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.

The “wave of veteran suicides,” in the words of The New York Times editors last year, seems to cap the traumas that the vets have borne in service to the nation. It turns out, however, that actually establishing that there is a connection between military service and suicide is difficult. It may take years more research to fully understand its personal toll. The “Forever War” of an earlier generation, Vietnam, produced a particularly strong debate about serving and suicide. While the tragic consequences seemed clear to some, the data have been much more opaque. The veteran-suicide connection was, as a recent article describes, also opaque a century ago when the veterans in question had served in the Civil War.

Vietnam Memorial Wall Replica

Vietnam Memorial Wall Replica (Source)

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Odd Man In

Residents of small Barnstable, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, were not sure what to make of “odd” Joseph Gorham, who lived–and wandered–among them in the first half of the 1700s. He would walk unannounced into their homes, “Searching and Rumiging for Victuals in a Ravenous manner without Leave,” gorge himself on what he could find, sometimes to the point of throwing up, and often spend the night by their fireplaces or in their barns. Gorham had no wife, did no work, and neither bought nor sold, being unable to bargain on his own behalf. At the same time, he had a “Very Extraordinary Genius” in playing checkers, visually estimating the weights of goods, and recalling calendar information in exact detail. Also remarkable from our vantage point, his oddness was tolerated for decades.

Barnstable, 1690 building (K.C. Zirkel)

Barnstable, 1690 building (K.C. Zirkel)

University of Connecticut historian Cornelia H. Dayton tells Gorham’s story in the fall, 2015 issue of the Journal of Social History, a story only made visible by a court case over Gorham’s will when he died at 73 and a story with several implications for how we understand mental illness, community, gender, and class.

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