I spotted a bumper sticker as it passed through Berkeley on a blue Camry the other day. It read “McGovern-Shriver 1972.” It was a fresh sticker, not a 44-year-old relic, the driver’s wry comment on historical memory.

All but the shouting is over preparatory to the Trump/Clinton face-off this summer. (Full disclosure: I, like almost all “observers” excepting Norm Ornstein  and Sam Wang, dismissed Trump’s chances. For one post-mortem on how we screwed up, see here.) With the emotions of the primaries perhaps dampening, it becomes easier to inquire about the amazing age gap between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters.Sanders Clinton

In an April Field poll (pdf) of California’s likely Democrat voters, Clinton won the 65-plus crowd by about 3:1, but Sanders won the under-30 crowd by over 4:1. Age–much more than class, race, gender, or even ideology–differentiates pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders voters. (Full disclosure: I’m with her, as you would predict from my age.)

Why the canyon-sized gap? Maybe the Sanders vs. Clinton messages–boldness vs. pragmatism, frankness vs. calculation, independence vs. establishment, etc.–divide the young from the old. Maybe voters’ personal interests–say, student debt vs. protecting social security–do. But it is striking that age separates the two camps much more than how far left people say they are, their policy choices, or their social positions. One important explanation, I’ll suggest below, is historical memory, as captured by that bumper sticker.

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The British took cattle to the market faire; Americans took cattle to the butcher’s stall. According to a new study, that simple difference tells us a lot about the deep nature of “American exceptionalism.”

A recurring controversy among historians concerns the origin of Americans’ exceptional adherence, both in practice and in ideology, to the “free market.” Has this distinctive commitment been there from the earliest years of settlement or was it a much-later development of the nineteenth century? One side argues that from virtually the start New World conditions enabled and encouraged European-Americans to act and think in terms of independent, unregulated, self-interested entrepreneurs. The other side argues that the colonists originally behaved much as people in their European home countries did: Being community-oriented, they adhered to local norms and to local authorities that limited economic activities, for example, dictating prices for necessities. Then, after the American Revolution, commercial interests, empowered politically and riding a new laissez-faire ideology, swept away that earlier “moral economy” and created the distinctive, decide-it-yourself, American capitalism we know today. (For discussion of this debate, see pp. 101ff of Made in America. Earlier, related posts are here and here.) The contemporary political implication of this debate, by the way, is the question of how deep and therefore perhaps hard to change this aspect of American exceptionalism may be.

Emily Holt, a historian in Scotland, writing in the William & Mary Quarterly compares the cattle business in colonial Philadelphia and South Carolina to that in Glasgow and London. Her story leans in the direction of early exceptionalism, albeit with complexities.

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Current Wall (source)

Current Wall (source)

A key Donald Trump pledge is to stop the inflow of undocumented Mexican immigrants by building a border wall so much higher and wider than the one we have now that none could enter the U.S. illegally. One oddity of this pledge is that the inflow of undocumented Mexicans has already stopped. For the last roughly seven years, the illicit migration across our southern border has been zero or even negative.

There is another oddity about this proposal. From 1986 to 2008, the U.S. vastly boosted border control forces, technology, and barriers. Did this immense crackdown impede or slow down border-crossing? Not really. One thing it did do, however, was to increase–by about 4 million–the number of undocumented migrants who settled down in the U.S.

That is the conclusion of a comprehensive analysis recently published by Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand, and Karen Pren in the March issue of American Journal of Sociology, titled “Why Border Enforcement Backfired.”

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Opening Day 2016

Opening Day 2016 is coming up. And thus an opportunity for me to pursue an issue I addressed in 2014’s Opening Day post: how baseball remains America’s true pastime.

Real sports excitement and engagement rests in large part on the uncertainty of the outcome. This is why the drama of sports exceeds that of the scripted arts like theater, movies, and novels. Overwhelmingly, art scripts end predictably: heroes defeat villains, true love conquers all, innocent babes are saved, and so on. Sports stories, which also have moral plots and subplots, are unscripted and unpredictable and thus more engaging and exciting. And baseball is more so than the other leading American sports.

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Great Again

Part of the exceptional Donald Trump campaign is his not-so-exceptional slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Demanding and promising a return to Glory Days is centuries-old American theme, shared by both the political right and political left, based on the conviction that today’s America is less than yesterday’s America. Trump channels a grand mythic feature of American cultural life, of our “collective memory,” the belief that we are threatened by decline. But the slogan’s appeal is not just mythic; it also taps reality for a specific segment of the population.Make America Great

(My previous post looked at another dimension of the Trump appeal: authoritarianism. Both are at play.)

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This weekend Gawker spoofed Donald Trump into re-tweeting a saying of Italian fascist Benito Mussolini (Il Duce–The Leader) to illustrate their view that Trump is a fascist. Fascist or not, Trump certainly demonstrates the political draw of the “strong man.”

On the eve of Super-Tuesday, Trump looks like a prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination. His success has befuddled the Republican establishment, the political pundits, and the social scientists (me, too). But it now appears that the most coherent explanation of Trumpism is that he satisfies a widespread desire for a “strong man”–that he has tapped an authoritarian strain in the American public.

Trump’s message is: I am strong and a winner; everyone else is weak and a loser (“low energy,” a “baby,” a “pussy,” a friendless liar, a perspirer, a woman who has to pee sitting down, etc.). Through my personal strength, he says, the country–and you personally–will be strong and be a winner, too. Even the traits that horrify so many observers–Trump’s preening, boasting, insulting, bald lies, obscenities, calls to attack hecklers, over-the-top claims, and so on–only reinforce the line: “I am the alpha male.”

(Disclaimer: I am not a political scientist, much less an expert on presidential elections. Discount this essay accordingly.)

That so many Americans would be attracted to such a figure has surprised the world. This is the land of individualism and of hostility to government power. Yet Trump promises to exercise an extremely strong hand from oval office; he will “win” whatever it takes. In post-defeat and Depression-era Italy and Germany, the strong-man appeal was perhaps understandable; in Spain and Latin America, for cultural reasons, perhaps also understandable. But in the United States? Can it happen here? Now?

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Survey Says . . .

The Gallup organization recently announced that it will not poll on the presidential primary races and perhaps not on the 2016 general election as well—in order, its editor-in-chief said, to focus on “understanding the issues.” Observers might suspect that Gallup is passing on elections because its forecasts were embarrassingly wrong in 2012. About 5 points off, they called Romney the winner. It is hard to sell your data to businesses and news organizations when you know it is questionable. Whatever the motive, Gallup’s withdrawal spotlights a deep worry in all survey research: declining accuracy because of plummeting response rates. …. For the rest of this post, see the Boston Review here.


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