TBR News June 7, 2020

Jun 07 2020

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. June 7, 2020: Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not
the place to discuss it.
Comment for June 7, 2020: “There is manifest fear now in the White House because private polls show hitherto loyal Republicans are beginning to distance themselves from Trump and his actions. Unlike White House employees, Trump cannot order Republican Senators to do his will and Trump is in a frenzy lest he lose support…and the Presidency. He cannot call in the Army to support him and local police, right-wing though they may be, are fighting their own battles and are not inclined to fight his. There is a growing rumor that his wife has left him and taken their young son with her. This is unconfimed rumor, however.”

Trump Approval Rating
Jun. 2-5
Morning Consult       Approve Disapprove
36%        59%

The Table of Contents
• Exclusive: In warning sign for Trump, Republicans growing pessimistic about country’s direction
• Functioning of the Real Power Elite: The Oligarchy in America
• The Systemic Collapse of the US Society Has Begun
• The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Exclusive: In warning sign for Trump, Republicans growing pessimistic about country’s direction
June 7, 2020
by Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Republicans are more pessimistic about the country’s direction than at almost any other time during Donald Trump’s presidency, as a trio of crises – the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn and mass protests over police brutality – buffets his administration.
Only 46% of Americans who identify as Republicans say the country is on the right track, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last week. It is the first time that number has fallen so low since August 2017, when a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia led to violent clashes with counter-protesters.
As recently as early March, before the novel coronavirus forced widespread shutdowns across the country, about 70% of Republicans said they were optimistic about the country’s direction.
Trump’s approval rating remains resilient at around 40%, with a large majority of Republicans still approving of his overall performance.
But sustained pessimism among Trump’s supporters could portend potential weakness ahead of November’s election, when he will face Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, experts said.
Thirty-seven percent of Republicans said the country is on the wrong track; 17% of those said they would vote for Biden if the election were held now, while 63% still plan to cast ballots for Trump.
In an election most analysts believe will come down to a handful of closely divided states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, even minor defections or a dip in turnout among the Republican ranks could imperil Trump’s chances.
“It probably should be concerning for the president, even though it’s reasonable to say he still maintains strong support among Republicans,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia.
Republicans believe an economic rebound in the fall would bolster his prospects. Friday’s jobs report showed more than 2.5 million jobs were added last month during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump touted the gains as the “greatest comeback in American history.”
His re-election campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the poll findings.
The pessimism among all Americans has grown since the end of February, when the pandemic began accelerating. But unlike Republicans, large majorities of Democrats and independents already felt the country was on the wrong track; fewer than 7 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents feel the country is headed in the right direction, down slightly from March, the poll showed.
Matthew Knight, a 48-year-old resident in North Carolina who supported Trump in 2016, said he has been disappointed with Trump’s response to the crises.
“Just think with everything going on, and Trump not helping matters, that things are definitely wrong,” Knight wrote in an email to Reuters. “I was going to vote for Trump, but if things don’t get better, I may have to rethink that.”
Reuters conducted interviews and email exchanges with more than a dozen Republicans who said the country was headed in the wrong direction, yielding a mix of responses.
Some, such as Bill McMichael, a 62-year-old in politically divided Minnesota who hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades, are considering voting for Biden out of disgust with Trump.
A few admitted some misgivings but still plan to vote for Trump, either because they are more skeptical about Biden or trust Trump to revive the economy. Others blamed Democrats for the country’s problems.
“The last week sure shows you the direction the liberals are trying to drive this country,” said Ken Wilamowski, 68, a retired General Motors engineer in Clarkston, Michigan, adding that Democratic governors have been too unwilling to confront protesters. “Pacifism is going to lose to anarchy every time.”
Trump has urged governors to “dominate” the streets and claimed that far-left radicals are primarily responsible for the violence. Protesters again gathered in Washington for a big demonstration on Saturday.
“In normal political circumstances, having a 40% favorability would be terrible, but that’s just not the world we live in right now,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist who served as Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign manager in 2016. “The numbers really haven’t moved in the last 3-1/2 years.”
Tom Singer, a 57-year-old probation officer in Riverside, California, said Trump’s presidency has been “dysfunctional.” Nevertheless, he said he would still likely vote for him in November because he trusts Trump will deliver where it matters most: on the economy.
“I’m not happy with either candidate, but I have to look at the one who’s going to have the greatest impact on me,” he said.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States and gathered responses from 1,113 American adults. It had a credibility interval of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Daniel Wallis

Functioning of the Real Power Elite: The Oligarchy in America
April 9, 2020


The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Four Theoretical Traditions
Each of the four theoretical traditions we are addressing has produced a body of literature much too vast to review in detail here. We can only allude to a few central pieces of work in each tradition. And we must acknowledge that a particular scholar’s work does not always fall neatly into a single category. Some scholars work across – or independently of – our theoretical categories, embracing multiple influences and complex processes of policy making. Here we focus on ideal types of theory, for the purpose of outlining certain distinctive predictions that those types of theory tend to make. Given the nature of our data, we focus on the societal sources of influence that these theories posit, rather than on the mechanisms of influence that they discuss.
Majoritarian Electoral Democracy. Theories of majoritarian electoral democracy, as mpositive or empirical theories, attribute U.S. government policies chiefly to the collective will of average citizens, who are seen as empowered by democratic elections. Such thinking goes back at least to Tocqueville, who (during the Jacksonian era) saw American majorities as “omnipotent” – particularly at the state level – and worried about “tyranny of the majority.” It is encapsulated in Abraham Lincoln’s reference to government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and was labeled by Robert Dahl “populistic democracy.” An important modern incarnation of this tradition is found in rational choice theories of electoral democracy, in which vote-seeking parties or candidates in a two-party system tend to converge at the mid-point of citizens’ policy preferences. If preferences are jointly singlepeaked so that they can be arrayed along a single dimension, the “median voter theorem” – posited verbally by Harold Hotelling, proved by Duncan Black, and popularized by Anthony Downs in his Economic Theory of Democracy – states that two vote-seeking parties will both take the same position, at the center of the distribution of voters’ most-preferred positions.
Under the relevant assumptions, public policy that fits the preferences of the median voter is not only the empirically-predicted equilibrium result of two-party electoral competition; as the “Condorcet winner” it also has the normative property of being the “most democratic” policy, in the sense that it would be preferred to any alternative policy in head-to-head majority-rule voting by all citizens.
Subsequent “chaos” results by social choice theorists, starting with Kenneth Arrow, have indicated that the median voter prediction follows logically only for unidimensional politics. If citizens’ preference orderings are not unidimensional and are sufficiently diverse, majority rulehence also two-party electoral competition – might not lead to any equilibrium outcome at all.
It is important to note, however, that what might theoretically happen will not necessarily ever happen in practice. Real-world outcomes depend upon how institutions are organized and how preferences are actually configured.
Despite the “chaos” results, and despite many criticisms of the median-voter theorem as simplistic and empirically inapplicable or wrong,5 a good many scholars – probably more economists than political scientists among them – still cling to the idea that the policy preferences of the median voter tend to drive policy outputs from the U.S. political system. A fair amount of empirical evidence has been adduced – by Alan Monroe; Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro; Robert Erikson, Michael MacKuen, and James Stimson (authors of the very influential Macro Polity); and others – that seems to support the notion that the median voter determines the results of much or most policy making. This evidence indicates that U.S. federal government policy is consistent with majority preferences roughly two-thirds of the time; that public policy changes in the same direction as collective preferences a similar two thirds of the time; that the liberalism or conservatism of citizens is closely associated with the liberalism or conservatism of policy across states; and that fluctuations in the liberal or conservative “mood” of the public are strongly associated with changes in the liberalism or conservatism of policy in all three branches of government.
The fly in the ointment is that none of this evidence allows for, or explicitly assesses, the impact of such variables as the preferences of wealthy individuals, or the preferences and actions of organized interest groups, which may independently influence public policy while perhaps being positively associated with public opinion – thereby producing a spurious statistical relationship between opinion and policy.
Recent research by Larry Bartels and by one of the present authors (Gilens), which
explicitly brings the preferences of “affluent” Americans into the analysis along with the preferences of those lower in the income distribution, indicates that the apparent connectionbetween public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.
The “electoral reward and punishment” version of democratic control through elections –in which voters retrospectively judge how well the results of government policy have satisfied their basic interests and values, and politicians enact policies in anticipation of judgments that they expect will later be made by what V.O. Key, Jr., called “latent” public opinion – might be thought to offer a different prediction: that policy will tend to satisfy citizens’ underlying needs and values, rather than corresponding with their current policy preferences.8 We cannot test this prediction because we do not have – and cannot easily imagine how to obtain – good data on individuals’ deep, underlying interests or values, as opposed to their expressed policy preferences. But the evidence that collective policy preferences are generally rather stable over time suggests that expressed collective policy preferences may not often diverge markedly from subsequently manifested “latent” preferences. They may do so only under special circumstances, such as economic recessions or disastrous wars. If so, the electoral-reward-and-punishment type of democratic theory, too, predicts that most of the time public policy will respond to the current policy preferences of the average citizen.
Economic Elite Domination. A quite different theoretical tradition argues that U.S.
policy making is dominated by individuals who have substantial economic resources, i.e. high levels of income and/or wealth – including, but not limited to, ownership of business firms.
Not all “elite theories” share this focus. Some emphasize social status or institutional
position – such as the occupancy of key managerial roles in corporations, or top-level positions in political parties, in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of government, or in the highest ranks of the military. Some elite theories postulate an amalgam of elites, defined by combinations of social status, economic resources, and institutional positions, who achieve a degree of unity through common backgrounds, coinciding interests, and social interactions.
For example, C. Wright Mills’ important book, The Power Elite, offers a rather nuanced account of how U.S. social, economic, political, and military elites have historically alternated in different configurations of dominance. Mills noted that his elites derived in substantial proportions from the upper classes, including the very rich and corporate executives, but their elite status was not defined by their wealth.10 Our focus here is on theories that emphasize the policy-making importance of economic elites.
Analyses of U.S. politics centered on economic elites go back at least to Charles Beard, who maintained that a chief aim of the framers of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property, favoring the economic interests of wealthy merchants and plantation owners rather than the interests of the then-majority small farmers, laborers, and craft workers. A landmark work in this tradition is G. William Domhoff’s detailed account of how elites (working through foundations, think-tanks, and an “opinion-shaping apparatus,” as well as through the lobbyists and politicians they finance) may dominate key issues in U.S. policy making despite the existence of democratic elections. Philip A. Burch has exhaustively chronicled the economic backgrounds of federal government officials through American history. Thomas Ferguson’s analysis of the political importance of “major investors” might be seen as a theory of economic elites. Most recently, Jeffrey Winters has posited a comparative theory of “Oligarchy,” in which the wealthiest citizens – even in a “civil oligarchy” like the United States – dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income-protection.Our third and fourth theoretical traditions posit that public policy generally reflects the outcome of struggle among organized interest groups and business firms.
Majoritarian Pluralism. The roots of what we can characterize as theories of
“majoritarian” interest group pluralism go back to James Madison’s Federalist Paper #10, which analyzed politics in terms of “factions” — a somewhat fuzzy concept that apparently encompassed political parties and even popular majorities, as well as what we would today consider organized interest groups, business firms, and industrial sectors. Madison argued that struggles among the diverse factions that would be found in an extensive republic would lead to policies more or less representative of the needs and interests of the citizenry as a whole – or at least would tend to defeat “tyrannical” policies, including the much-feared issuance of inflationary paper money that might cater to local majority factions of farmer-debtors but be costly to merchant creditors.
In the twentieth century, Arthur Bentley’s The Process of Government and then David
Truman’s monumental The Governmental Process put groups at the center of political analysis, laying out a detailed picture of how organized interest groups might get their way. Truman offered a comprehensive and still-interesting catalogue of lobbying techniques and other methods of group influence. He also added an ingenious gloss to Madison that tends to increase both the plausibility and the normative appeal of majoritarian interest group pluralism: the assertion that all interests have at least a minimum of influence in group-dominated policy making, because policy makers must (in order to avoid subsequent punishment) heed all “potential” groups that would form if their interests were trampled upon.
Robert Dahl’s analysis of New Haven city politics was Madisonian or Truman-like in its
insistence that many (all?) diverse interests were represented, though Dahl focused as much on active members of the general public as on organized groups. Dahl’s analyses of American politics in terms of “polyarchy” or “pluralist democracy” also come close to our ideal type of majoritarian pluralist theory, since they imply that the wants or needs of the average citizen tend to be reasonably well served by the outcomes of interest group struggle. Several contemporary analysts of interest group politics likewise appear to accept (atleast implicitly) a picture of group struggle that results in more or less majoritarian results.
A major challenge to majoritarian pluralist theories, however, is posed by Mancur
Olson’s argument that collective action by large, dispersed sets of individuals with individually small but collectively large interests tends to be prevented by the “free rider” problem. Barring special circumstances (selective incentives, byproducts, coercion), individuals who would benefit from collective action may have no incentive to personally form or join an organized group. If everyone thinks this way and lets George do it, the job is not likely to get done. This reasoning suggests that Truman’s “potential groups” may in fact be unlikely to form, even if millions ofpeoples’ interests are neglected or harmed by government. Aware of the collective action problem, officials may feel free to ignore much of the population and act against the interests of the average citizen.
Biased Pluralism. Olson’s argument points toward an important variant line of thinking within the pluralist tradition: theories of “biased” pluralism, which posit struggles among an unrepresentative universe of interest groups – characterized by E.E. Schattschneider as a heavenly chorus with an “upper-class accent,” and more recently dubbed by Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry Brady an “unheavenly chorus.” Theories of biased pluralism generally argue that both the thrust of interest group conflict and the public policies that result tend to tilt toward the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.
Schattschneider suggested that policy outcomes vary with the “scope of conflict”: for
example, that business-oriented interest groups tend to prevail over ordinary citizens when the scope is narrow and visibility is low. Grant McConnell added the idea that the actual “constituencies” of policy implementers can consist of powerful groups. George Stigler (articulating what some economists have scorned as “Chicago Marxism”) analyzed the politics of regulation in terms of biased pluralism: the capture of regulators by the regulated. Charles Lindblom outlined a number of ways – including the “privileged position” of business – in which business firms and their associations influence public policy. Thomas Ferguson has posited an “investment theory” of politics in which “major investors” – especially representatives of particular industrial sectors – fund political parties in order to get policies that suit their economic interests. Fred Block’s “neo-Polanyian” analysis emphasizes groups. Jacob Hacker’s and Paul Pierson’s analysis of “winner-take-all-politics,” which emphasizes the power of the finance industry, can be seen as a recent contribution to the literature of biased pluralism.18
Marxist and neo-Marxist theories of the capitalist state hold that economic classes – and particularly the bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production — dominate policy making and cause the state to serve their material interests. As the Communist Manifesto put it, “The bourgeoisie has…conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” We cannot precisely test the predictions of such theories, because we lack good measures of policy preferences by economic class. (In Marxist theory, neither income nor wealth accurately signals class position.) We can note, however, that certain “instrumentalist” Marxist theories, including the important version put forth by Ralph Miliband, make predictions resembling those of theories of Biased Pluralism: that interest groups and corporations representing “large scale business” tend to prevail As to empirical evidence concerning interest groups, it is well established that organized groups regularly lobby and fraternize with public officials; move through revolving doors between public and private employment; provide self-serving information to officials; draft legislation; and spend a great deal of money on election campaigns. Moreover, in harmony with theories of biased pluralism, the evidence clearly indicates that most U.S. interest groups and lobbyists represent business firms or professionals. Relatively few represent the poor or even the economic interests of ordinary workers, particularly now that the U.S. labor movement has become so weak.
But do interest groups actually influence policy? Numerous case studies have detailed instances in which all but the most dedicated skeptic is likely to perceive interest group influence at work. A leading classic remains Schattschneider’s analysis of the 1928 enactment of the Smoot-Hawley tariff, an astounding orgy of pork-barrel politics.23 Still, many quantitatively oriented political scientists seem to ignore or dismiss such non-quantitative evidence. There have also been some efforts (particularly during the Cold War era, when unflattering depictions of U.S. politics may have been thought unpatriotic) to demonstrate that interest groups have no influence on policy at all. Raymond Bauer, Ithiel Pool, and Lewis Anthony Dexter argued that business had little or no effect on the renewal of reciprocal trade authority. Lester Milbrath, having conducted interviews with lobbyists and members of Congress, rated lobbyists’ influence as very low. More recently, Fred McChesney has made the ingenious argument that campaign contributions from interest groups may not represent quid pro quo bribery attempts by groups, but instead result from extortion by politicians who threaten to harm the groups’ interests.
Very few studies have offered quantitative evidence concerning the impact of interest groups based on a number of different public policies. Important exceptions include the work of Mark Smith and that of Frank Baumgartner, Jeffrey Berry, Marie Hojnacki, David Kimball, and Beth Leech.25 Mark Smith examined 2,364 “business unity” issues – over a period of four decades – on which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (arguably a reasonable proxy for business groups as a whole, on this particular set of issues where most businesses agreed) took a public stand for or against. He then calculated six measures of the Chamber’s annual rate of “success” at getting the action or inaction it favored from Congress. The Chamber’s average success rate in terms of proportion of bills enacted or defeated appears to have been fairly high,but Smith did not argue that such success necessarily demonstrates influence. (A batting-average approach to influence would have to assume that stand-taking is unrelated to expectations of success. Further, in order to gauge business’s independent impact and avoid spurious results, data on stands taken by other actors would need to be included as well.) Instead, Smith devoted most of his effort to analyzing the over-time correlates of high or low success, such as variations in the public “mood” and in the partisan composition of Congress.
Frank Baumgartner and his colleagues, in their meticulous examination of 98 cases of mcongressional policy making in which interest groups were active, investigated whether the magnitude of group resources that were deployed was related to outcomes across those cases. In their multivariate analyses, Baumgartner et al. found a modest tendency for policy outcomes to favor the side that enjoyed greater resources (PAC contributions, lobbying expenditures, membership size, etc.).
Prior to the availability of the data set that we analyze here, no one we are aware of has succeeded at assessing interest group influence over a comprehensive set of issues, while taking into account the impact of either the public at large or economic elites – let alone analyzing all three types of potential influences simultaneously.
Testing Theoretical Predictions
What makes possible an empirical effort of this sort is the existence of a unique data set, compiled over many years by one of us (Gilens) for a different but related purpose: for estimating the influence upon public policy of “affluent” citizens, poor citizens, and those in the middle of the income distribution.
Gilens and a small army of research assistants gathered data on a large, diverse set of policy cases: 1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change. A total of 1,923 cases met four criteria: dichotomous pro/con responses, specificity about policy, relevance to federal government decisions, and categorical rather than conditional phrasing. Of those 1,923 original cases, 1,779 cases also met the criteria of providing income breakdowns for respondents, not involving a Constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court ruling (which might entail a quite different policy making process), and involving a clear, as opposed to partial or ambiguous, actual presence or absence of policy change. These 1,779 cases do not constitute a sample from the universe of all possible policy alternatives (this is hardly conceivable), but we see them as particularly relevant to assessing the public’s influence on policy. The included policies are not restricted to the narrow Washington “policy agenda.” At the same time – since they were seen as worth asking poll questions about – they tend to concern matters of relatively high salience, about which it is plausible that average citizens may have real opinions and may exert some political influence.
For each case, Gilens used the original survey data to assess responses by income level.
In order to cope with varying income categories across surveys, he employed a quadratic logistic regression technique to estimate the opinions of respondents at the 10th income percentile (quite poor), the 50th percentile (median), and the 90th percentile (fairly affluent).
Here we use these policy preference data to measure – imperfectly, but, we believe,
satisfactorily – two independent variables posited as major influences upon policy making in the theoretical traditions discussed above. Policy preferences at the 50th income percentile – that is, the preferences of the medianincome survey respondent – work quite well as measures of the preferences of the average citizen (or, more precisely, the median non-institutionalized adult American), which are central to theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy. In all cases in which the relationship between income and preferences is monotonic, and in all cases in which there is no systematic relationship at all between the two, the preferences of the median-income respondent are identical to those of the median-preference respondent. In the remaining cases the two are very close to each other.
We believe that the preferences of “affluent” Americans at the 90th income percentile can usefully be taken as proxies for the opinions of wealthy or very-high-income Americans, and can be used to test the central predictions of Economic Elite theories. To be sure, people at the 90th income percentile are neither very rich nor very elite; in 2012 dollars, Gilens’ “affluent” respondents received only about $146,000 in annual household income. To the extent that their policy preferences differ from those of average-income citizens, however, we would argue that there are likely to be similar but bigger differences between average-income citizens and the truly wealthy.
Some evidence for this proposition comes from the 2011 Cooperative Congressional
Election Study. Based on 13 policy preference questions asked on this survey, the preferences of the top 2% of income earners (a group that might be thought “truly wealthy”) are much more highly correlated with the preferences of the top 10% of earners than with the preferences of the average survey respondent (r=.91 vs. .69). Thus, the views of our moderately high-income “affluent” respondents appear to capture useful information about the views of the truly wealthy.
In any case, the imprecision that results from use of our “affluent” proxy is likely to
produce underestimates of the impact of economic elites on policy making. If we find
substantial effects upon policy even when using this imperfect measure, therefore, it will be reasonable to infer that the impact upon policy of truly wealthy citizens is still greater.
In order to measure interest group preferences and actions, we would ideally like to use an index of the sort that Baumgartner and his colleagues developed for their ninety-eight policy issues: an index assessing the total resources brought to bear by all major interest groups that took one side or the other on each of our 1,779 issues. But it is not feasible to construct such an index for all our cases; this would require roughly twenty times as much work as did the major effort made by the Baumgartner research team on their cases. Fortunately, however, Baumgartner et al. found that a simple proxy for their index – the number of reputedly “powerful” interest groups (from among groups appearing over the years in Fortune magazine’s “Power 25” lists) that favored a given policy change, minus the number that opposed it – correlated quite substantially in their cases with the full interest group index (r=0.73).
Gilens, using a modified version of this simple count of the number of “powerful”
interest groups favoring (minus those opposing) each proposed policy change, developed a measure of Net Interest Group Alignment. To the set of groups on the “Power 25” lists (which seemed to neglect certain major business interests) he added ten key industries that had reported the highest lobbying expenditures. (For the final list of included industries and interest groups, see Appendix 1.) For each of the 1,779 instances of proposed policy change, Gilens and his assistants drew upon multiple sources to code all engaged interest groups as “strongly favorable,” “somewhat favorable,” “somewhat unfavorable,” or “strongly unfavorable” to the change. He then combined the numbers of groups on each side of a given issue, weighting “somewhat” favorable or somewhat unfavorable positions at half the magnitude of “strongly” favorable or strongly unfavorable positions. In order to allow for the likelihood of diminishing returns as the net number of groups on a given side increases (an increase from 10 to 11 groups likely matters less than a jump from 1 to 2 does), he took the logarithms of the number of pro groups and the number of con groups before subtracting. Thus:
Net Interest Group Alignment = ln(# Strongly Favor + [0.5 * # Somewhat Favor] + 1) – ln(# Strongly Oppose + [0.5 * # Somewhat Oppose] + 1).
Below we also report results for comparable group alignment indices that were computed separately for the mass-based and for the business-oriented sets of groups listed in Appendix 1.
Our dependent variable is a measure of whether or not the policy change proposed in
each survey question was actually adopted, within four years after the question was asked. (It turns out that most of the action occurred within two years). Of course there was nothing easy about measuring the presence or absence of policy change for each of 1,779 different cases; Gilens and his research assistants spent many hours poring over news accounts, government data, Congressional Quarterly publications, academic papers and the like.
In order to test among our theoretical traditions, we begin by considering all organized interest groups together, not distinguishing between mass-based and business-oriented groups.
Within a single statistical model, we estimate the independent impact upon our dependent variable (policy change) of each of three independent variables: the average citizen’s policy preferences (preferences at the 50th income percentile); the policy preferences of economic elites (measured by policy preferences at the 90th income percentile); and the stands of interest groups (the Net Interest Group Alignment Index).
Later, in order to distinguish clearly between Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased
Pluralism, we will use two separate measures of net interest group alignment, one involving only mass-based interest groups and the other limited to business and professional groups. The main hypotheses of interest, summarized in Table 1, follow fairly straightforwardly from our discussion of our four ideal types of theory.
In their pure form, theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy (for example, rational models of electoral competition that include no societal actors other than average citizens), predict that the influence upon policy of average citizens is positive, significant, and substantial, while the influence of other actors is not.
Theories of Economic Elite Domination predict positive, significant, and substantial
influence upon policy by economic elites. Most such theories allow for some (though not much) independent influence by average citizens, e.g. on non-economic, social issues. Many also allow for some independent influence by business interest groups – and therefore probably by interest groups taken as a whole – though their emphasis is on wealthy individuals. In general, theories of interest group pluralism predict that only organized interest groups will have positive, significant, and substantial effects upon public policy. Influence proceeds from groups, not from wealthy (or other) individuals. Depending upon the type of pluralist theory, average citizens may or may not be well represented through organized groups, but they do not have a great deal of independent influence on their own.
Theories of Majoritarian Pluralism predict that the stands of organized interest groups, all taken together, rather faithfully represent (that is, are positively and substantially correlated with) the preferences of average citizens. But since most political influence proceeds through groups, a multivariate analysis that includes both interest group alignments and citizens’ preferences should show far more independent influence by the groups than the citizens. Truman’s idea of “potential groups” does, however, leave room for some direct influence by average citizens.
Theories of Biased Pluralism, too, see organized interest groups as having much more influence than average citizens or individual economic elites. But they predict that businessoriented groups play the major role.
Recognizing the complexity of the political world, we must also acknowledge the
possibility that more than one of these theoretical traditions has some truth to it:
that several – even all – of our sets of actors may have substantial, positive, independent influence on public policy. And we must consider the null hypothesis that none of these theoretical traditions correctly describes even part of what goes on in American politics,
Influence upon Policy of Average Citizens, Economic Elites, and Interest Groups
Before we proceed further, it is important to note that even if one of our predictor
variables is found (when controlling for the others) to have no independent impact on policy at all, it does not follow that the actors whose preferences are reflected by that variable – average citizens, economic elites, or organized interest groups of one sort or another – always “lose” in policy decisions. Policy making is not necessarily a zero-sum game among these actors. When one set of actors wins, others may win as well, if their preferences are positively correlated with each other.
It turns out, in fact, that the preferences of average citizens are positively and fairly
highly correlated, across issues, with the preferences of economic elites (see Table 2.) Rather often, average citizens and affluent citizens (our proxy for economic elites) want the same things from government. This bivariate correlation affects how we should interpret our later multivariate findings in terms of “winners” and “losers.” It also suggests a reason why serious scholars might keep adhering to both the Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and the Economic Elite Domination theoretical traditions, even if one of them may be dead wrong in terms of causal impact. Ordinary citizens, for example, might often be observed to “win” (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.
But net interest group stands are not substantially correlated with the preferences of
average citizens. Taking all interest groups together, the index of net interest group alignment correlates only a non-significant .04 with average citizens’ preferences! (See Table 2.) This casts grave doubt on David Truman’s and others’ argument that organized interest groups tend to do a good job of representing the population as a whole. Indeed, as Table 2 indicates, even the net alignments of the groups we have categorized as “mass-based” correlate with average citizens’ preferences only at the very modest (though statistically significant) level of .12. Some particular U.S. membership organizations – especially the AARP and labor unions – do tend to favor the same policies as average citizens. But other membership groups take stands that are unrelated (pro-life and pro-choice groups) or negatively related (gun owners) to what the average American wants.40 Some membership groups may reflect the views of corporate backers or their most affluent constituents. Others focus on issues on which the public is fairly evenly divided. Whatever the reasons, all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole. Business-oriented groups do even worse, with a modest negative over-all correlation of -.10. Nor do we find an association between the preferences of economic elites and the alignments of either mass-based or business oriented groups. The latter finding, which surprised us, may reflect profit-making motives among businesses as contrasted with broader ideological views among elite individuals. For example, economic elites tend to prefer lower levels of government spending on practically everything, while business groups and specific industries frequently lobby for spending in areas from which they stand to gain. Thus pharmaceutical, hospital, insurance, and medical organizations have lobbied for more spending on health care; defense contractors for weapons systems; the American Farm Bureau for agricultural subsidies, and so on.
Initial tests of influences on policy making. The first three columns of Table 3 report
bivariate results, in which each of three independent variables (taking all interest groups together, for now) is modeled separately as the sole predictor of policy change. Just as previous literature suggests, each of three broad theoretical traditions – Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and interest group pluralism – seems to gain support. When taken separately, each independent variable – the preferences of average citizens, the preferences of economic elites, and the net alignments of organized interest groups – is strongly, positively, and quite significantly related to policy change. Little wonder that each theoretical tradition has its strong adherents.
But the picture changes markedly when all three independent variables are included in the multivariate Model 4 and tested against each other. The estimated impact of average
citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level. Clearly the median citizen or “median voter” at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups. The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.
By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy. This does not mean that theories of Economic Elite Domination are wholly upheld, since our results indicate that individual elites must share their policy influence with organized interest groups. Still, economic elites stand out as quite influential – more so than any other set of actors studied here – in the making of U.S. public policy. Similarly, organized interest groups (all taken together, for now) are found to have substantial independent influence on policy. Again, the predictions of pure theories of interest group pluralism are not wholly upheld, since organized interest groups must share influence with economically elite individuals. But interest group alignments are estimated to have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy.
These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both
individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.
The rather low explanatory power of all three independent variables taken together (with an R-squared of just .074 in Model 4) may partly result from the limitations of our proxy measures, particularly with respect to economic elites (since our “affluent” proxy is admittedly imperfect) and perhaps with respect to interest groups (since only a small fraction of politically active groups are included in our measure). Again, the implication of these limitations in our data is that interest groups and economic elites actually wield more policy influence than our estimates indicate. But it is also possible that there may exist important explanatory factors outside the three theoretical traditions addressed in this analysis. Or there may be a great deal of idiosyncrasy in policy outputs, or variation across kinds of issues, that would be difficult for any general model to capture. With our present data we cannot tell.
The precise magnitudes of the coefficients reported in Table 3 are difficult to interpret
because of our logit transformation of independent variables. A helpful way to assess the mrelative influence of each set of actors is to compare how the predicted probability of policy change alters when moving from one point to another on their distributions of policy dispositions, while holding other actors’ preferences constant at their neutral points (50 percent favorable for average citizens and for economic elites, and a net interest group alignment score of 0.) These changing probabilities, based on the coefficients in table 2, are line-graphed in Figure 1 along with bar graphs of the underlying preference distributions.
Clearly, when one holds constant net interest group alignments and the preferences of maffluent Americans, it makes very little difference what the general public thinks. The
probability of policy change is nearly the same (around 0.3) whether a tiny minority or a large majority of average citizens favor a proposed policy change (see the top panel of Figure 1).
By contrast – again with other actors held constant – a proposed policy change with low msupport among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favor) is adopted only about 18 percent of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45 percent of the time. Similarly, when support for policy change is low among interest groups (with five groups strongly opposed and none in favor) the probability of that policy change occurring is only .16, but the probability rises to .47 when interest groups are strongly favorable
When both interest groups and affluent Americans oppose a policy it has an even lower mlikelihood of being adopted (these proposed policies consist primarily of tax increases.) At the other extreme, high levels of support among both interest groups and affluent Americans increases the probability of adopting a policy change, but a strong status quo bias remains evident. Policies with strong support (as defined above) among both groups are only adopted about 56 percent of the time (strongly favored policies in our data set that failed include proposed cuts in taxes, increases in tax exemptions, increased educational spending for K-12, college support, and proposals during the Clinton administration to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare).
Majoritarian Electoral Democracy. What are we to make of findings that seem to go against volumes of persuasive theorizing and much quantitative research, by asserting that the average citizen or the “median voter” has little or no independent influence on public policy? As noted, our evidence does not indicate that in U.S. policy making the average citizen always loses out. Since the preferences of ordinary citizens tend to be positively correlated with the preferences of economic elites, ordinary citizens often win the policies they want, even if they are more or less coincidental beneficiaries rather than causes of the victory. There is not necessarily any contradiction at all between our findings and past bivariate findings of a roughly two-thirds correspondence between actual policy and the wishes of the general public, or of a close correspondence between the liberal/conservative “mood” of the public and changes in policy making.42 Our main point concerns causal inference: if interpreted in terms of actual causal impact, the prior findings appear to be largely or wholly spurious.
Further, the issues about which economic elites and ordinary citizens disagree reflect
important matters, including many aspects of trade restrictions, tax policy, corporate regulation, abortion, and school prayer, so that the resulting political losses by ordinary citizens are not trivial. Moreover, we must remember that in our analyses the preferences of the affluent are serving as proxies for those of truly wealthy Americans, who may well have more political clout than the affluent, and who tend to have policy preferences that differ more markedly from those of the average citizens. Thus even rather slight measured differences between preferences of the affluent and the median citizen may signal situations in which economic elites want something quite different from most Americans and generally get their way.
A final point: even in a bivariate, descriptive sense, our evidence indicates that the
responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited. Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system – federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism – together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias. Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time. In any case, normative advocates of populistic democracy may not be enthusiastic about democracy by coincidence, in which ordinary citizens get what they want from government only
when they happen to agree with elites or interest groups that are really calling the shots. When push comes to shove, actual influence matters.
Economic Elites. Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis,
even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater. What we cannot do with these data is distinguish definitively among different versions of elite theories. We cannot be sure whether we are capturing the political influence of the wealthiest Americans (the top 1% of wealth-holders? the top 1/10th of 1%?), or, conceivably, the less affluent but more numerous citizens around the 90th income percentile whose preferences are directly gauged by our measure.
In any case, we need to reiterate that our data concern economic elites. Income and
wealth tend to be positively correlated with other dimensions of elite status, such as high social standing and the occupancy of high-level institutional positions, but they are not the same thing.
We cannot say anything directly about the non-economic aspects of certain elite theories,especially those that emphasize actors who may not be highly paid, such as public officials and political party activists.
Organized Interest Groups. Our findings of substantial influence by interest groups is particularly striking because little or no previous research has been able to estimate the extent of group influence while controlling for the preferences of other key non-governmental actors. Our evidence clearly indicates that – controlling for the influence of both the average citizen and economic elites – organized interest groups have a very substantial independent impact upon public policy. Theories of interest group pluralism gain a strong measure of empirical support. Here, too, the imperfections of our measure of interest group alignment (though probably less severe than in the case of economically elite individuals) suggest, a fortiori, that the actual influence of organized groups may be even greater than we have found. If we had data on theactivity of the thousands of groups not included in our net interest group alignment measure, we might find many cases in which a group (perhaps unopposed by any other groups) got its way.
This might be particularly true of narrow issues like special tax breaks or subsidies aimed at just one or two business firms, which are underrepresented in our set of relatively high-salience policies. (Our data set includes only policies thought to be important enough for a national opinion survey to ask a question about it.)
An important feature of interest group influence is that it is often deployed against
proposed policy changes. On the 1,357 proposed policy changes for which at least one interest group was coded as favoring or opposing change, in only 36% of the cases did most groups favor change, while in 55% of the cases most groups opposed change. (The remaining cases involved equal numbers for and against.)
Distinguishing between Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism. Can we say
anything further about whether processes of interest group influence more closely resemble Truman-like, broadly representative Majoritarian Pluralism, or Schattschneider-style “Biased” Pluralism, in which business interests, professional associations, and corporations play the dominant part?
We have already reported several findings that cast serious doubt upon Majoritarian
Pluralism. If the net results of interest group struggle were to help average citizens get their way – with organized groups perhaps representing citizens more effectively than politically inattentive Americans could do for themselves – we would expect that the net alignment of interest groups would be positively and strongly correlated with the policy preferences of the average citizen. But we know from Table 2 that they are not in fact significantly correlated at all. Interest group alignments are almost totally unrelated to the preferences of average citizens.
Moreover, there is no indication that officials’ anticipation of reactions from “potential groups” brings policies in line with what citizens want.44 Empirical support for Majoritarian Pluralism looks very shaky, indeed. We also know that the composition of the U.S. interest group universe is heavily tilted toward corporations and business and professional associations. This fact certainly points toward Biased rather than Majoritarian Pluralism.
To go a step further, theories of Majoritarian Pluralism predict relatively more
independent influence upon policy by mass-based interest groups than do theories of Biased Pluralism. It may be useful, therefore, to distinguish between mass-based and business-oriented interest groups and to investigate how much policy influence each group actually has.
Accordingly, we computed separate net-interest-group-alignment indices for businessoriented and for mass-based groups (see Appendix 1 for lists of each) and included both of them in a new multivariate analysis, along with the preferences of average citizens and economic elites – dropping our previous measure of the net alignment of all interest groups.
The results of this analysis are given in Table 4. Clearly the predictions of Biased
Pluralism theories fare substantially better than those of Majoritarian Pluralism theories. The influence coefficients for both mass-based and business-oriented interest groups are positive and highly significant statistically, but the coefficient for business groups is nearly twice as large as that for the mass groups. Moreover, when we restricted this same analysis to the smaller set of issues upon which both types of groups took positions – that is, when we considered only cases in which business-based and mass-based interest groups were directly engaged with each other – the contrast between the estimated impact of the two types of groups was even greater.
The advantage of business-oriented groups in shaping policy outcomes reflects their
numerical advantage within the interest group universe in Washington, and also the infrequency with which business groups are found simultaneously on both sides of a proposed policy change.47 Both these factors (numerical dominance and relative cohesion) play a part in the much stronger correlation of the overall interest group alignment index with business groups than with mass-oriented groups (.96 vs. .47, table 2). The importance of business groups’ numerical advantage is also revealed when we rescale our measures of business and mass-oriented interest group alignments to reflect the differing number of groups in each of these categories. Using this rescaled measure, a parallel analysis to that in table 4 shows that on a group-for-group basis the average individual business group and the average mass-oriented group appears to be about equally influential. The greater total influence of business groups in our analysis results chiefly from the fact that more of them are generally engaged on each issue (roughly twice as many, on average), not that a single business-oriented group has more clout on average than a single massbased group.
Taken as a whole, then, our evidence strongly indicates that theories of Biased Pluralism are more descriptive of political reality than are theories of Majoritarian Pluralism. It is simply not the case that a host of diverse, broadly based interest groups take policy stands – and bring about actual policies – that reflect what the general public wants. Interest groups as a whole donot seek the same policies as average citizens do. “Potential groups” do not fill the gap. Relatively few mass-based interest groups are active, they do not (in the aggregate) represent the public very well, and they have less collective impact on policy than do business-oriented groups – whose stands tend to be negatively related to the preferences of average citizens. These business groups are far more numerous and active; they spend much more money; and they tend to get their way.
When the alignments of business-oriented and mass-based interest groups are included separately in a multivariate model, average citizens’ preferences continue to have essentially zero estimated impact upon policy change, while economic elites are still estimated to have a very large, positive, independent impact.
American Democracy?
Each of our four theoretical traditions (Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic
Elite Domination, Majoritarian Interest Group Pluralism, and Biased Pluralism) emphasizes different sets of actors as critical in determining U.S. policy outcomes, and each tradition has engendered a large empirical literature that seems to show a particular set of actors to be highly influential. Yet nearly all the empirical evidence has been essentially bivariate. Until very recently it has not been possible to test these theories against each other in a systematic, quantitative fashion.
By directly pitting the predictions of ideal-type theories against each other within a single statistical model (using a unique data set that includes imperfect but useful measures of the key independent variables for nearly two thousand policy issues), we have been able to produce some striking findings. One is the nearly total failure of “median voter” and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
The failure of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy is all the more striking
because it goes against the likely effects of the limitations of our data. The preferences of
ordinary citizens were measured more directly than our other independent variables, yet they are estimated to have the least effect.
Nor do organized interest groups substitute for direct citizen influence, by embodying
citizens’ will and ensuring that their wishes prevail in the fashion postulated by theories of Majoritarian Pluralism. Interest groups do have substantial independent impacts on policy, and a few groups (particularly labor unions) represent average citizens’ views reasonably well. But the interest group system as a whole does not. Over-all, net interest group alignments are not significantly related to the preferences of average citizens. The net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes. So existing interest groups do not serve effectively as transmission belts for the wishes of the populace as a whole. “Potential groups” do not take up the slack, either, since average citizens’preferences have little or no independent impact on policy after existing groups’ stands are controlled for.
Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the
preferences of “affluent” citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do. To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield the actual influence.
Of course our findings speak most directly to the “first face” of power: the ability of
actors to shape policy outcomes on contested issues. But they also reflect – to some degree, at least – the “second face” of power: the ability to shape the agenda of issues that policy makers consider. The set of policy alternatives that we analyze is considerably broader than the set discussed seriously by policy makers or brought to a vote in Congress, and our alternatives are (on average) more popular among the general public than among interest groups. Thus the fate of these policies can reflect policy makers’ refusing to consider them rather than considering but rejecting them. (From our data we cannot distinguish between the two.) Our results speak less clearly to the “third face” of power: the ability of elites to shape the public’s preferences. 49 We know that interest groups and policy makers themselves often devote considerable effort to shaping opinion. If they are successful, this might help explain the high correlation we find
between elite and mass preferences. But it cannot have greatly inflated our estimate average citizens’ influence on policy making, which is near zero.
What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute
troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed
preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.
But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens
generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy
preferences are worthy of respect.50 Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational
advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status.
Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good.
All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own
interests than any feasible alternative.
Leaving aside the difficult issue of divergent interests and motives, we would urge that the superior wisdom of economic elites or organized interest groups should not simply be assumed. It should be put to empirical test. New empirical research will be needed to pin down precisely who knows how much, and what, about which public policies.
Our findings also point toward the need to learn more about exactly which economic
elites (the “merely affluent”? the top 1%? the top 0.01%?) have how much impact upon public policy, and to what ends they wield their influence. Similar questions arise about the precise extent of influence of particular sets of organized interest groups. And we need to know more about the policy preferences and the political influence of various actors not considered here, including political party activists, government officials, and other non-economic elites. We hope that our work will encourage further exploration of these issues.
Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of
majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
Appendix 1.
Business- and Mass-Based Interest Groups Included in Net Group Alignment Indices
Business and professional groups
American Bankers Association
American Council of Life Insurance
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Hospital Association
American Medical Association
Association of Trial Lawyers
Automobile companies
Chamber of Commerce
Computer software and hardware
Credit Union National Association
Defense contractors
Electric companies
Health Insurance Association
Independent Insurance Agents of America
Motion Picture Association of America
National Association of Broadcasters
National Association of Home Builders
National Association of Manufacturers
National Association of Realtors
National Beer Wholesalers Association
National Federation of Independent Business
National Restaurant Association
Oil Companies
Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers
Recording Industry Association
Securities and investment companies
Telephone companies
Tobacco companies
Mass-based groups
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
American Israel Public Affairs Committee
American Legion
Christian Coalition
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
National Rifle Association
National Right to Life Committee
United Auto Workers union
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
Not coded as either business or mass-based
National Education Association (includes a mass base of teachers but also university professors)
National Governors’ Association (affected by interest groups rather than acting as an independent group)
Universities (unclear status as businesses or nonprofits)

The Systemic Collapse of the US Society Has Begun
June 4, 2020
The Saker
The Unz Review
I have lived in the United States for a total of 24 years and I have witnessed many crises over this long period, but what is taking place today is truly unique and much more serious than any previous crisis I can recall. And to explain my point, I would like to begin by saying what I believe the riots we are seeing taking place in hundreds of US cities are not about. They are not about:
Racism or “White privilege”
Police violence
Social alienation and despair
The liberals pouring fuel on social fires
The infighting of the US elites/deep state
They are not about any of these because they encompass all of these issues, and more.
It is important to always keep in mind the distinction between the concepts of “cause” and “pretext”. And while it is true that all the factors listed above are real (at least to some degree, and without looking at the distinction between cause and effect), none of them are the true cause of what we are witnessing. At most, the above are pretexts, triggers if you want, but the real cause of what is taking place today is the systemic collapse of the US society.
The next thing which we must also keep in mind is that evidence of correlation is not evidence of causality. Take, for example, this article from CNN entitled “US black-white inequality in 6 stark charts” which completely conflates the two concepts and which includes the following sentence (stress added) “Those disparities exist because of a long history of policies that excluded and exploited black Americans, said Valerie Wilson, director of the program on race, ethnicity and the economy at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning group.” The word “because” clearly point to a causality, yet absolutely nothing in the article or data support this. The US media is chock-full of such conflations of correlation and causality, yet it is rarely denounced.
For a society, any society, to function a number of factors that make up the social contract need to be present. The exact list that make up these factors will depend on each individual country, but they would typically include some kind of social consensus, the acceptance by most people of the legitimacy of the government and its institutions, often a unifying ideology or, at least, common values, the presence of a stable middle-class, the reasonable hope for a functioning “social life”, educational institutions etc. Finally, and cynically, it always helps the ruling elites if they can provide enough circuses (TV) and bread (food) to most citizens. This is even true of so-called authoritarian/totalitarian societies which, contrary to the liberal myth, typically do enjoy the support of a large segment of the population (if only because these regimes are often more capable of providing for the basic needs of society).
Right now, I would argue that the US government has almost completely lost its ability to deliver any of those factors, or act to repair the broken social contract. In fact, what we can observe is the exact opposite: the US society is highly divided, as is the US ruling class (which is even more important). Not only that, but ever since the election of Trump, all the vociferous Trump-haters have been undermining the legitimacy not only of Trump himself, but of the political system which made his election possible. I have been saying that for years: by saying “not my President” the Trump-haters have de-legitimized not only Trump personally, but also de-legitimized the Executive branch as such.
This is an absolutely amazing phenomenon: while for almost four years Trump has been destroying the US Empire externally, Trump-haters spent the same four years destroying the US from the inside! If we look past the (largely fictional) differences between the Republicrats and the Demolicans we can see that they operate like a demolition tag-team of sorts and while they hate each other with a passion, they both contribute to bringing down both the Empire and the United States. For anybody who has studied dialectics this would be very predictable but, alas, dialectics are not taught anymore, hence the stunned “deer in the headlights” look on the faces of most people today.
Finally, it is pretty clear that for all its disclaimers about supporting only the “peaceful protestors” and its condemnation of the “out of town looters”, most of the US media (as well as the alt media) is completely unable to give a moral/ethical evaluation of what is taking place. What I mean by this is the following:
By repeating mantras about how “Black anger is legitimate” the US liberal media is basically placing a seal of approval on the violence and looting. After all, if Black “anger” is legitimate, and if “White privilege” is real, then it is quite “understandable” that this “anger” “sometimes” “boils over” and leads to “regrettable” “excesses”
Of course, Biden and his supporters will claim that Biden was only kneeling before a cute little girl and her peacefully protesting father, but when combined with the attacks against Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric by Biden and his supporters (including four former US Presidents!), I believe that these kinds of photo-ops are sending a very different message: keep “protesting” as we are on your side which, coming from a guy like Biden, the ultimate symbol of the 1%er elites and a perfect example of “White privilege”, just goes to show that the hypocrisy of US politicians really knows no bounds or limits.
I have to note here that these riots also represent a potential danger for both factions of the Uniparty in power: for the Demolicans the riots probably represent the very last chance to prevent a Trump-reelection, but if the Demolicans are too obvious in support of the riots, then it could backfire against them and turn all the frightened “law and order” types against them. But if they do not support the riots, then the Demolicans will alienate their core constituency (a hodgepodge of various “minorities” pushing their narrow identity-politics agenda). Likewise, for Trump this is an opportunity to show his “law and order” credentials and promise the White people and the relatively fewer Blacks of his base that he will protect them. However, if he is too direct about this and if Trump orders what might be seen by many as unfair or excessive force (of which there has been a lot almost everywhere), then he risks pushing many moderate Republicrats over the edge and side with the Demolicans (or, at least, withhold their vote). In other words, both factions of the Uniparty feel that the riots are both an opportunity and a threat and this is why neither faction can come out and speak truthfully about the real causes of the riots.
The exact same message of weakness and even submissive impotence is, I believe, sent every time a cop kneels when confronting even peaceful demonstrators like on this photo. While this might be intended as a message of compassion, and maybe even an apology, the only thing the rioters will see here is a powerful sign of surrender of the local authorities and I find that extremely dangerous.
Yes, there are plenty of racist, violent and otherwise incompetent cops in the USA. And yes, many of my Black friends reported feeling singled out and treated rudely by cops. But having extensively traveled the world, I want to assure you that the US most definitely does not have the worst cops out there. In fact, I believe that most US cops are decent people. Much more importantly, these cops are the “thin blue line” which protects society against criminals. And while I do believe that US policemen ought to be better educated, better trained, better led and better supervised, I also realize that there is also no short term alternative to them. It is all very fine to dream about educated, peaceful and non-racist cops, but if you remove the existing police force from the equation, there are no other alternatives (the national guard or the regular armed forces do not qualify and don’t have the correct training to deal with civilians anyway), especially in those states which have successfully killed the 2nd Amendment by means of what I call “death by a thousand regulatory cuts” (including NY and NJ).
Then there is what Solzhenitsyn called the “decline of courage” in the West: the vast majority US politicians have basically lost the ability to criticize Blacks, even when it is quite obvious that many of the current problems of the Black population of the US are created by Blacks themselves: I think of the truly vulgar, obscene and overall disgusting “rap culture” with which most Black youth are now “educated” in since early childhood or how many Black youth have been brainwashed into considering gang members and street prostitutes as the measure of what “looking cool” looks like in terms of clothes, language and overall behavior. I believe that it is pretty obvious to any person who lived in the US that Blacks are very often (mostly?) the cause of their own misery: I can tell you that my Jamaican and Sub-Saharan African friends (who live in the USA) have told me many times that a) they think that US Blacks have opportunities which they would never have in Africa or Jamaica and that b) local Blacks often resent Africans and Jamaican Blacks because the latter do so much better in the US society. I can also testify to the fact that I have seen a lot of anti-Latino feelings from US Blacks. As for how Blacks often feel about Asians, all we need to do is remember the LA riots in 1992. Finally, I do believe that many (most?) people in the US know that the strongest and most frequent form of racism in the US will be anti-White, especially from politically engaged Blacks.
I can personally attest that there is plenty of anti-White racism in the USA. Not only did I experience it myself (I lived in Washington, DC from 1986-1991), but it has been amply documented by people like Colin Flaherty whose books “White Girl Bleed A Lot: The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore It” and “Knockout Game a Lie?: Awww, Hell No!” are excellent primers on Black on White violence and racism. Yet, anybody daring to suggest that US Blacks themselves are at least partially responsible for their own plight will immediately be labeled a “racist”.
To those of you who live outside the USA, I would recommend this simple thought experiment: just take 20-30 minutes and watch the footage of BOTH the “peaceful protests” AND “the violent riots” and look carefully not only at what the folks you see in the footage are wearing, but also how they speak, how they act, what they say and how they say it and ask yourself a simple question: would you want to hire any of these guys and pay them a decent salary? I very much doubt that many of you would. Frankly, most of these rioters are unhirable, and “racism” has nothing to do with this.
The fact is that what is sometimes called the “MTV culture” is, in reality, nothing else than a systematic glorification of criminal mayhem. Forget about rap hits like the famous “Fuk Da Police” or “Kill d’White People“, I would argue that 99% of rap is a glorification of all the worst problems of Black communities in the US (drugs, violence, promiscuous sex, objectification of women, alcoholism, glorification of criminal behavior in the streets and in prisons, etc.). Yet most US politicians seem to be paralyzed and feel the need to pretend like they are absolutely charmed by this so-called “Black culture”. But it is even worse than that.
Combine an emasculated ruling polity which does not dare to call a stone a stone and which promotes a (pretend) “culture” which glorifies violence and hatred against all non-criminals, including law abiding Black who are called “Toms” and who are also singled out as in this “beautiful” rap which includes the following “verses”: “Then you got niggas that’s blacker then the night, Running around town saying their best friends are white, Niggas like that are gonna hang up from a tree, And burn them up alive and let everybody see” (check out this “beautiful” rap here and for the full lyrics, a truly fascinating read, here). Next, throw in a completely dysfunctional state which is owned and operated by a tiny gang of obscenely rich narcissistic bastards (of all races, very much including Blacks), add to it a total absence of any real social opportunities, then toss in the COVID pandemic and the worst recession in US history with record high levels of unemployment even among those who would be employable (folks with dropped down pants, excessive tattoos, past felony convictions and a comprehensively non-professional attitude would not even get a job even if the economy was booming). Then, you get a relatively localized “spark” (like the murder of George Floyd by a gang of arrogant imbeciles in uniform) to start a fire which will instantly spread throughout the entire country, especially since there are so many other groups besides Blacks who want to “piggyback” their personal agenda on top of the one of Black Lives Matter or Antifa (I am, of course, referring to the real cornucopia of Trump-haters which never accepted his election).
Conclusion 1: this is not the US version of the Gilets Jaunes!
Some might be tempted to say that what we are seeing in the US is a US version of the French Gilets Jaunes. I assure you that it is not. For one thing, the Gilets Jaunes had a pretty clear political program. US rioters do not. Next, the Gilets Jaunes were mostly peaceful and much of the violence was instigated by the French police forces (including the use of fake rioters). While there are definitely peaceful protesters in the USA, neither BLM or AntiFa have truly denounced the riots (and why should they when the US media and politicians don’t have the courage to do that either?). Finally, the French ruling classes and media did not show the kind of “understanding” of the riots which did take place although Macron did pose with two “gangstas” in an effort to look “cool” (which failed)
Conclusion 2: this is not a revolution or a civil war
Some are now fantasizing that what we are witnessing today is either a revolution or a civil war. I believe that this is neither.
For a revolution to take place there must be a force capable of changing not the person(s) in power, but fundamentally change the regime, the polity, itself and replacing it with another one. Declaring that “Black lives matter” or looting stores or even demanding that the police be defunded, does not have this kind of potential capability.
For a civil war to take place you need at least two sides, each with a clearly identifiable political agenda. Since the real power in the US is hidden from the public awareness, there is no potential for a “the people vs the rulers” kind of civil war in the US. A “Right/Conservative vs Left/Liberal” civil war is also not possible, because both the US Right and the US Left are, in reality controlled by a deep state which is neither liberal nor conservative. Finally, a “rematch” between North and South is not possible either because the modern US is not really split along North/South lines anymore. In terms of geography, there is somewhat of a “Big cities vs rural USA” split, but it takes place in both the north and the south of the country. Instead, what we do observe is a social breakup of the US into “zones” some of which will be doing much better than others (big cities with a strong Black population fare the worst, mostly White small towns fare best; that is even true within the same state). In some of these zones, we will see more of this kind of acts of self-protection:
This kind of confrontations, even if they are not violent, are yet another illustration of the state being simply unable to take charge and protect the people.
Conclusion 3: this is an insurrection which has initiated the systemic collapse of the US society
I call what is happening today an insurrection: a violent revolt or rebellion against the authorities as such. When you burn a police precinct you do not “protest” against the actions of a few cops, no, what you are doing is expelling the cops from your neighborhood (I know that personally. In Argentina I lived in a suburb of Buenos-Aires in which the police station was attacked so often that it closed and was never rebuilt). And since in a civilized society the state should have the monopoly on the (legal) use of force, you are basically rejecting the authority and legitimacy of the state which operates the police force. This insurrection is most unlikely to remove Trump from office (hence it is not a coup or a revolution), but the anti-Trump faction of the ruling elites have now clearly adopted the strategy of “worse is better” simply because they realize that these riots are probably their last chance to blame it all on Trump (and Russia, why not?!) and maybe, just maybe, defeat him in November.
Right now all we see can only be called a mob-rule (technically referred to as an “ochlocracy“). But mobs, no matter how violent, rarely succeed in achieving tangible political results as they act ‘against something’ and not ‘for something’. This is why the real (behind-the-scenes) ruling classes need to instrumentalize this mob-induced insurrection to their political advantage. So far, I would say that neither the Demolicans nor the Republicrats have succeeded in this. But there is a very long and potentially extremely dangerous summer ahead and this might well change.
Irrespective of whether either faction will succeed in instrumentalizing the riots, what we are seeing today is a systemic collapse of the US society. That is not to say that the US will disappear, not at all. But just like it took the Soviet Union a decade or more to fully collapse (roughly from 1983-1993), it will take the US many years to fully crash. And just like a New Russia eventually began taking form in 1999, there will be a New US coming out of the current collapse. Total and final collapses are very rare, mostly they just initiate a lengthy and potentially very dangerous transformation process, the outcome of which is almost impossible to predict.
However, just as the Russian people had to stop kidding themselves with silly dreams about “democracy” and had to tackle the real problems of Russia, so will the people of the US have to find the courage to deal with their real problems, frontally and deliberately. If they fail to do that, the country will most likely simple further disintegrate into numerous and mutually hostile entities.
Time will tell.

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Kathleen Tonn

Tonn and the sauna
Kathleen Tonn was a state senatorial candidate in Alaska back in 2014 whose main trick was speaking in tongues. As part of her campaign, Tonn posted a video of herself singing and witnessing to a woman identified as Suzie in the steam room at the Alaska Club West – ostensibly, Suzie “doesn’t know Jesus Christ as her savior,” yet nevertheless let Tonn “sing and deliver a message in the Holy Ghost and tongues,” Tonn said. Apparently speaking in tongues is a very powerful technique, since “the message cannot be understood by Satan. But the Holy Spirit can use that message to bring deliverance, to bring clarity, to bring discerning and words of wisdom and knowledge. And tongues is interpreted by a person who has the gift of interpretation.” One is forgiven for suspecting that clarity isn’t really the goal here. Back in 2013 she also posted a youtube video where she blamed an apparent lack of growth of daisies in the natural flora in Alaska on the presidency of Barack Obama and his support of same sex marriage.
She didn’t win, but nevertheless returned in 2015 to deliver an impressively deranged diatribe, complete with props, to the Anchorage city assembly in opposition to a proposed ordinance to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is worth a watch, but is impossible to sum up (the conclusion was “now, since you want to create some ordinance to avoid discrimination for members of our community who engage in, I perceive, unhealthy, ungodly behavior, you might want to consider creating an ordinance for one who speaks in tongues.”)
Diagnosis: Mostly colorful and fun, though these days we are never completely sure that people like this won’t get elected to the positions of power they are running for, so it might be worth keeping an eye on them.

Donna Martonfi

You’re probably aware of backward masking, demon-possessed toys and tales of Satanic cults involving priests and presidents, but there are those for whom such things are all too mundane. Donna Martonfi, for instance, will freely tell you about that time 80-foot tall demons got into her house and swallowed her whole. And then there are these Satanic baby farms she knows about. Apparently the proper response to these stories is to be scared and send her money.
Martonfi – might be pseudonym – runs the website Psalm 40 ministries, where she for instance laments the fact that even Christians won’t recognize that Santa and his elfs are a devious ploy to replace Jesus at Christmas time (“Hark the Harold Angels CRINGE”) is the unintentionally apt title of the article) and how the intrusion of superheroes, who are demonic idols (just look at how “Yoda is a demonic looking creature”; Martonfi would know), in popular culture and everywhere is evidence of the challenges faced by Christianity in the US today, which of course also shows that the end is near. You can also request prayers from her, and Martonfi’s prayers are powerful: from a young age Martonfi “prayed for the sick and they recovered;” she’s also once healed a washing machine and prayed her way out of a $2900 car repair bill. Apparently her broken watch required a bit more effort: to begin with, God did nothing, but after a week or so “[a]gain, I petitioned God, only now I was really serious. I remembered the acronym P.U.S.H. Pray Until Something Happens. I was not going to be deterred.” Eventually, she put away the kids gloves and reminded God of His duties to her: “Dear Lord, I stand on your Word that says that You shall supply all of my needs and dear Lord, I need to know what time it is!” This did the trick, and according to Martonfi her “watch has not missed one second since.” I think the lesson is that you just have to show God who da boss sometimes.
It seems that she’s also written an autobiography.
Diagnosis: Despite their content, her posts are mostly grammatical and semi-coherent. They’re completely unhingend nonetheless, and although she’s pretty obscure we suspect that her views are shared by a large enough group of people that they cannot be completely dismissed as harmless fringe delusions.

Rodney Martin

Rodney Martin is a white supremacist, supporter of the National Alliance Reform & Restoration Group (NARRG) – a spinoff of the neo-nazi National Alliance – part of the American Nationalist Network, and anti-semitic conspiracy theorist. “There are all sorts of [degeneracy], porn, lowering the age of consent, prostitution […] The hand print of Jews are all over that sexual decadence in the United States … The whole homosexual agenda …which is pushed by Jews. Not only did Jews create NAACP to direct black action against white people, but they started a whole host of homosexual organizations to promote the homosexual agenda,” says Martin.
As you’d expect, Martin is very much opposed to (liberal) immigration reform: “I think if they do, if they ramrod this amnesty bill through, then I think where I talked about the United States being a Soviet Union, I think overnight, we become Yugoslavia, and it becomes not a pretty picture,” said Martin, and claimed it is “genocide” (the referent of “it” being admittedly a bit unclear). Martin seems unsure about the meaning of – among other things – “overnight”.
Diagnosis: We apologize for the brevity of this post, but we cannot be bothered to delve too deeply into the kind of disgusting nonsense Martin is into. Stupid git. It would admittedly be a potential mistake to dismiss him as entirely harmless, however.

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