Which controversial hobbyhorse should I embrace?
Gotta attract those bots!
The hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World is pleased with how the Substack launch has gone. Thanks to all of you who have subscribed – you read me, you really, really read me!
Still, the staff also wants to expand the subscription base – there are boondoggle junkets to fund! They have done some market research and suggested to me that a surefire way to attract more readers is to find a hobbyhorse edgy enough to outrage some and attract
bots others. You know, something like, “supporting Ukraine is a mistake!” or “Biden should do more bipartisan stuff now!” or “rooting for the New York Yankees is not evil!”
So the staff and I have workshopped some ideas and now ask you, the readers who have already committed, to prove some feedback on which controversial idea I should embrace as my own. Let me know in the comments which of these ideas sound provocative enough to wholeheartedly embrace:
The pandemic turned out to be a nothingburger
Oh sure, lots of people have died, but as I argued in December 2020 for International Organization, “despite its pronounced short-term impact, COVID-19 is unlikely to have the transformative effects on international relations that so many are confidently predicting. Indeed, there are reasons to believe a more counterintuitive claim—that the distribution of power and interest will remain largely unperturbed after COVID-19 ceases to be prevalent.”
I have been thinking that it is time to revisit that argument and I am pretty sure it holds up. This seems like a good counterintuitive take to maintain!
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Political analysts are focusing on the wrong group of Trump voters
In my experience there are two kinds of analyses about the voters who support Trump. The first post-2016 election takes looked at the pivotal voters, the white working-class diner-eating folks living in the Midwest who swung Wisconsin and Michigan for Trump – and then swung those states to Biden in 2020. Pivotal voters are, um, pivotal, but I don’t think they are typical of Trump voters.
The second group that merits in-depth profiles are the hardcore #MAGA devotees, the ones who go to the rallies and proclaim loudly that Biden isn’t really the president and there are usually a few other QAnon-type conspiracy theories thrown in as well. These stories are inevitably disturbing because these folks seem completely unmoored from reality. This group is interesting from a sociological perspective, but – and I know this might be controversial – I don’t think they are typical of Trump voters.
The group of Trump voters that merit more attention are the ones who are not all that angry. In contrast to the resentments of the #MAGA crowd or the grievances of the pivotal voters, these are people who have voted Republican all their lives and have not changed with Trump. They have not given much thought to this choice either.
I think it would be worth exploring what makes this group tick and whether they would ever change their voting pattern.
Globalization is still a good thing
The combination of China shock, weaponized interdependence, pandemic chaos, global supply chain difficulties, and great power competition has made globalization everyone’s whipping boy for the past five years. “Neoliberal” is now used exclusively as an epithet. And I get it, I really do – there are justifiable reasons to invest in economic resiliency and strategic reserves and friendshoring and whatnot. But I reject the fundamental premise that globalization is bad. The United States should lift a lot of the tariffs it has on Chinese goods! If relations with Russia are ever restored, a lot of the sanctions should be lifted!! The benefits of complex interdependence are undersold in the public sphere.
To get a better sense of what I mean on this, read my latest essay for Reason magazine, “Goodbye, Globalization?” An excerpt:
The souring of the 21st century has triggered accusations and recriminations about who bears responsibility for the end of "the end of history." Free trade advocates note the enormous benefits that economic liberalization has brought to the global economy and decry the rise of neo-mercantilism in the United States and elsewhere. But free trade's critics offer a challenging rebuttal: They argue the last two decades have exposed the internal contradictions of neoliberalism. As they see it, we're witnessing the natural response of societies buffeted by the vicissitudes of the free market; economic openness sowed the seeds of its own destruction.
There is a kernel of truth to this. But a kernel of truth is not the whole truth, and globalization's proponents do not need to completely rethink their priors. The benefits of trade and international engagement persist even in the current era.
Advocates of free markets still have a strong case to make, and they need to make it. This particular argument against an open global economy has been made before. When it triumphed, the result was world war.
So which hobbyhorse should I mount, readers? Let me know in the comments!