic freedom.

    So, which one are you going to teach? One draws some rather distinct moral lessons and judgments, but as a Republican and a Conservative, I have never noted any reticence by the Academy when it comes to harsh moral judgments thrown my way.

    So far, as a group, not seeing it. “Disappointment” and ‘regretable’ when commenting on criminal actions, instead of what the Academy is on record saying in criticizing Murray just speaking.

    What a difference in tone!

    Are you gong for the soft landing or the hard?

  13. I’m going to continue to teach as I always have

    You mean the same as you did before the riots? How are you expecting different results?

    Saying you might want to change things up a bit. If you are afraid of drawing moral distinctions and teaching them to your class, it is unsurprising that they think that ‘speech I don’t like is violence’ is spreading as a meme on the Left.

  14. J Dye – The mistake you are making is assuming the students I taught contributed to the effort to suppress speech (they did not) and that my teaching encouraged them to do so (it did not). You need to direct your ire at those culpable for the behavior of which you are critical. So, yes, I will continue teaching as I always have, in no small part because my previous efforts seem to have instilled a respect in my students for tolerating opposing viewpoints.

  15. You wrote: “You, as a professor, can strongly make your opinion known to them and to your colleagues.” Again, the mistake you are making is assuming I did none of those things. Did you not read the initial post I wrote on this site shortly after the incident? Did you not read my NTY interview in which I suggested the inability of some students to understand free speech was an institutional failure at the College?

  16. I am going to drop the topic of the riot for the moment.

    Instead, I would like to bring up the limits of polling. As noted, there have been a large number of polls which been wildly wrong. I listed several.

    The support levels I see for Trump need to be taken with a large grain of salt. Specifically, Trump supporters don’t talk to pollsters or academics. They distrust and dislike both. Trust for the media (a large polling institution) by the Right is at abysmal levels, and trust for academia is not far behind.

    This is how Trump won. This is how Brexit passed. This is how Obamacare failed.

    When 40% of the population is unwilling or unlikely to give you accurate information, then your polling has a severe built in flaw.

    Let me go into an example: gun ownership. There has been a lot of polling about a declining rate of gun ownership. And yet, the people most likely to own guns are the ones most skeptical of government scrutiny of their gun ownership and least likely to trust the media to know their names and addresses as well as their gun ownership, particularly with regard to the quantity, since these polls are conducted with telephone polling for the most part.

    This also ignores the prospect of ‘push polling’ where the media wishes to make a meme of low Trump support, something which cannot be automatically dismissed. Alas, these days I won’t believe any poll unless I can see the questions themselves as so may of them are dubious. (Quick example: I never saw the media ask the question “Did you like your old insurance policy more or less than your current Obamacare policy?” and yet one can’t escape how illuminating such a question would be on the true stance of the public. But the media misreported on Obamacare often because they ideologically favored it. Perhaps I just missed the question.)

    So how does academia and the media operate in such an environment?

    .

  17. Okay. The so called post riot course correction

    You stated that the staff isn’t teaching radicalism and that everyone you know respects free speech.

    Well, no. Demonstrably false. You had a large number of signatures on a petition denying Murray and the Conservatives on campus free speech and freedom of association in your own department. They put their names down in black and white and the consequences of their actions was denial of free speech, civility being their excuse. Because challenging ideas are ALWAYS civil. Sure they are.

    You had faculty teaching and demonstrating radicalism by example when they joined the protests against Murray in that auditorium.

    It is obvious. That doesn’t mean dealing with that is easy.

    You stated that there was universal approbation against what happened. Just because 100% of the faculty was against a riot does not mean they are free speech. I do not like Trump but that does not mean I disapprove of a good bit of what he is doing. The two are not synonymous.

    Your faculty is 100% anti riot. They are 100% anti ‘looking like assholes’. They are anti ‘being outed as against free speech’. They are probably 100% anti ‘one of our own getting assaulted’.

    But you can’t tell me they are 100% pro free speech. You wouldn’t have gotten to this place if they were.

  18. J Dye – You are quite right to raise those two specific cautions regarding polling – both nonresponse and question wording can significantly bias results. Those in the polling industry have struggled with this – particularly with declining response rates – in recent years. So, although national polling was relatively reliable in gauging the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, we know that state-level polling underestimated Trump’s support in key states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Consistent with your premise, our best estimate is that the sampling frame underestimated Trump’s support because it didn’t include enough lower-educated voters, and because Trump supporters were less likely to respond to survey requests. A related problem is the increase use of cell phones, which makes random sampling of land lines less reliable. And there are numerous examples of bad question wording leading to questionable polling interpretation of results. While the media frequently tout the result of their own outlet’s specific poll, academics generally recommend never relying on a single poll, but instead, when possible, to rely on the aggregated results of multiple polls. That way one outlier is less likely to bias interpretations. So, in gauging Trump’s approval, I typically rely on Huffpost’s or RealClearPolitic’s aggregate polling data. Interestingly, based on the latest Huffpost aggregate, Trump’s approval rating – while nothing to brag about – is now at its highest level since early May! I suspect the tax bill has something to do with that.

  19. I would estimate that while the tax bill has SOMETHING to do with it, the fact that Trump has not been a) Hitler, b) some horribly corrupt politician like H. Clinton, c) provably insane (despite the constant insinuations from the Left which they have used since Reagan) and d) has actually been doing things people like (provided you don’t include people in the Democrat Ghettos of Chicago, NYC, the LA Metroplex and the College Colonies but they didn’t elect him anyway) has meant that masses, seeing the self serving hyperbole of the media, are warming to Trump.

    (Thanks muchly for normalizing lying weasel sexual harassers as presidentially acceptable behavior back in 98. Trump wouldn’t be here without that.)

  20. Some very strange material to deal with here. J Dye has said any number of things in recent comments that are flatly untrue at best, and in some cases bear the hallmarks of some kind of right-wing conspiracy theorizing. For instance:

    1. “….the Democratic party has had a violent and constant temper tantrum for a year. //
    It does not speak well of them as a party. So while we are LECTURING, what do you think about a party who seems to disdain the peaceful transition of power by behaving this way, Mr. Smith? // Should the Republicans behave the same way when the next Democrat rolls in? We did not with Obama. We didn’t have armed assassins shooting at Democrats.”

    2. “Democrats started the political violence” [at Middlebury, apparently, since the context is a comment about Middlebury].

    3. “I was also told that Hillary had a 90% chance of winning. I was told that Brexit would never pass.” (Further remarks explain that this is because pollsters are conspiring with Democrats and/or against Trump.)

    We’ll get back to those. First, about myself, since J Dye somehow took it into his head that I was involved in inciting the disorders at Middlebury. Though a high-school classmate of mine whose brother I’m buddies with teaches at Middlebury, I do not, and in fact have never even seen the place. (I’m sure it’s lovely.) But yes, I’m an academic in another field. Currently I teach at a large university in that magical land we call Europe, specifically in a country where, to my knowledge, there have been no student riots of any kind in the five years I’ve been here. (Do I get personal credit for that? Seems fair, if I’m supposed to be personally responsible for American student riots.) My last job in the US, which I had for 12 years, was in a major university’s business school. No riots among the business students either, unless you count the occasional stampede when the corporate recruiters showed up.

    So I have never incited a riot, still less at Middlebury, nor have I participated in one. (Well, not a *political* riot. There was that one unfortunate incident after the Cubs won the World Series, but I was wrongly accused there. The cops said we set fire to three cars. It was actually only two; the third was just trashed. Anyway, I salute the judge for dismissing the case, with the sage observation that I was clearly not a repeat offender because the Cubs, based on their record, won’t win the Series again until sometime well into the 22nd century. Very wise decision.)

    Now, I get that J Dye didn’t yet have all those facts (which, though, he apparently saw as no bar to drawing hostile conclusions). He also wouldn’t know that I’ve critiqued “the academic Left” in print, using that very phrase, beginning over 30 years ago now. But what he DID have were my comments last summer *on this very blog,* where I spoke up for campus free speech and against riots and disorderly conduct at Middlebury and elsewhere, even explicitly agreeing with him on some points. In fact, the recent comment of mine he was replying to with his misdirected rage included a statement strongly opposing political violence! So a guy who speaks against violence and no-platforming then somehow becomes, in his mind, an instigator of riots?! Interesting logic there, if you’re Alice in Wonderland. If opposing something makes you a supporter of it, then I guess J Dye himself is a Hillary Clinton supporter, since he voted against her, right?? 🙂

    On the other points:

    1. Of course the “Democratic Party” did not oppose the peaceful transfer of power. That’s absurd. Leading Democrats congratulated Trump on his victory. The Democratic congressional leadership, the former Democratic presidents, and Hillary Clinton all attended Trump’s inauguration and clapped politely at the right moments. That’s the ritual whereby the losing party publicly demonstrates that it accepts the new president’s legitimacy. Barack Obama made no effort to stay in office but retired that same day and left on vacation. That *was* the peaceful transfer. Since then, Pelosi, Schumer, and the Democratic committee chairs in the House and Senate have been meeting with Trump at the White House in the normal course of doing business. They refer to him as “the president” and treat him as the relevant interlocutor, the one whose signature counts, for purposes of policymaking and legislation.

    (You know who did NOT accept the legitimacy of the last Democratic president? Some reality-TV guy who went around claiming that Obama didn’t meet the qualifications for office because he wasn’t even a native-born citizen. This strange fellow lied about having sent investigators to Hawaii who were uncovering all kinds of amazing facts that he would shortly reveal. Which he course he hadn’t, wasn’t, and never would. THAT’S failing to accept the peaceful transfer of power, if you want an example from US politics.)

    As to the implication that Democrats have sent armed assassins to shoot at anyone, well, that’s just delusional. All I can guess is that in J Dye’s mind, “Democrats” and “the Democratic Party” aren’t terms referring to, you know, *the Democratic Party,* but totalizing labels that he attaches to anyone he disagrees with or considers dangerous. That’s the best construction I can put on such claims, but even so it rules out any kind of serious political analysis. He obviously has no idea what Democrats actually do, who they are or what they stand for.

    2. Likewise, I’d be fascinated to see any shred of evidence that “Democrats,” as such, had anything whatsoever to do with the anti-Murray protests at Middlebury. Was Donna Brazile or Tom Perez in on the planning? Did any Democrats of any rank call for, praise, or speak in defense of the resulting disorders? This being a conspiracy theory, I’m wondering whether it’s another of Alex Jones’s confections or the product of J Dye’s own creative artistry. Dye seems unaware that radicals on the Left have been scorning and disdaining Democrats and their party since forever because they view them as Establishment sellouts. I would guess that the real agitators at Middlebury didn’t even vote Democratic, but more likely for Jill Stein or not at all. But even if some did, you can’t impute to a party everything any of its voters does without convicting BOTH parties of every crime in the book.

    3. No pollster ever said “that Brexit would never pass.” Go ahead, you’ve got Google — try to find one who did. In fact, the “Leave” campaign actually LED the polls for much of the final month before the referendum. “Remain” seemed to recover a bit at the end, but the final polls were a mix, some showing a slight Leave and some a slight Remain majority. Pollsters were well aware that Brexit might pass, and said so.

    As to Hillary having a 90% chance of winning, that’s probably true. The final pre-election polls, as a group, were right on the money, predicting she would win by about 2%:

    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/11/07/poll_position_where_clinton_trump_stand_on_election_eve_132270.html

    And that’s exactly what happened — *in the popular vote,* which of course is what the national polls are geared to predict. State-level polling is trickier, and aggregating predictions across multiple states even trickier, as the pollsters themselves continually point out.

    But as RealClearPolitics clearly said in that election-eve report, Clinton’s lead made her the favorite but “not a lock.” A 90% chance is not a certainty. Anybody who follows any sport has seen instances where a heavily favored team loses to an underdog. That doesn’t mean the underdog wasn’t one; it means events with a 10% chance of happening do happen, about 10% of the time.

    In short, both Brexit and the 2016 presidential election are just factually not examples of polling “failures” at all. At best they’re evidence of polls being ill-suited to predicting certain kinds of races. But there are other problems with this conspiracy theory too:

    > If the pollsters’ goal had been to help Hillary Clinton, why would they have encouraged people to think she was certain to win? That just depresses Democratic turnout. The way to help a given candidate would be to tell people that the race is winnable but very close, so every vote is vitally important.

    > If professional polling organizations are conspiring to help Democrats, why does even Fox News hire professional polling organizations, and then report their results — which are generally in line with other pollsters’ — as legitimate news? Why do conservative publications like National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Examiner discuss polling results as if they consider them meaningful? How come no one has alerted these conservative organizations to this grand conspiracy?

    > I see that Matt Dickinson, taking your comments more seriously than they deserve, points out that there are difficulties and imperfections in polling. That’s obviously true, and the polling organizations all say this themselves. Nate Silver is constantly explaining the challenges of contemporary polling at great length. Reputable pollsters also publish their underlying data and methods along with their headline numbers, thus inviting critiques from people who (unlike conspiracy theorists) actually know what they’re talking about. Why would they do all this if the goal was the fool and mystify the public?

    Finally, a general point: I agree with Matt’s comments about the responsibilities of academics. We should teach people to reason well, to value free speech, and to test their claims against real evidence and responsible opposing viewpoints. We should teach them the methods our disciplines have developed with the aim of producing the best and most trustworthy results. We should also let our colleagues know where we stand when it counts. These are the things we can do within the limits of our expertise. None of us is in a position to solve all the world’s problems, or even the problems of one college.

  21. 1) I admitted my mistake.

    2) My comments on polling are specific to Trump polls and a sea change by the Right. SPECIFICALLY, I think Trump support polls are inaccurate because the media has lost their collective minds and it shows in their work, and Trump voters are particularly non-responsive.

    Generally, I think polling will be less accurate in the future as 40% of the population is less and less likely to engage with the media and academics because those groups have forfeited that social trust (whether Mr. Smith thinks this is deserved is irrelevant. The Right, in general, feels this way)

    However, I assure you, the polling quality of vanilla vs. Rocky Road, remains intact.

    3) The political violence has already been started by the Left against society and the Right. ANTIFA decided to riot against Milo and Shapiro. ANTIFA decided to come armed to Charlottesville.

    I leave it to Mr. Smith to decide the morality of demanding the Right keeps their hands behind their backs while constantly being pummeled by the Left, however ineffectively he politely request the Left settle down.

    4) If you know what the term ‘October Surprise’ is, Mr. Smith, then you know that the collusion between the media and the Democrats IS a real and tacitly acknowledged thing and not just ‘conspiracy theories’. Newsweek was going to sit on that Little Blue Dress until forced not to. National Guard forgeries. Candy Crowley. Donna Brazile. Bernie facing a hostile press due to coordination with Ms. Wasserman. I do not need you to admit this is true, though it shreds your credibility to continue to deny it.

    5) The Academy has been nurturing anti-American, anti-Western malcontents and radicals for decades. (cou-Bill Ayers, Mumia’s PhD-gh) Now they have moved to overt violence…and you still cling to academic protections on their behalf because…well…reasons.

    The attacks on free speech is coming from the Left. Marxist. Post Modernists…just like Marxists always do. One hundred and seventy years of Marxists being troublemaking assholes and the Left still hasn’t gotten the memo. Sad.

    Society is not amused. YOU can clean things up, or Society can, but if there is a backlash against the Academy, don’t blame so called Republican anti-intellectualism when you allow people preaching sedition on campus. You made yourselves a target by doing so. Sedition is not protected speech.

    7) Most of the reasons you are so limited at what you can do is because you choose to limit what you WILL do, starting with demanding radicals who join rioting students be disciplined, censured or removed. While Freedom of Speech is a protected right, you gents seem to think that everyone you’ve bequeathed a piece of paper to has a Right to Teach no matter what they say or do. This is not the case. We just want the radicals out, not you.

    Society is paying you to teach our values…and you’ve done a piss poor job of it because you’ve allowed a large minority of your colleagues to contradict you. THEY seem to have done a better job. Post Modernists. Like Jesuits teaching casuistry. What is not to hate about them?

  22. “Even more ominous is a clear decline in public support for colleges. This is critical because higher education depends on governments, directly through grants or indirectly through the student financial assistance programs, for a large portion of their financial support. If higher education loses political appeal, declining public financial subsidies will quickly follow. Three surveys in 2017 show many are skeptical of higher education’s contribution. For example, a Pew Research Center survey showed 36 percent of Americans believed higher education had a “negative effect on the way things are going in this country.” A strong majority (58 percent) of Republicans had that opinion, which is no doubt one reason why a number of provisions in the recent Republican-led tax reform bill adversely impact on universities.”

    https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2018/01/popping-the-higher-education-bubble/

  23. OK. My takeaways from all that are:

    > There are various political bad actors: Marxists, postmodernists, radicals, ANTIFA, etc. We are now distinguishing them instead of conflating them all under the totalizing and inaccurate label “Democrats.” Good! That’s progress. It’s the kind of movement from careless, empty rhetoric to clearer analysis (or at least the makings thereof) that I like to see and hope to inspire in my students.

    > If polling is inaccurate, it’s for reasons other than professional pollsters conspiring in bad faith to make it so. Also progress. I don’t disagree with this.

    > There is, however, still an effort here to blame every academic for “the Academy” and everything J Dye considers to be wrong with it. I guess if it makes a person feel better to have some personal target to bash over his political grievances, fine, then go for it. It won’t change the fact that each of us has only the power that he or she has. I am not the Grand High Kleagle of “the Academy,” I’m just one guy, and I’m not even at an American institution. I have no influence on whether or how students are disciplined except when they are under my supervision, and no students at my university have been rioting or attacking free speech, so there are no grounds to demand any sanctions against them. None of my colleagues, to my knowledge, has been advocating sedition, political violence, or curtailments of free speech.

    But incidentally, for the record, sedition IS protected speech under the First Amendment. The relevant Supreme Court decision on this is “Brandenburg v. Ohio”:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandenburg_v._Ohio

    What’s not protected is inciting “imminent lawless action.” But “mere advocacy,” including calling for the overthrow of the government — or of the entities that actual left radicals are more likely to target: “the system,” “the 1%,” “the patriarchy,” “white supremacy,” etc. — is protected. Therefore, a robust commitment to freedom of speech means letting people say such things if they wish. Of course, their opponents are equally free to respond with harsh criticism of them for it. (If you don’t like this fact, there’s no point attacking me over it. That’s the law of the United States. Write to the Supreme Court, or to your representatives in Congress. Or move to Europe, where governments are somewhat freer to restrict speech. Or to China: even more so.)

    Finally, this: “Society is paying you to teach our values.” What I’m actually paid to teach are the values of my disciplinary fields. These are intellectual values that have to do with determining which questions are of interest in those fields and how one properly develops, assesses, and draws conclusions about them from evidence. Since I strongly believe that my disciplinary enterprise, when done well, requires rationality, clear thinking, commitment to free discussion and critique and, of course, non-violence, I think that teaching these values does have the secondary effect of helping train students in good habits of citizenship for democratic republics.

    But “our values” are not a fixed agenda. Debating what count as our values, and what priority each should be given, is a big part of what politics is all about. That an academic is not, in fact, paid to settle those arguments by teaching some predetermined list of “values” is very well illustrated by my own case: The “society” that pays me these days isn’t even America’s, it’s that of a foreign country. Nobody here has briefed me on what that society’s “values” are or which of them they want me teaching. I don’t even speak the local language. It would be very strange if a university hired a foreigner like me to teach its own society’s values. Yet I was hired here nonetheless. Why? Because what I’m actually expected to deliver are the knowledge and skills of a *discipline*, one that crosses national boundaries. The idea that professors of specific disciplines are supposed to be shaping not just the professional attitudes, but the general moral lives and outlooks of young adults, more or less “in loco parentis,” strikes me as a peculiarly American conceit.

  24. >These various groups of bad actors are all on the political and cultural side of the Democrats. When they recruit, it isn’t from the Young Republicans. It is dishonest to say otherwise. Further, many of those speaking against the West and ‘Patriarchy’ are self identified Democrats or supporters.

    Democrats gives them political cover and sympathy. Attempting to deflect from this fact is disingenuous.

    >The word you are looking for is ‘and’. It is fully possible that Trump polling is flawed because Trump people just don’t like you AND that the press has a finger on the narrative and selling a bill of goods. But it is not just me who is saying this. Nate Silver of 538 also states this. He directly stated his polling was fine (cough!) but THE MEDIA pushed a exaggerated narrative of an overwhelming Hillary tidal wave. While Mr. Silver does not probe motives, it is probable that the Democrat press tried to suppress the REPUBLICAN vote. But Mr. Smith does not want to concede the idea that there is such close press and Democrat collusion despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Dismissal is not rebutting.

    Granted, I think Mr. Silver failed to accurately assess Hillary Hatred as well.

    > Mr. Dye does hold you (generic) collectively responsible because the moderates in the Academy ARE collectively responsible. You guys used to be in charge and in you collective ‘wisdom’ hired many folks like that radical Bill the Bomb Thrower Ayers. Those who hired anti-American radicals like him asserted he was not only a pretty neat guy, but should be responsible for teaching our kids! I think we can see what he taught them. There are many like Bill on our campuses and you still seem to be fighting for their inclusion. Not exactly self correcting, are we?

    Any folks questioning that kind of ‘wisdom’ in hiring practices was met with a sneer. “We need edgy. We need fashionable. We need to push the bounds of discourse to include the destruction of our civilization and it’s replacement with Marxism (because educators did SO WELL in Cambodia…and China…and Russia…and Poland…and Cuba…and Venezuela, doncha know…). Cause WE are OPEN MINDED. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?”

    Ahem!

    (I am speaking metaphorically. So while you technically in Sweden or some other place with Sharia ‘No Go’ zones, your attitudes are on par with any other so called moderate U.S. based faculty member; more concerned with parsing words, deflecting blame, and guarding privilege than dealing with the facts that our kids are being taught to despise Rights for everyone and to riot. So I don’t mind discussing this with you as a stand in even if you are geographically displaced outside the U.S. It seems you’d rather quibble more about my geographic mistake then discuss the serious mistakes the Academy is engaging in. Unsurprising)

    Academic moderates are not exactly up in front of dealing with marching faculty or openly rebutting sedition spewing radicals on your campuses either.

    Now it is entirely possible that the moderates are…mmm….impotent? Outnumbered? Marginalized and sidelined by their administration? I like ‘impotent’. In which case, those Western Society loving moderates should be looking for allies and folks who support their common values (like se moi) Because anyone thoughtful can see this does not end well. Remember the fate of the Girondins.

    You Mr. Smith, are a Girondin. Unwilling to ally with the Right but not radical enough for the radical Left. History tells that tale repeatedly. Zip, chop. Buh bye. (Granted I will likely be the first against the wall if the Revolution comes, so you’ll outlast me as long as you are sufficiently toadying…I mean flexible.)

    > Sedition. Black letter law and precedent also says that the Executive can unilaterally set immigration policy. It seems that Hawaiian judges are more than happy to ignore precedent and black letter law. So if THAT can be ignored, what makes you think that the Right won’t judge shop and appoint justices to get some fresh perspective on sedition and the limits of rioting on campus? Laws and standards change. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Also said by the Supreme Court.

    But even assuming that I have more respect for the law than your average Hawaiian judge, free speech isn’t just for writing impotent essays to fellow academics.

    Normal people write to their CONGRESSMEN and ask simple questions like ‘Why are we paying these crazy people who hate America to…hate America and have riots and what are you going to do about it?’

    How many more riots before there are a lot more letters like that, Mr. Smith? Maybe we stop paying for radical campuses. The market has already gutted Mizzou. How much worse will it get when you’ve given a legal and moral excuse for action to a majority party whom the Academy has strenuously fought to make it’s enemy?

    And not to put too fine a point on it, but even assuming we keep the standard of sedition, it is the faculty MARCHING with these protestors which isn’t covered by anything except for their defense by the moderates…

    And you people were supposed to be SMART?

    >Perhaps if the Academy had spent a bit more time teaching respect for the Bill of Rights and American institutions, we wouldn’t be in a place where so many radical students (at least 8% of the students in Middlebury alone if you just count the bodies attending that riot) despise free speech for anyone but themselves. That is what lead us to this miserable situation in the first place.

    Instead you teach ‘critical thinking’. Critical thinking should inform a Feminist, for example, that on this flawed Earth, there is almost no place BETTER for a woman than America (debatable. I hear Denmark is pretty good. Not so much Sweden). Yet somehow those critical thinking skills the Academy are teaching let her come to the exact opposite conclusion. How well are you doing with that?

    >I would very much like to hear what you would do if you were ‘Grand Kleagle’ (wow…subtle) of Academia. I am guessing it would be pretty much nothing.

    > And yes, if I was asked ‘what group is even less interested in defending Western values than an American Academic?’ my answer would be a EUROPEAN academic. Between the Sharia No Go zones, the rape epidemic, the governments telling the women to cover up and the feckless police forces, I am totally unsurprised that they don’t ask you to teach any values to the students. They don’t care and it shows.

  25. Hi all,

    May I suggest that we move on from the issue of whether, and to what degree, the denizens of higher educations, are responsible for the erosion of free speech and related rights? I think all parties have made their positions clear, and I’m hard pressed to find additional benefit from continuing the dialogue, particularly when it is bordering on personal criticisms. That’s not what this site is about. There’s a lot more going on in the world – I suppose it would help if I posted a bit more frequently on those other issues!

  26. Thanks, Matt, I concur. It’s odd that things took this turn, since fundamentally I agree with J Dye about the values that academia should live by and promote. Maybe the problem is that there isn’t an actual representative of the academic left here to supply an interlocutor. I’m not sure where that crowd does hang out, although when I see one nowadays it’s usually on Twitter.

  27. Yes, this had devolved into a dispute among individuals that, as far as I can tell, are largely in agreement on the need for teaching students to tolerate dissenting views and the importance of free speech. Given that level of agreement I’m not sure how much was to be gained by playing the blame game in the absence of someone like our Midd student who at least made the case for the opposite side of the argument.

  28. Well no. I agree that we are all people who are not particularly different on the value of free-ish speech (though I am sure we all have our little caveats).

    We also probably all agree on not wanting rioting students or the calls for the end of Western Civilization (I like it myself and I am betting you do too.)

    The problem is the vocal, and seemingly powerful forces inside the academy who ARE fomenting such initiatives and violence.

    So…stepping away from that. How do you fix it? The Academy has gotten, to you a little nutty, to me radically dangerous. Eventually people on my side are going to start to answer with more than a unstable person in an auto…and we got a lot of guns over here. It won’t be pretty and that is the end of even uncivil conversation.

    For me, the problem is the Left on Campus, not Trump because they have been violent for a lot longer than Trump so pointing to his low ratings is an excuse to riot, not the cause.

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