Short thoughts #1: Kavanaugh, Millennials, Finance News

Kavanaugh hearing: Who’s credibility gap is it anyway?

The initial instinct of commentators has understandably been to find clear winners and losers following each chapter of the Kavanaugh drama. The reality of the situation following the testimony of Kavanaugh’s most credible accuser—Doctor Christine Blasey Ford—is a little different.

If her goal was to have a tangible impact, Ford had little hope from the start. She had no chance of dealing mortal damage to Kavanaugh’s nomination without more supporting evidence. As long as Kavanaugh put on a good enough show at the hearing, the lack of corroboration for Ford’s claims practically ensures that the Republicans will confirm him after a token FBI investigation. (Unless that investigation defies all expectations and actually turns up new evidence.)

So in the end, the credibility of both the accuser and the accused were unlikely to shift the stakes very much. The only thing that could have given the Republicans reason to hesitate was a perception that forcing through the now permanently tainted Kavanaugh would damage them in the upcoming midterms.

The inverse calculus naturally applies to the Democrats and their obstruction tactics: if their treatment of Kavanaugh is perceived as unfair they risk a backlash at the polls. All the more so if they are successful; actually stopping Kavanaugh and leaving a seat open in November risks energising the Republican base just the same as it did in 2016. This would doom the Democrats’ already long odds for taking back the Senate.

In other words, the nominal subjects of hearing in Ford and Kavanaugh were not the ones actually on trial, it was the members of the committee who questioned them. This was obvious to anyone detachedly watching the hearing: Ford and Kavanaugh both appeared relatively credible despite their respectively contradictory testimonies, so if there were any losers it had to be somebody else.

So, who lost?

Prior to Flake’s intervention, it certainly seemed like the Democrats had been drained of substantial credibility. Their theatrics had permanently damaged their image among Never Trump Republicans who may have been otherwise inclined to vote for moderate Democrats in upcoming races against loyalist Trumpites. Ford’s testimony demonstrated that she was willing to testify and tell her story early on, and she was not going to rely on the subsequent accusations of later victims. It also proved that she had not been involved in the original leaking of her accusation to the press. This meant that either the Democratic party or Ford’s lawyers had orchestrated the series of remarkably partisan steps toward delay and obstruction that characterised the past week.

But with Flake remaining unconvinced, this drama has now been delayed even further. This will give the Democrats a vital chance to claw back public perceptions. If the FBI investigation further corroborates Ford’s claims, or reveals even an unrelated scandal in Kavanaugh’s past, the Republicans may be unable to force him through. In that case, the impacts of this scandal will not be fully known for several weeks.

Perhaps this will motivate a new Red Wave in order to keep the Senate for the Republicans. Perhaps this scandal will drive the electorate towards cynicism and apathy which keeps them home in November. Perhaps the newly energised female voter will dramatically shift the results as they did in 1992. Only the polls will tell.

Peer pressure politics and democratic socialism among Millennials

The surprisingly viable campaign of previous outsider Bernie Sanders in 2016 was not so much driven by a shift in the existing electorate as much as the emergence of the future one. Millennials have taken to socialism and the Left in numbers that were not seen even among the anti-war Sixties generation. (It is often forgotten just how many young people served in Vietnam without resistance or remained in Nixon’s “Silent Majority” of conservatives.)

What’s at play here?

Firstly, timing is everything. Millennials are the first truly post-Soviet generation, and entered the economy in the midst of a harsh financial crisis after 2008. Capitalism has taken Millennials on an awful first date and is not even going to split the bill. Any generation would turn a bit frigid in response to that kind of treatment, which goes a long way towards explaining this generational shift.

But in my estimation there’s something uniquely modern driving this change. Even more dramatic than Millennials aptitude for socialism is their shifts towards socially progressive attitudes. On same-sex marriage, for example, Pew found that:

“Almost six-in-ten Millennials (59%) support gay marriage, compared to just a third (33%) of members of the over-65 Silent generation. About four-in-ten Boomers (42%) support legalizing same-sex marriage, as does half (50%) of Generation X.”

And on transgender issues, such as the bathroom controversy, the majority of young people take the side of transgender individuals, at a rate of up to 54%.

These attitudes are precisely relevant because of how easily different strains of related ideologies are conflated in the age of the social internet. Take for an example, the tagged portion of this clip.

In particular, this quote:

“I was apolitical before I came out as trans. I got into politics because I needed to, to survive; to advocate against people like you.”

The social situations most relevant to young people are naturally driving their politics. And this is having deep effects.

Millennials are, unsurprisingly for a generation dominated by social media, highly energised by their social connections. More so than even prior generations, a Millennial’s politics can be easily predicted by the politics of their social circle.

This process is intensified by the increasing intersection of isolated social causes and wider political ideologies. Want to be friends with a transgender individual? It is no longer sufficient to merely support political issues directly related to transgender individuals. You must support the most modern wave of feminism or you risk “normalising TERF discourse.” You must also support the rights of immigrants, lest you “contribute to cisnormative Eurocentric cultural norms.” And most importantly, you absolutely must support the proletariat in their struggle against capitalism, or you would be failing to “fight the historic discrimination and disadvantage suffered by trans individuals in the marketplace.”

In this way, even apolitical Millennials can develop flimsy sympathies for surprisingly radical politics. In other words, the natural inclination for Millennials who are surrounded by their gay, trans, and racially diverse social circles is to say, in the absence of any stronger beliefs, that socialism can’t be “all that bad.”

Combine this socially conditioned socialism with a natural generational distrust of capitalism and Bernie’s “revolution” among the young starts to crystallise into something much more historically coherent.

The real front page story

In all this Kavanaugh drama, otherwise massive stories got pushed to the back end of society’s collective consciousness. This often happens during dense news cycles. Rather than explaining any of them, here is just a quick reminder of two massive finance stories that broke during the Kavanaugh scandals:

  1. The U.S. Federal Reserve rose interest rates and signalled an end to loose monetary policy in the near-term.
  2. Chinese cryptocurrency mining is approaching a truly astronomical scale, with a Hong Kong company looking at becoming publicly listed.

The direction of monetary policy in the decades following the 2008 crash, and the impact of cryptocurrencies and Blockchain on international markets will be the stories that matter ten years from now. By then, Trump’s presidency will be a footnote in history.

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