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Saturday, November 12, 2016


I have not said anything about this, in part because I have been in shock, in part because it has been too obvious to need comment, but I feel an obligation to set the record straight.  Every forecast I made so confidently about the election was wrong.  It follows that if I am so foolish in the future as to offer predictions, you would be well to ignore them.


Chris said...

Sam Wang ate a bug on CNN as his mea culpa:

I think I can safely speak for everyone here when I say: we all expect you to wrestle a grizzly bear as your mea culpa.

Kidding of course!

J. W. F. said...

Anyone following the polling would have drawn the same conclusions. But, to paraphrase of H. L. Mencken, "No one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Charles Pigden said...

Well you got it right that Trump would win the Republican nomination! So you have the melancholy satisfaction of being half-right about this international catastrophe.

Unknown said...

For what it's worth, you weren't alone. I was confidently assuring family and friends that Hillary was a certainty, and that the only question was whether the Democrats would get control of the Senate. I take some consolation in the fact that she did win the popular vote--by a greater percentage than Al Gore won it in 2000 and greater than both Kennedy (in 1960) and Nixon (1968).

This raises the question of the Electoral College, which is an anachronism that certainly didn't deliver its stated goal--preventing direct voting from electing a dangerous demagogue or a charlatan. This time we got both.

Unknown said...

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire is a blog I also follow: Today he he posted this:

All the more reason to support Bernie and anyone else who is working on the 2018 state and local elections.

Unknown said...

For some reason, my copying and pasting didn’t work when I hit post. Here’s another attempt:

Unknown said...

No, it didn't. Instead of pasting, I'll just type it:

Unknown said...

I give up. He warned that the Democrats now control just 13 state legislatures. If they lose one more, they will no longer be able to block constitutional amendments. He noted that it is not an easy process, but that we are getting closer to the point where the Republicans just might try it.

levinebar said...

our Founders trusted wisdom could be found
by polling an unschooled electorate
convinced true power flows up from the ground
and dynasties are not divinely set
the demagogue who cost them sleep at night
at worst, would dominate one branch of three
the other two, enforcing what was right
if he'd infringe the People's liberty
but new technologies upend the mix
and couch-potatoes toss what we held dear
sham punditocracy anoints their picks
their television's always tuned to 'fear'
with Trump astride our hobbling government
we've failed Enlightenment's experiment

Guy Tennenbaum said...

David Palmeter, that is frightening. It only confirms the urgency of the issue I've been harping on to anyone who will listen, namely, that it's unfair to the point of obscenity that states like North Dakota, with a population less than 750K, have representation in the Senate that equals that of a state like Califronia, with its nearly 40 million citizens. (For some perspective, in 1770 eight of the thirteen colonies had populations between 100 and 300 thousand. Virginia was the largest with about 450,000 and only two -- Georgia and Deleware -- had below 50,000.) The prospect that these smaller states might be able to alter the Constitution without the consent of the majority of the people -- and the popular vote situation makes it evident that conservatives don't have the majority -- is proof of something very, very wrong.

Professor Wolff, I was somebody who was registering skepticism about the ironclad certainty expressed by people like Sam Wang. As the old proverb goes: Don't count your chickens before a nation of morons elects a narcissistic know-nothing racist demagogue to the highest office in the land. Anyway, I don't feel any sense of gloat. Not at all. I am not more confident in any of my predictions going forward -- only a little more certain that we should always expect the most cataclysmic scenario.

Unknown said...


I'm delighted with your sonnet. The thought that you might have put it together on the spur of moment is -- well, daunting. I couldn't have produced something like it if I had a week. Hell,if I had a month.

That leads me not to want to quibble, but I fear I must. Our founders did not really trust that wisdom could be found by polling an unschooled electorate. That's the reason for the Electoral College and the reason why, until 1913, Senators were not popularly elected. They wanted a republic (Rome), not a democracy (5th Century Athens).

But this is a quibble. I hope you keep posting sonnets. Have you tried Petrarchian?

Unknown said...

Ed Barreras,

I couldn't agree with you more about the Senate. It is my prediction that, if we don't blow ourselves up in the meantime, the Senate will eventually tear the country apart. Dakota (north and south) cannot continue to have 4 senate vote (repeated in the electoral college) while California (north and south) has only two.

Unknown said...

I loved reading your comments to reassure me and help my high anxiety during the campaign :[

Jerry Fresia said...

I'm afraid I disagree with some of the sentiment expressed above.

1. The Framers rushed to Philadelphia to write a constitution that would, among other things,
put an end to militant and mostly armed democratic uprisings that were unfolding in all 13
states. In other words, the Constitution was and is a counter-revolutionary document. All the "checks"
of checks and balances were designed to check the people's voice, even when that voice was still
the voice of smaller property owners. In fact, we are today besides ourselves, in large part because of the
genius of the Framers and their wisdom as evidenced by the Electoral College.

2. Here's the word that could not pass the lips of MS_DNC bolivators, not to mention those at CNN, Fox, and the rest:
P R E C A R I A T. Michael Moore, is one of the few who got it right, for the right reasons. He has been predicting
the Trump win for about 8 months now. Bernie and Ellison have zero chance of gaining control of the DNC until that word
is repeated ad nauseum.

3. I would modify the H. L. Mencken dictum to read, "No one ever lost money underestimating the inability of professed leftists to identify with those who have no more than $50 in the bank and instead blame them for not turning out and/or voting for the candidate who embodied neoliberalism as opposed to the bad ass who actually inveighed against crippling trade deals." In Michigan alone, at least according to Michael Moore, 88,000 voters filled out their ballots, made all the appropriate choices, and left the choice for president blank.

4. Greg Palast has thoroughly documented how interstate cross-checking purged more than one million likely Democrats from voting lists. I hear not a word about corrupt our elections are, nor how voting is not a right in our country.

5. Instead of slamming Trump voters (23% of the 17% of the electorate who wanted someone more liberal than Obama, voted for Trump) and Tea Party types, we ought to be thinking of ways of joining forces. More than one analyst who has gone into the deep south to understand them return saying that what drives them is their belief that our government doesn't represent them and does nothing for them. As you've heard, I'm sure, the pithy summary: Trump said "All was hell." Hillary said, "All was well."

6. Which side are we on?

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

No one here, as far as I know, is unable to identify with those with only 50 dollars in the bank.

Rather most of us are anxious and a bit frightened by those with 50 dollars in the bank (actually, most rich white people voted for Trump too) who vote for a candidate, Trump, who genuinely has contempt for those with 50 dollars in the bank, who worships winners. Moreover, we are bit anxious and frightened that those with 50 dollars in the bank (plus the rich white Trump voters) support someone, Trump, with racist, misogynous and xenophobic attitudes because we recall that back in the good old days, the 30's, the German working class supported Hitler and because we know that if things get ugly with Trump, we leftist intellectuals as well as our feminist and gay friends will get our heads bashed in by the same people with 50 dollars in the bank (plus the rich white Trump voters).

Jerry Fresia said...

s. wallerstein:

Yes, of course, we are all frightened by the results of the election. But the issue for me is how do we move forward. Do we look at the exploited, the now famous white working class voters from rural areas, as people whose intelligence we could never lose money underestimating or as people who voted rationally?

If it is the former, then we are viewing the exploited who voted for the racist misogynist as ignoramuses with whom we cannot work unless they are "educated" appropriately. If it is the latter, then we are in a position to build bridges with them now.

It is also my belief, we comrades who love reading the blog of a Kant scholar no less, probably don't know and feel everyday the indignity of having been reduced to a function (whether or not we have $50 in the bank or more). And this is true, then it is probably we comrades who need the appropriate education - just saying, and speaking for myself.

One of the professor's phrases (among so many) that ring in my head is the phrase he once used in an essay on Marcuse and it was the "siren call of liberation." I believe that nothing substantive will change until those white working class Trump voters hear and feel the siren call of liberation and it is less likely to happen when they and we are on opposing sides, we being the smart people, they being the dummies. This is election was a class uprising and we Marxists are just plain blown away.

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

I'm sure that you've seen the election statistics and are aware that whites of all classes and educational levels voted for Trump except white women with university studies. So is the election a class uprising or a racial uprising?

And it is obvious that blacks, of all social classes, voted for Hillary and they suffer as much or more from Wall St. than white working class voters do.

David E. said...

You may be excused, since you called it absolutely correctly years ago in "The Poverty of Liberalism."

LFC said...

'Levinebar' might not have all the history quite right, but he or she has the Shakespearian sonnet down pat! Bravo! Great stuff.

levinebar said...

not quite spur-of-the-moment, but certainly on the occasion of Clinton's loss. I've never tried Petrarchian. I only took up Elizabethan sonnets last September when I found myself on a planeflight without a book to fill the hours. Alas, a lot of my compositions since then are topical to the election cycle and of no lasting interest.
Is my archive at

legible? I don't remember how I left the 'privacy' settings. I've appended keywords so that one can search by theme rather than wade through the whole chronological oeuvre

levinebar said...

it's true, of course. Our Founding Fathers were raised on The Republic, used "democracy" as an epithet, equating it to mob rule. They gave us the indirect election of senators and the electoral college (and property requirements for voters) as governors* on the people's passions. But it'll take a sharper quill than mine to express that in rhymed iamic heptameter.

*as in steam-engine, not as in state executive

Anonymous said...

No comments added, none needed.

s. wallerstein (November 13, 2016 at 6:19 AM):

No one here, as far as I know, is unable to identify with those with only 50 dollars in the bank.

Rather most of us are anxious and a bit frightened by those with 50 dollars in the bank (actually, most rich white people voted for Trump too) who vote for a candidate, Trump, who genuinely has contempt for those with 50 dollars in the bank, who worships winners.

s. wallerstein (August 6, 2016 at 11:10 AM)

I read the article. It's fun to guilt trip rich white liberals. I used to do it back in the 60's and 70's (in the name of Black Liberation) and it was great to see those rich white liberals squirm.

I have utterly no sympathy with the oppressed, be they black, white, brown or any other race, gender or creed, who opt for fascism, demagoguery and stupidity, that is, for Trump. I can understand why a white person who has been fucked over by the system opts for Trump (and I can understand just about every human attitude, even a Nazi), but I cannot justify supporting Trump. I can justify a white person who has been fucked over by the system supporting Jill Stein (even though I agree with Professor Wolff that it's more rational to support Clinton). I can justify a white person who has been fucked over by the system not voting because he or she does not believe in the system or because they believe that only a real working class party led by the working class (not the Green Party) can change the system for the better, etc., but no, supporting Trump crosses an ethical line that I see no justification for and someone who crosses it is not on our side, even if they come from an oppressed background.

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein (November 13, 2016 at 6:19 AM):

No one here, as far as I know, is unable to identify with those with only 50 dollars in the bank.

Ed Barreras (October 10, 2016 at 10:48 AM)

A commentor on this blog recently mentioned that Richard Rorty, after Bush was elected a second time, wrote something to the effect that Bush's victory could be explained by the fact that half the population has an IQ below 100. I have to say I remember reading an op-ed by Rorty from that time, and I can't recall him writing that. (Though, it's the kind of straightforward analysis that certainly *sounds* like Rorty, if you know what I mean. A link would be appreciated if anyone has it.) Well, I've been thinking about that a bit lately. What seems undeniable to me is that support for Trump -- and for the right-wing lunacy that birthed him -- absolutely is strongly associated with intellectual weakness. People who like Trump are mostly not very smart, and I know we're not supposed to say that but it's true, and it's just too bad. For me the quintessential line from this campaign will always be Jonathan Chait's (writing in New York Magazine): If you look at Trump and see a plausible commander-in-chief, you suffer from a mental deficiency.

David Palmeter (August 23, 2016 at 12:56 PM)

Progressives (among whom I include myself) are kidding themselves if they believe that renegotiating NAFTA or the WTO agreements will reverse the decline of manufacturing jobs in the US. They certainly have contributed—at the same time they were offering consumers lower prices and other US producers of goods and services foreign markets. I, for one, would not want to give up fresh fruits and vegetables the year round, nor give up my Volvo.
Nor should we ignore the benefits these agreements have brought to the poor in other countries. They have been enormous. Balancing the interests of US workers, US consumers, and foreign workers is not an easy task, but I don’t think that a blind “America First” approach is necessarily the right way to go.

s. wallerstein said...


First of all, I'm genuinely flattered that someone remembers what I wrote a month ago.

I don't see any contradiction between being able to identify with people with less than 50 dollars in the bank and seeing no ethical justification for voting for Trump, not even when the Trump voter has less than 50 dollars in the bank.

Life is complicated and for example, I may identify with Obama as the first black president and condemn him for his drone policy. Politics isn't a football game where you support your team right or wrong.

levinebar said...

aargh. make that "rhymed iambic pentameter" for a sonnet. Heptameter is my dabbling on the side.

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

First of all, what you choose to feel is irrelevant to me. It matters shit. It's not about how you claim to feel, it's about what the rabble you despise so remember.

And we do remember farther than a month ago.

Anonymous said...

Professor Wolf,

Several months ago my 16 year old granddaughter and I were talking about the upcoming election. She said that Trump would get the nomination and win the presidency because he is a TV star. Don't misunderstand me, she despises Trump as much as I do but I just can't get that conversation out of my head.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I think that is indeed how he got the nomination. How he won the election is more complicated. Remember that Clinton got many more votes. But still, there is a great deqal of insight in that observation by your granddaughter.

Anonymous said...

Yes, she is very insightful. I know the election is more complicated than that.
In any case, for the first time in my life I truly fear for our country. I'm 65 years old and retired so hopefully I won't live to see the worst of what may happen. I fear for my children and grandchildren.

levinebar said...

treating the philosophy of govt more seriously is hard to fit into fourteen lines:

our Founding Fathers feared a demagogue
would throw their compromises out en masse
'though he himself was raised high on the hog
he'd over-turn the rightful ruling class
Electors were invented to forestall
the proletariate seizing control
a vetted gentry casting votes for all
between the presidency and the poll
as they foresaw, a Donald Trump arose
who knew not Joseph and wants us to kneel
'cause he's the man the frightened masses chose
to renegotiate their dead-end deal
industrialization has its cost
'though productivity mounts ever higher
uncounted mindless jobs must soon be lost
the unskilled face a future dark and dire
our Ship of State may not stay long afloat
if this is how our seething masses vote

Anonymous said...

Sir, you have a magical way with words. I was talking to a relative recently about Trump and the election. My relative owns an import/export company and travels around the world frequently. He was talking about the technology that is coming with robots and self driving cars, etc. and the number of jobs that are going to be lost.

I suspect that many of the skilled workers will also face a dark future.

levinebar said...

Karl Popper bade us wake from Plato's spell
millennia long gone since it was cast
an exorcism with no book, nor bell
to liberate us from the hoary past
the Perfect need not always be behind
all striving forward need not be downslope
the Golden Age is only of the mind
despair's no more our lot in life than hope
perfectability is in our hands
a reasonable People can decide
establishing the rule of law, not man
with only human reason as our guide
a bold, but not unreasonable thing
to set forth a new nation with no king