So you may not have noticed, but last Tuesday was an election night in America! Although most of the country wasn’t voting simply because these were mostly local elections, the areas which did vote, and specifically who voted, is really interesting.

The two most important races were for the governorship of New Jersey and Virginia. New Jersey’s outcome was never really in doubt, as the Republican incumbent Chris Christie is now the most unpopular governor in American history who hasn’t been convicted of a crime. Virginia though is much more “purple,” as although it has voted Democratic in the past three presidential races, it voted for Bush W. both times. Virginia is still considered a “southern” state, but its rapid growth of suburbs near Washington D.C. and rapid demographic changes have made it a competitive state for both parties.

The polls had the Democrat and Republican candidates as neck-to-neck in Virginia. But it wasn’t close at all, with Democrat Northam beating Republican Gillespie by 54% to 45%. That is a bigger margin than Clinton’s victory over Trump in the state. So what happened?

Two things. Many groups stayed consistent with previous elections, including minorities, young people, and retirees. One group that didn’t was the “working-class whites,” meaning white people with no post-high school education. It wasn’t that they shifted in favor of Democrats, as they proportion of voters actually looks similar to what it was in 2016. What did change was that there was a significant drop in working-class whites voting. Many decided not to make a choice at all, and a big source of Republican votes didn’t turn out to the polls.

But the group that did shift was in the suburbs. The suburbs are really an interesting voter block because in today’s two-party split, it’s one of the most likely groups to jump between blue to red. Suburbs tend to be wealthier and more educated, believing in fiscal responsibility. They also tend to be very moderate on social issues. The common trope is that one of the most gettable voters are “soccer moms,” women who can be swayed by a convincing argument by either party.

The suburbs did mostly go for Clinton in 2016 but not by a decisive margin. 2016 was largely a “personality campaign,” not one on policy… and both candidates were really flawed in the personality department.

On Tuesday however, the suburbs really kicked Republicans in the teeth. Northam won suburban women by 19%, the biggest shift of any voter group since 2016. Not only that, the suburbs had some of the highest turnout in the state.

It isn’t hard to understand why working class whites didn’t turn out and why the suburbs went all blue. The past year has been brutal. No significant legislation has passed. Every time the Republicans have gotten close to passing healthcare, the law is hugely unpopular. The upcoming tax bill is also ridiculous, not only because it increases the deficit by $1.5 trillion. It’s so dumb because it barely lowers taxes for most Americans, while the richest 5% of Americans gets almost all the tax cuts. You may think that sounds pretty good for the suburbs, until you realize that amazingly this bill raises taxes for Americans in the 80 to 95%.

This of course ignores the constant drum of the President’s personal issues, where it seems every week he finds a new low to step in (failing to condemn Nazis and attacking an army widow come to mind). It’s possible that voters could ignore bad policy or personality issues when alone. But in combination, there really doesn’t seem to be any good reason to vote Republican.

Now people are already making up excuses for why Gillespie lost, and Breitbart and Trump himself are saying it’s because the candidate didn’t embrace Trump’s policies enough. This doesn’t hold up because, well he did, running ads accusing Northam of supporting sanctuary cities and wanting to take down Confederate monuments. And two, Republicans were blown out of the water everywhere, not just in Virginia. The Democrats secured a “trifecta” controlling the Senate, House and Governorship in New Jersey and Washington State. They also are on track to win the Virginian House of Representatives, something no one predicted. Maine voted to expand Medicaid (the expansion is part of Obamacare’s legislation). Out of twenty-five mayoral elections, Republicans won only Omaha and Miami, and the first African-American was elected mayor of Charlotte North Carolina, and the first Sikh (of any U.S. city) in Hoboken New Jersey.

Other symbolic wins including a Republican New Jersey legislator who tweeted this;

and got defeated by one of the women who were at that protest. America’s first transgender legislator also defeated a Republican who called himself, “Virginia’s chief homophobe.” When asked after her victory whether she wanted to attack her defeated rival, she answered, “I don’t attack my constituents, Bob is one of my constituents now.”

None of these electoral problems seem to be ones Republicans are willing to fix or even realize. The one thing they think is necessary is passing tax reform, which I’ve already pointed out seems designed to please no one except for their big donors. And the biggest anchor on them is the President; half of voters said Trump factored in their voting, and nearly 70% of those said disapproval of Trump made them vote Democratic.

So this all looks great for the Democrats. That said, in order to win the next few elections, they need another wave. A big reason Republicans control Congress is because they were able to draw many of the electoral maps, gerrymandering the map in their favor. Districts often look like this;

So to overcome that inherent advantage means the Democrats need to replicate that wave nationally. Winning the Senate will be even more difficult, with only eight defending Republicans, most in very conservative states. To win the Senate, Democrats will have to win Nevada, witch is a purple state so definitely possible, but also Arizona, a state that has been trending blue with Latino immigration but still depends on a swing to Democrats to win.

But they need to win a third seat to take the chamber, and although I used to think the biggest chance was overthrowing Ted Cruz in Texas (which I’ll admit is essentially impossible), the next best opportunity has suddenly become *GASP* Alabama.

Perhaps the most conservative state in the nation has suddenly come into play. The Republicans have nominated Judge Roy Moore, who was removed from the court twice, first for refusing to take down a statue of the 10 Commandments, and again for refusing to allow gay marriage after the Supreme Court decision. He has compared homosexuality to bestiality, said Muslims should be barred from running for office, and said that the Bible should supersede the Constitution in law.

Now I still thought he would win, until he somehow got worse.

First he was accused of corruption, funneling more than a million dollars from a non-profit to himself. But even more shockingly is when four women came out and accused him of pedophilia.

Moore has denied both charges. Before the pedophilia charge, Moore was leading his Democratic rival by an average of 6 points, which is pretty incredible when you think how Doug Jones is most famous for successfully prosecuting KKK members for the Alabama Baptist Church bombing. But this is Alabama.

The charge of pedophilia hasn’t factored into polling yet. Winning would be a case of the “perfect storm,” for Jones, relying on disillusioned Republicans, energized Democrats, and he still could lose (last time a Democrat won in that state was 1990).

But the fact that Alabama is now in play shows how scared the GOP should be. They had locked down the Presidency, the House, and the Senate in one masterstroke. And because of bad governance and loose morals, they may lose all of the federal legislature in only two years.

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So I recently had an argument with someone, after he started a conversation by saying, "What happened in Las Vegas is sad, but completely unavoidable."

Gun control is for me one of the most fun things to argue about. Unlike economics or foreign policy, pretty much all statistical evidence on gun violence points to one thing; the less guns in circulation, the less gun violence. So when you get to have an argument when all the data is one your side, it's a little bit easier.

Now, an argument against a gun-rights believer is not impossible. It just means their arguments will almost entirely be rhetorical arguments, meaning that it's a statement based less on evidence or data but more around belief and logic. An example might be, "For men and women to be equal, they should be paid the same," or "America is a nation of immigrants." Rhetorical arguments aren't necessarily wrong and often are perfectly legitimate. But in the case of gun control , they are mostly bulls**t. Sure they are all technically true, but they also don't make gun control wrong.

Here are some of the best (or worst) arguments I've heard, and why they don't make any sense.


1. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

This is such a classic it's pretty much a cliché. I've seen it written on shirts. I'm so used to it I now respond by saying, "People with guns kill people," because that's also true, and it's essentially what I'm arguing against.

Essentially the idea of this is, guns are inanimate objects and if used correctly are not dangerous. I have once received an email circulating a story about how a man put his handgun on the table, and returned hours later amazed his weapon did not murder people while he was away.

Yes that is true. It's also true that if someone wants to go out and murder, guns make it a heck of a lot easier. No one is afraid of sensible sane gun owners. People are afraid of the people on the edge of a breakdown, who should not have easy access to such weaponry.


2. "Banning guns won't stop murder."

For this I always wonder, "Does this person think that people walk around believing banning guns will create some utopia where murder stops?" I'll be honest, I don't think gun control will end murder. But I will point to some strong statistical evidence showing that among developed nations, in countries with stronger gun control there are less murders per capita. The United States has a murder rate of 4.88 per 100,000 people, which makes it worse than Kazakhstan at 4.84 (the land of Borat is somehow safer). The closest Western country is Belgium, at 1.95.

So no, I don't think gun control will stop murder. I think it will stop some of them.


3. "Criminals don't follow laws."

SARCASM WARNING: This is a very good point, criminals don't follow laws! How silly were we when we decided to outlaw murder, when murderers will just do it anyway!

I sort of understand the underlying logic of this, that being if you ban guns only law-abiding citizens will comply while criminals will just go ahead and break the law. But in practice that's not how it works. If guns are against the law, if the police find someone with illegal firearms, the weapons are confiscated and the person served jail-time. It also means that the costs of finding firearms go exponentially up, much like how they do when drugs are criminalized. So if you set out to murder, you'll need to go on the black market and shell out a great deal of cash.

An assault weapon in Australia on the black market is estimated to cost $34,000 on the black market.. In the U.S you can buy one at Wal-Mart for $1,000 and have it delivered to your house. When weapons are that accessible, it is difficult for the police to filter out the criminals from the normal citizens.


4. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

This I don't really respond to, as I'm arguing that "bad guys" should be less able to get weapons. I don't mind clear "good guys," like our police services and security guards from having guns. They are highly trained and vetted.

I'll also point out that it is highly rare in a mass shooting for a good guy to ever actually stop one. In Las Vegas for example, the shooter was 23 floors up in a hotel room. Unless you are a highly trained sniper, who somehow has a sniper weapon with them at a concert, and can pull off a miracle shot in that chaos, you are not saving anyone.


5. "Before exterminating the Jews, Hitler banned guns."

Everyone understand this one. Hitler is obviously the most evil guy, everything he did was evil and avoided at all costs.

Well, Hitler was also a vegetarian and banned hunting because he loved animals. Clearly, Green Peace and PETA are Nazis.

Kidding aside, I get this argument. If the government bans guns, we are all vulnerable to the government imposing fascist totalitarianism, and have no way to rise up.

Realistically, Western Europe, Canada and Australia all have gun control and don't seem to have to many problems with their democracy. But if you want some real irony, look no further than the American Civil War.

In that conflict, the government was actually the good guy, wanting to end slavery and keep the union intact. Compare that to the South that wanted to maintain forced labor of an entire ethnic group. If the Confederacy had not had such easy access to guns, would this war have been nearly as bloody? I don't know, but its ironic that even with their gun rights they couldn't take on the U.S. military. I highly doubt an uprising is going to do very well against the United States' tanks, fighter jets or drones today.


6. "Banning guns to stop murder is like banning swimming pools to stop drowning."

Essentially the same argument as "guns don't kill people," or "guns won't end murder." I would point out that I've never heard of anyone managing to drown multiple strangers at the same time, making a swimming pool a less effective murder weapon than an assault weapon. And it's also sort-of misleading, as banning swimming pools would indeed actually decrease drowning in pools. I'm not advocating for that because it's really strange for one person to attack an innocent using their... swimming pool. It happens, but not on the same scale as guns.


7. "You can't compare America to other cultures, as America is unique."

Firstly, yes I can. Canada is literally right next to you, has far stronger gun control, and has a murder rate of 1.68, almost a three times less than America's. You can't just scream, "that doesn't count, we're special!" and make facts disappear.

Secondly, this entire argument is essentially arguing that American culture, independent of guns, would have a higher murder rate than other countries simply for cultural reasons. Now I've lived in America, and most Americans are very nice people. I don't believe that because of culture Americans are inherently more murderous than Canadians and Europeans. It simply makes it way too easy for murder to happen.

8. "You can't argue against the 2nd Amendment!"

Yes I can! The 2nd Amendment says, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Well, it says right in those words, "WELL REGULATED." The United States barely has any gun regulations at all. So in fact, we are falling short of the standard the 2nd Amendment is setting by being too lax in gun law enforcement.

If you need a license to drive, you should have a license to own a weapon.


9. "There are too many guns in America to ban them all."

Now this a good point. There are a lot of guns in the U.S, more guns than people. That's more than 300 million weapons. To ban them all, confiscate them and remove from legal circulation would be a logistical nightmare.

But at the same time, this argument is pretty simply, "This problem is so big, it's impossible to fix and you shouldn't even try."

And when I remember that, I have to yell "BULLSHIT" and try anyway.


NOTE: I don't actually believe in banning all guns, I believe in common sense regulations, and listed my personal beliefs below.

Urban cities: Handgun legal only in the home, permit with safety testing required.

Rural area: Handgun and shotgun legal in the home, handgun legal for open carry (must be visible to strangers). Permits for each weapon required.

Hunting: Rifle allowed for storage in home. Usage allowed in hunting zones during hunting season. Separate permits, one for hunting license the other for safely using weapon.

No exceptions for semi-automatic, automatic, or modifiers like bump stocks to convert weapons into higher capacity weaponry.

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So you may have noticed that there have been a few "special" congressional elections this year.

The reason they are special is because they aren't happening in the normal election year, 2018. That's because they are all needed to fill vacant House seats, that were left empty as President Trump recruited Representatives to be members in his new administration. For example, Representative Tom Price was made Secretary of Health (essentially healthcare) and therefore an election needed to be held in Georgia's 6th district.

So far, there have been five special election in Congress. The one the Democrat won isn't very relevant as it is in California, and leans blue by 35%. But the other four have all been Republican seats, and the results have been very interesting.

To start off, none of the special congressional elections actually matter in real terms. The Republicans have a House majority of 24 seats, so winning five more won't significantly alter things until 2018. And in 2018, every single Congressional seat including these special ones are up for election again. So these candidates are getting elected for a measly year before having to run for reelection.

That said, I'm mostly going to talk about how close these elections have all been when they really aren't supposed to be.

These special elections have been held in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina. The most Republican district was in Kansas, with a lean of 15% to Republicans. The least Republican was Georgia, with an 8% lean to Republicans.

There is only a single Democrat in all of Congress that is representing a seat with more than an 8% Republican lean, and the best a Republican has done is represent a seat with a 6% Democratic lean. So partisan leaning is a pretty good way to understand how these seats typically elect representatives, regardless of any other metric.

And all four Democrats in these Republican special elections have hugely over-performed their predecessors. Georgia's 6th district was the closest, with 48% of voters choosing the Democrat. Compare that to just last November, when only 38% voted Democrat.

So let's get down and dirty, and figure out what this actually means for 2018.

1. Demographics

Normally, I would argue that demographics is the most important thing in an election. Income, race, gender, these are all hugely important in figuring out how people react to candidate's policy and style. The special elections have shown that this is all mostly irrelevant. Georgia's district is one of the most educated in the country, and the Democrat was very competitive. The other seats, including South Carolina, are much more rural and low-income, and yet the Democrat got 47% in that district (that seat also leans Republican by 9%).

2. The Trump Impact

I had to get here eventually. The only major change between last November and today is the sitting President. He currently sits at an average approval of 39.8%, compared to Obama's 58.1% and Bush's 52.2% at this same time in their presidencies. He has passed no major legislation, and the current healthcare bill hovers between approval of 17% to 30%. There is no doubt that the relative success of Democrats is largely due to Donald Trump.

3. Turnout

This matters a lot. A big reason the Democrats are over-performing isn't just because some voters are changing their minds and switching parties (though that is happening). The big change is that Democratic voters are far more motivated to vote than Republicans are. This makes a lot of sense, as Democrats are motivated to hand the Republicans any defeat no matter how insignificant, at the same time as Republicans either grow complacent or disillusioned with their party in power. The only district that didn't see a big decrease in Republican turnout was Georgia, which is why the Democrat barely budget from his primary success of 48%. But that special election was also the most expensive in U.S. history, with Republicans spending $21 million on their candidate. This cannot be replicated on a nation-wide scale (well it can, but it would cost $9.1 billion each party).

4. Partisan Lean

Overall, the Republicans are essentially undefeated in these special elections, and they should be proud of that. They should also be deeply worried. The Democrats need to take only 24 seats to win the House of Representatives. There are a total of 71 seats with a Republican lean of 7% or less. For Democrats to get a majority, they need to overcome partisan lean at an average of only 2%. So if Democrats maintain their comparative success in 2018, a big victory is very much in reach.

Finally, there are still some more elections in 2017. There is another special congressional election in Utah, though again these aren't actually very important. There is a special senate election in Alabama, which Democrats have almost no chance of winning. Jeff Sessions (who is now Attorney General) ran literally unopposed in 2014, and in 2008 the Democrat won 36%. Remember 2008 was one of the best election years ever for Democrats, with them winning the Presidency, House and Senate. But it will still be interesting to see how well Democrats perform.

But there are also elections in New Jersey and Virginia for the governor and state legislature, two states than Democrats have a real chance of winning.

Overall, the Democratic party seems like its in a dump. Its not winning any victories, not even symbolic ones. But its doing quite well, and the simple anti-Trump message is working. So if the Dems keep up the same progress they've had so far, they may not be the minority party for very long.

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We all know about Syria. About 450 thousand people are dead. More than 4 million Syrians are refugees, and another 7.6 are internally displaced within the country. Everyone wants the violence to stop, but no one knows what to do. It's a Civil War between an oppressive dictator, various radical factions, and of course the most evil force in the 21st Century, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

But there is perhaps one faction in this civil war that deserves some respect and perhaps assistance. The frequently referred to Kurds, and the area they control called Rojava, or the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria.

This map represents the different factions in control of Syria. The Red represents the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad, whose initial response to protestors of his rule was to fire upon unarmed civilians (and has now used chemical weapons against his people). The green represents the Syrian opposition calling itself the Syrian Arab Republic, which is more moderate but appears to lack the strength to defeat either Assad or ISIS. The white is Tahrir al-Sham, a group that fights everyone and is also accused of acts such as suicide bombing. And of course the grey is ISIS, the worst of them all.

This all leaves one region, the yellow. This is Rojava, the area controlled by the Kurds. This force has proven to be one of the most effective forces at fighting both the Syrian government and terrorist forces. The reason they are so good is simple; the Kurds feel like this is the opportunity to create their own nation. Kurdish people have been a minority group in Syria, Iraq and Turkey where they have often been mistreated. When the Syrian government of Assad was forced to abandon most of Syria to regroup, Kurdish fighters decided to seize the opportunity to carve their own nation. The Kurds are also well aware that any attempt to form an independent nation is impossible without international support, and have thus avoided terrorist tactics, and are openly against terrorist actions perpetrated by Kurds. For that reason, the Kurds have received support from the United States for weapons and other aide. Even now the Kurds are dislodging ISIS fighters around its capital.

Of course, it's never so easy.

Turkey is openly hostile to the Kurds, and are trying to link Rojava to the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group. It is very likely that the Turkish leadership thinks allowing the Kurds to have a state could strengthen Kurds within Turkey, as the PKK claims parts of Turkey belong to Kurds. Turkey has openly criticized the U.S. decision to supply Rojava with weapons.

But this is why backing the Kurds is such a win-win. Turkey isn't willing to directly fight the Kurds in fear that they'll be drawn into the civil war themselves. So instead, Turkey has begun arming more moderate rebels, helping them capture cities before the Kurds do to halt Rojava's expansion. The Turks want to keep their involvement in Syria to a minimum despite directly bordering the nation. Turkey has become increasingly unreliable, with its leader Erdogan becoming more authoritarian and even using refugees as a bargaining chip with Europe.

Arming the Kurds and supporting Rojava's independence may be an option that can hasten the defeat of Assad and ISIS. Even if Rojava doesn't get independence, it will force Turkey to take a bigger role in the civil war. This enough is a small victory, as drawing Turkey further in can force a troublesome ally to step up in its neighbors' problems.

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So in the aftermath of the second Presidential debate and the newest scandals for both candidates, it seems like an appropriate time to evaluate how Trump and Clinton are doing in their race to the White House.


And Clinton appears to be winning big. Aggregate polling has her up in every swing state, and has even moved Arizona into contested territory. The last time Arizona went for a Democrat was 1996.


It has become so one-sided in polling that Democrats are now wondering if its possible they can win not just the Senate but also the House. The last time Democrats had Congress and the Presidency was 2008 in Obama's landslide victory, and ever since they lost the House in 2010 there has been lasting gridlock in Washington.


And perhaps they are right to be excited. Clinton is currently up by an average of 7 points nationwide, similar to Obama's 2008 victory. So it stands to reason the House can be won back. But let's stand back and wonder; is the polling even accurate? In recent elections polling has been wrong by 2 points or more, which can move Clinton from an easy victory to a close race. Let's look at possible polling errors.


1. Landlines are Dead.

Pollsters still rely heavily on calling up landlines for polling responses. They can't easily call cell-phones and get their information, so polling has remained fairly similar to how it was done eight years ago. But obviously key voters are less likely to have landlines, like young people or the poor. In retrospect, older voters are more likely to have landlines than everyone else. Pollsters do know about this and try to "weigh" responses based on demographics to shift responses to reflect the country, but it is still guesswork.


The funny thing is, when polls are wrong because of landlines it tends to help left-wing politicians. Although Clinton has less support from millennials than Obama because they are splitting up for third-parties, they aren't flocking to Trump. So if polling is wrong because of low responses to polling, Clinton could plausibly expand her lead to 9 points. This would be a big win that would easily win the Presidency and Senate, and likely capture the House.


2. Voters are Lying.

Sometimes people are so ashamed of the candidate they are supporting they can't face to admit it to the pollster, either claiming their undecided or pick the other team. This may sound made up, but it is real; both the Conservatives in the United Kingdom and Netanyahu in Israel were re-elected despite polling predicting their losses. Voters were afraid to admit they were more comfortable with the incumbent than the challengers, and pollsters couldn't catch the truth.


This probably helps Trump more than Clinton (he is polling as more unpopular) but Clinton too is immensely unlikable. Not to mention the people saying they like 3rd parties are more likely to pick realistic candidates when the enter the voting booth. This could move Trump to losing by 5 points (still big) but is more likely to come out as a wash, considering other voters could move in the opposite direction.


3. Split-Voting.

This is the weirdest one with less precedent, mostly because it can really only happen in the United States. In most parliamentary democracies, in federal elections you only vote for one person, your local representative. In the United States, you vote for the President, Senator, and Representative. And you don't have to pick the same party for each one, but instead could split you vote among several parties.


There isn't much evidence of this happening in even U.S. elections (most people simply vote the same party down the line), but this election is weird. Perhaps a voter isn't comfortable with Trump, but is a lifelong Republican who wants a Republican congress?


It is hard to say who this benefits. It doesn't really affect the Presidency, and assumes that polling is accurate. It just assumes the winners for seats in the Senate and House don't reflect that winner. So Republicans could gain from moderates who vote Clinton but split. But third-parties rarely even have candidates for the House or Senate, and those voters lean younger and more liberal, and therefore more likely to pick down-ballot Democrats. And the 3rd party vote sits around 10% right now, much larger than normal.


To conclude, Clinton will almost certainly be President unless there is a polling error of unseen magnitude. But it doesn't necessarily mean her victory will be a home-run, or even a blow-out. In the end, all we can really do is wait for election day and see what happens.


NOTE: I encourage everyone to vote, despite what the polling says. Even if you don't care for either candidate, the Senate and House will likely have a greater impact on your life than the Presidency ever will. And if your governor or local elections fall on the same day it is even more important, as the more local your politicians the more likely their decisions will affect you.


I've heard the argument that not voting is making a statement, that neither party is meeting your needs. In my opinion, such a statement will never be heard, as someone will nonetheless get elected and make decisions that affect your life. And no one likes people that both complain about their government, while at the same time doing nothing to stop it.

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I remember a long time ago having an argument with a conservative over the movement Black Lives Matter. One thing that struck me was when he said that the Republican Party cannot be accused of racism, as it was founded by Abraham Lincoln, who of course abolished slavery.


It's interesting to remember now. We talk a lot about the party "identities" of the Republicans and Democrats, as if they are static and immovable, and that to align against them is treason. But in reality, both parties have gone through remarkable changes since their founding.


Now, the two parties disagree on most issues, flip-flopping positions over time, but there are two divides that historically have stood above everything else. They are the role of government (being either more involved in the market or less) and that of social issues, historically being around race.


The Democratic Party was founded in the 1820s, and its first notable POTUS was Andrew Jackson. A retired general who fought the British, he is remembered for fighting against a central bank (which happened later anyway) and forcefully removing Native Americans off their land. Later Democratic presidents went to war with Mexico and ended up annexing Texas, Oregon and California.


The rapid expansion of U.S. territory led to the founding of the second party, the Republicans. Their first president was Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to the new territories to ban slavery, but not the original slave states. Several southern states still declared independence anyway, founding the Confederacy and leading to the Civil War.


After the war ended and Lincoln assassinated, slavery was abolished. The Republican Party became the dominant party nationally, with the Democrats labeled the party of the "traitors," who subtly supported the Confederacy. Even so, the Republican Party became more pro-business and capitalist, and moved away from social issues to remain in power. Although the Democrats were effectively locked out of the presidency, they remained in control of southern states, and implemented racist policies that created systemic racism stopping blacks from voting.


The Republican Party eventually stumbled into its own ideological split that the Democrats took advantage of. Ex-president Teddy Roosevelt, who was more liberal in supporting conservation and health standards policies, challenged sitting president Taft (who was very anti-regulation) for the Republican nomination. After Taft won, Roosevelt founded a third Progressive Party in an attempt to take the Presidency anyway.


Instead, Democrat Woodrow Wilson beat out the split Republican electorate, becoming President just in time to enter World War I. Wilson implemented several liberal policies including the Federal Reserve Act, the very policy Andrew Jackson opposed. He also tried to eliminated the balance of power in international politics, by espousing his Fourteen Points and pushing for the formation of the League of Nations. Funnily enough Congress ended up stopping the U.S. from joining.


Wilson was also a racist and tough nationalist, who implemented endorsed racial segregation, believed the KKK was simply a reaction to a period of lawlessness, and oversaw the first Red Scare against potential communists. Although women were granted the right to vote during his presidency, Wilson was at first opposed to women's suffrage and jailed many protestors.


The Republican Party soon took back the presidency, and again pursued de-regulation of the government. Then the Great Depression hit, and Republican deregulation was blamed for the market downturn and high concentration of wealth among the few. Democrat FDR took control of the Presidency, and his New Deal policies worked to improve the economy, the most notable being Social Security. America then fought in WWII which sealed the American economy's recovery.


But although Wilson and FDR were similar in government policy, FDR's policies helped a great many of non-white Americans. FDR is probably the first iteration of the "modern Democrat" as he was definitively pro-regulation, but also sympathetic to the plight of non-white Americans.


This change became more stark later on, as both parties found it difficult to share the shared values of "melting pot America." The choice finally became clear when President Lyndon B. Johnson publically supported legislation to promote Civil Rights for black Americans. His rival, Barry Goldwater, was so anti-regulation that he opposed such laws, saying that it would give the government too much power. Blacks overwhelmingly supported LBJ over Goldwater, and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were later passed.


Later Republican presidents continued this trend, with Nixon famously campaigning on "Law and Order" which has led to much of the institutionalized racism that has lead to extraordinary high imprisonment of blacks. Ronald Reagan continued these policies, and declared single black mothers as "welfare queens."


Reagan is notable also in that his policies of deregulation led to high economic growth, so much so that later Democrats like Bill Clinton were far softer on regulatory policies than previous candidates. But after the Great Recession in the wake of George Bush's excessive deregulation, another Democrat Barack Obama campaigned on ending the wars and improving healthcare.


Which all leads to 2016. Economic growth has been steady, but largely unequal. The most pivotal of the states in the election were Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Rust Belt. This group has largely been hollowed out of manufacturing jobs, partly due to trade but mostly because of automation.


Clinton tried to win on social issues. She was the candidate of inclusion, the first female president who was for against the bigotry of the Republican Party. She tried to support regulatory policies, but was always considered more in line with her husband's presidency that was pro-business.


Donald Trump clearly wasn't that. But at the same time it wasn't clear what his stance on regulation was. He wanted healthcare for everyone that was cheaper, but also wanted to lower taxes. He wanted to boost the military, but fight neighbors on trade.


Faced with these muddled options, the Rust Belt decided that social issues wasn't nearly enough to make them vote Democrat. And the old policies of both the Clintons and Bushes wasn't working for them, so they voted Trump.


For the Rust Belt, they hoped that Trump's Republican Party would be like Woodrow Wilson's. Sure he clearly stood against Latinos, blacks and Muslims. But hopefully he would promote policies that would help the people get back their old jobs, and stop favoring big business over the little guy.


Clearly that hope was unfounded, as Trump has largely embraced and promoted Bush-era policies in his presidency. It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party is going to stick with the Clinton strategy of fighting mostly on social issues, or is going to take steps closer to LBJ, FDR and Obama.

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I remember a long time ago having an argument with a conservative over the movement Black Lives Matter. One thing that struck me was when he said that the Republican Party cannot be accused of racism, as it was founded by Abraham Lincoln, who of course abolished slavery.


It's interesting to remember now. We talk a lot about the party "identities" of the Republicans and Democrats, as if they are static and immovable, and that to align against them is treason. But in reality, both parties have gone through remarkable changes since their founding.


Now, the two parties disagree on most issues, flip-flopping positions over time, but there are two divides that historically have stood above everything else. They are the role of government (being either more involved in the market or less) and that of social issues, historically being around race.


The Democratic Party was founded in the 1820s, and its first notable POTUS was Andrew Jackson. A retired general who fought the British, he is remembered for fighting against a central bank (which happened later anyway) and forcefully removing Native Americans off their land. Later Democratic presidents went to war with Mexico and ended up annexing Texas, Oregon and California.


The rapid expansion of U.S. territory led to the founding of the second party, the Republicans. Their first president was Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to the new territories to ban slavery, but not the original slave states. Several southern states still declared independence anyway, founding the Confederacy and leading to the Civil War.


After the war ended and Lincoln assassinated, slavery was abolished. The Republican Party became the dominant party nationally, with the Democrats labeled the party of the "traitors," who subtly supported the Confederacy. Even so, the Republican Party became more pro-business and capitalist, and moved away from social issues to remain in power. Although the Democrats were effectively locked out of the presidency, they remained in control of southern states, and implemented racist policies that created systemic racism stopping blacks from voting.


The Republican Party eventually stumbled into its own ideological split that the Democrats took advantage of. Ex-president Teddy Roosevelt, who was more liberal in supporting conservation and health standards policies, challenged sitting president Taft (who was very anti-regulation) for the Republican nomination. After Taft won, Roosevelt founded a third Progressive Party in an attempt to take the Presidency anyway.


Instead, Democrat Woodrow Wilson beat out the split Republican electorate, becoming President just in time to enter World War I. Wilson implemented several liberal policies including the Federal Reserve Act, the very policy Andrew Jackson opposed. He also tried to eliminated the balance of power in international politics, by espousing his Fourteen Points and pushing for the formation of the League of Nations. Funnily enough Congress ended up stopping the U.S. from joining.


Wilson was also a racist and tough nationalist, who implemented endorsed racial segregation, believed the KKK was simply a reaction to a period of lawlessness, and oversaw the first Red Scare against potential communists. Although women were granted the right to vote during his presidency, Wilson was at first opposed to women's suffrage and jailed many protestors.


The Republican Party soon took back the presidency, and again pursued de-regulation of the government. Then the Great Depression hit, and Republican deregulation was blamed for the market downturn and high concentration of wealth among the few. Democrat FDR took control of the Presidency, and his New Deal policies worked to improve the economy, the most notable being Social Security. America then fought in WWII which sealed the American economy's recovery.


But although Wilson and FDR were similar in government policy, FDR's policies helped a great many of non-white Americans. FDR is probably the first iteration of the "modern Democrat" as he was definitively pro-regulation, but also sympathetic to the plight of non-white Americans.


This change became more stark later on, as both parties found it difficult to share the shared values of "melting pot America." The choice finally became clear when President Lyndon B. Johnson publically supported legislation to promote Civil Rights for black Americans. His rival, Barry Goldwater, was so anti-regulation that he opposed such laws, saying that it would give the government too much power. Blacks overwhelmingly supported LBJ over Goldwater, and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were later passed.


Later Republican presidents continued this trend, with Nixon famously campaigning on "Law and Order" which has led to much of the institutionalized racism that has lead to extraordinary high imprisonment of blacks. Ronald Reagan continued these policies, and declared single black mothers as "welfare queens."


Reagan is notable also in that his policies of deregulation led to high economic growth, so much so that later Democrats like Bill Clinton were far softer on regulatory policies than previous candidates. But after the Great Recession in the wake of George Bush's excessive deregulation, another Democrat Barack Obama campaigned on ending the wars and improving healthcare.


Which all leads to 2016. Economic growth has been steady, but largely unequal. The most pivotal of the states in the election were Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Rust Belt. This group has largely been hollowed out of manufacturing jobs, partly due to trade but mostly because of automation.


Clinton tried to win on social issues. She was the candidate of inclusion, the first female president who was for against the bigotry of the Republican Party. She tried to support regulatory policies, but was always considered more in line with her husband's presidency that was pro-business.


Donald Trump clearly wasn't that. But at the same time it wasn't clear what his stance on regulation was. He wanted healthcare for everyone that was cheaper, but also wanted to lower taxes. He wanted to boost the military, but fight neighbors on trade.


Faced with these muddled options, the Rust Belt decided that social issues wasn't nearly enough to make them vote Democrat. And the old policies of both the Clintons and Bushes wasn't working for them, so they voted Trump.


For the Rust Belt, they hoped that Trump's Republican Party would be like Woodrow Wilson's. Sure he clearly stood against Latinos, blacks and Muslims. But hopefully he would promote policies that would help the people get back their old jobs, and stop favoring big business over the little guy.


Clearly that hope was unfounded, as Trump has largely embraced and promoted Bush-era policies in his presidency. It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party is going to stick with the Clinton strategy of fighting mostly on social issues, or is going to take steps closer to LBJ, FDR and Obama.

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In political science, the past year has been nothing short of revolutionary. The conventional wisdom of political scientists everywhere was that globalism is not only pushing the world into further integration, but that the effects are accelerating.


What no one seemed to notice is that there are some people who aren't happy about globalism. And these people not only vote, they can win.


It started off in a few smaller countries where no one really noticed. In 2015, Poland voted for the "Law and Justice Party," giving the country a majority government for the first time since 1989. As you can guess by the name, the Party is tough on crime and wants to boost the power of the state by increasing the executive's power. They are also skeptical of the EU, want to limit immigration, openly disdain gay rights, and want to boost military spending.


Austria had the next election in April 2016. For the presidency, four parties ran for election, two of whom we established in politics, the other two being far-right and far-left. The two anti-establishment parties won the most votes, and qualified for the run off. This was the first time since WWII that a candidate from the established parties had not qualified for the run-off. The two remaining, was the nationalist Freedom Party of Austria, and the leftist Green Alternative. The run-off awarded the Green Alternative the narrowest of victories, which the Freedom Party succeeded in contesting. Austria will need to vote again for either of these two candidates in December.


The news did acknowledge how odd that election was, as the Freedom Party has openly mentioned the possibility of pulling out of the European Union. At the same time, the far-right part didn't really win, and it is Austria, a country that exists mostly on the periphery of importance.


The Philippines then elected Rodrigo Duterte in May, an increasingly erratic president who has threatened to pull out of the United Nations and abandon an alliance with the United States. It is believed that 3,000 people have been killed in his way on drugs since the election, all of which were without trial. Duterte has even called President Obama a "son of a whore," and has pledged to realign his country's interest with repressive China.


Then came the next bombshell; Brexit. The United Kingdom voted 52% to leave the European Union, an outcome not predicted by the polls and only supported by the most obscure of British politicians. The PM David Cameron resigned, and was a clear blow to the European project.


In November, Bulgaria elected openly pro-Russian candidate Rumen Radev, supported by the Socialist Party. And then Estonia elected Juri Ratas, another pro-Russian candidate as Prime Minister.


And the final nail in the coffin, is the election of Donald Trump as President of the most powerful nation on Earth. He is perhaps the most anti-establishment, anti-trade, anti-globalist person elected to that office since Andrew Jackson.


So... what does this all mean?


It is a pattern, showing a consistent rejection of traditional politics and politicians. It isn't defined by a particular ideology or policy, with Trump technically being conservative while others are more socialist. What is common is a clear rejection of the traditional party elites, a rejection of free trade and of immigration. There is increased tribalism and nationalism emerging, with parties like "Golden Dawn" in Greece and "the National Front" in France gaining popularity.


These result may have been inevitable. The events in the Middle East have led to a mass exodus of refugees and migrants, the most seen since WWII. There would of course be a negative reaction from Europeans nations that have mostly white populations. The UK is 87% white, France is 85%, and Germany 80%. Having to adjust to new, different people very quickly will always create negative reactions.


Add to the economic stagnation in most countries, and that there is a perception that crime and terrorism is on the rise (it actually isn't) and you have a common mindset globally. People different from us are moving in to take our jobs, and my culture is disappearing, and our jobs are disappearing to other countries, and our jobs aren't as good as they used to be, and the world is getting more dangerous and our leaders don't care about us and don't want to fix any of this.


No wonder people are choosing the most radical candidates, parties and directions.


This isn't new either. When the going gets tough, people vote tougher. Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Vladimir Putin were all chosen by the people (yep, Napoleon won elections) and were all immensely popular. They didn't emerge out of vacuums, but instead out of chaos and economic calamity. Telling people what they want to hear and promising to fix it will sadly succeed more than the gritty compromise building and maneuvering of democracy.


And the newest radical leaders have again another thing in common; stripping out democracy. For in order to pursue the people's will, they need to tear down the institutions that may keep their power in check.


The events haven't stopped either. Next year France has its presidential election, between the incumbent Socialists, the challenging establishment Republicans, and the anti-globalism National Front. With the Socialist favorability dismal, the next president is likely Republican. But Marine le Pen and the National Front is within striking distance, and them winning could spell the doom of the European Union, an institution that has maintained collective unity on the continent. Its end would make the future a lot more uncertain.


I don't think we are heading for a WWII type nightmare, as we leave in a very different world than 1940. But the parallels exist and are striking. Sadly, radical leaders of the past never met their voters promises for long, and often made more problems rather than less. Maybe this will be different, or the pattern will stop. What happens over the next year could indeed bring even more changes.

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The Russian ruling class then had a choice when facing its new, post-communism fate. Should it try and join the capitalist community gradually, like China had? Or should it dismantle the government control of industry entirely, and jump headlong into this future, much like the Japanese in post-WWII?


The Russians chose the latter to great detriment. When most government organizations were dismantled, much of their workforce was left out of a job and income. The newly privatized corporations did not make up this loss in employment, and most economic gains were made by the very wealthiest of Russian society, now commonly referred to as the "oligarchs."


This led to the rise of Vladimir Putin. The past reforms had been made by President Boris Yeltsin (of both the Soviet Union and Russian Federation), who had become increasingly unpopular. When he decided to resign, his Prime Minister and ex-KGB Lieutenant Colonel Putin was made acting President.


Putin took advantage of his new power to make a deal with the oligarchs. The ones who supported his government were given special privileges with the state in exchange for their cooperation. The ones who resisted Putin were arrested or forced into exile. In the process, since Putin's inauguration corruption in the country has skyrocketed. On the corruption perceptions index Russia is ranked 120 out of 168 nations, more corrupt than China, Mexico, Colombia, and Vietnam.


But Putin did improve the economy. By taking advantage of Russia's newly discovered natural gas reservoirs and by rebuilding the government's state bureaucracy, the economy improved. And Russia remained powerful militarily, having inherited most of the Soviet Union's armed forces. By building a mostly state-run news medium, Russian support for Putin and the Kremlin remains incredibly high.


Now, here is where Russian weaknesses kick in. The past few years have been especially hard on Russian interests, both politically and economically.]


First was Ukraine. A nation that was also integral to the Soviet Union and has many historical ties to Russia diverted from its cousin. In 2014, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich diverted from his promise to pursue ties with the EU to instead work with Russia. The people revolted in the western and central areas of the country, booting Yanukovich from the presidency.


Putin soon responded. It is important to remember why the following happened; Ukraine was (and in Russian minds still is) part of Russia's sphere of influence, and any move away from Russia would inherently weaken it. Not only that, Ukraine was one of the few post-Soviet nations to remain close to Russia, as Poland, the Baltics, Hungary and Romania all turned away from the Federation.


Russian special troops soon entered and seized control of the Crimean peninsula, and rebels began popping up in Eastern Ukraine with Russian support. There is now an uncertain peace, but compared to the firmly pro-Russian Ukraine of the past, Russia now only has pockets of support in the country.


Next is Syria. Since 1956, Syria had received military support from the Soviet Union. It still remains one of the few allies Russia has in the Middle East, an area that is mostly affiliated with the United States, Europe, or has its own agendas.


When Syria began to be embroiled in its own civil war (mostly due to the mismanagement of its dictator), Russia again responded. Any attempt by the US or Europe to intervene through the United Nations was blocked by Russian veto power, and the Kremlin continued to support the Syrian government militarily despite its many humanitarian crimes.


Again, this has not proven very beneficial to Russia. Compared to the stable, reliable military ally of the past, Syria has become a mess. Only some government holdouts remain, while most of the country is controlled by rebels of various kinds, some US supported and others affiliated with ISIS.


Both of these foreign entanglements have been detrimental to Russia's perception abroad. Entanglements in Ukraine have made much of Eastern Europe much more keen on allowing NATO to build up forces to protect them, and has made the military alliance mostly a check against Russian power. NATO, which had been thought irrelevant after the Soviet Union's demise, once again has a purpose. Middle Eastern nations like Turkey and Saudi Arabia have also moved farther from Russian advances, and stepped up their own military spending. And Europe has moved to sanction Russia as punishment for its meddling.


And lastly comes the final Russian weakness; the economy. Although Putin managed to patch up the worst effects of the Soviet Union's dissolution, thing have again worsened. The sanctions hurt the Russian economy, but far worse was the drop in oil prices (due to Saudi Arabian tinkering) which plunged Russia into a recession in 2014 (and is only now tapering off).


This is what reveals the biggest problem Russia has. Its economy is over-reliant on one industry, energy. This is economically very risky. The more diversified a nation is economically, the more likely it can ride out market shocks and jolts. Russia is only successful when energy prices are high. But its long-term future is even worse. Compared to European and North American nations, Russians are not as well-educated and prepared for emerging industries in computing and information. Russia also has a very low-rate for immigration. Immigration is necessary considering the country has a low-birthrate, meaning its workforce will continue to fall and the country will become more unproductive in the future.


And (as mentioned before) much of the economic success of Russia is siphoned off due to corruption. It is estimated that in the 2014 Olympics, a road built to connect Sochi to other Russian cities cost $6.8 billion (for comparison, the entirety of the Canadian Olympics in 2010 cost $1.5 billion). Analysts pointed out that normally road construction is not so astronomical in cost, and that for $6.8 billion another country could have paved such a road with caviar or Louis Vuitton bags. The only rational answer is that the companies hired by the Kremlin to build the road were given some hefty bribes.


Normally these problems alone do not spell disaster. Countries all over the world have these same issues. What is really relevant is that the Kremlin doesn't seem to notice the country's trajectory. Instead, Putin feels more and more pressured to continue to interfere in foreign entanglements that are getting diminishing returns, when the situation at home is spiraling into worsening straits.


The reason it hasn't gotten personally bad for Putin and his oligarchs is that the propaganda machine that is Russian news has been able to spin the economy problems as a Western plot to destroy Russia. Although this is partly true (the sanctions are designed to hurt Russia) most of the problems Russia faces are natural movements of nations turning away from it on their own volition, or are the unstable economic climate collapsing on itself.


Russia continues to see itself as a global power on the rise, when instead it is descending into deeper stagnation. To save it, there needs to be a radical shifting of resources away from military spending to leverage energy revenues into building better education and infrastructure, to spur investment and build a diversified economy that can succeed in the future. Sadly, under current leadership, this will certainly not happen, and it is only a question of when, not if, the Russian people turn on those who have wronged them.


http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a27243/russia-olympics-caviar-road/

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Since the 2016 election I've read more than one article or column that has described how the Democratic Party is in disarray. Their chosen candidate was defeated, and the party was thrown into a crisis of identity; is the party neoliberal, or progressive? Will the party ever truly recover from the devastating loss of every branch of government?


But these articles aren't new. Similar ones were made when Obama won in 2008, winning not just the presidency by the Senate and House as well. But instead of the end of the Republican party, it gradually recovered, winning the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and now the Presidency in 2016.


That is the interesting (or boring) thing about American politics. Unlike Canada or Europe where there are at least three parties realistically competing for governance, the US has only two. And the tradition has always been when the party in charge states a policy, the opposition plants a competing argument.


Originally, the Republican party was the party of Lincoln, and the Democrats were the party of slavery. Then with FDR the Democrats were firmly pro-government and the Republicans pro-business. Then with Lyndon Johnson the Democrats were for civil rights and the Republicans against.


The last time one of the parties truly dominated the government was in the wake of the civil war, when the Democratic Party was viewed as the "traitors" who wanted to break up the union. It wasn't until vote-splitting between candidates Taft and Teddy Roosevelt that the Democrat Woodrow Wilson claimed victory (an unapologetic racist who also won WWI and tried to establish the League of Nations).


Ever since then the government has flipped back and forth pretty consistently between the two parties. The last time a party had the presidency for three terms was Ronald Reagan for two and Bush Sr. for one more. Ever since it has consistently been two terms for each president and their respective party.


So what can we expect in the Democrats future? Though they all disagree on the future of the country, they all agree to oppose most of what Trump and the Republican party propose. And it is likely they will make gains in the Senate and House in two years when most of the Trump promises remain unmet.


In four years it is difficult to say what will happen. Either the electorate will feel more comfortable with Trump's leadership and he will win reelection by a bigger margin (similar to Bill Clinton and Bush Jr.) or the electorate will feel the president has not met his promises enough and lose votes (just like Obama did). If Trump loses votes a loss is almost guaranteed as his margin of victory in 2016 was so small.


When I bring this up to people they remind me how the Democratic Party is pretty barren of recognizable national candidates. Hillary Clinton is now politically dead (if you can't beat Trump you can't beat anyone), the only other that easily comes to mind is Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who will be 78 and 79 respectively in 2020.


But the next Democratic nominee is probably someone no one really knows right now. Some Democrats are going to get a bit more famous by taking dramatic stands against Trump's agenda in the coming years. And there are still many Democratic governors (and there will be more) across the United States. Most noticeably, the Democrats do best in elections for mayors (only 13 of the biggest US cities have Republican mayors, the biggest being San Diego).


So the candidates exist. The only thing one has to do is beat the other no-names to win the Democratic nomination, and once you've done that you are a national candidate. Very few people knew Obama's name before 2008, or Bill Clinton's before 1992. Even Trump was not recognized for politics until he actually announced he wanted to build a wall.


In four years, there will be a Democratic nominee, and he'll get the national platform to take on the President. All this nominee needs to do is hope Trump is as bad a president as every Democrat thinks he'll be, and someone you don't even know will be president in 2020.

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