Deprovincializing the study of American politics

A mix of comparative politics and American Political Development scholars have written a valuable and important paper putting the rise of Trumpism, and current shape of the American polity, in comparative perspective. It’s grim but necessary reading:

“we argue that President Trump’s election in 2016 represents the intersection of three streams in American politics: polarized two-party presidentialism; a polity fundamentally divided over membership and status in the political community, in ways structured by race and economic inequality; and the erosion of democratic norms at the elite and mass levels”

An article with similar themes by Steve Levitsky, Rob Mickey, and Lucan Way can be found in Foreign Affairs.  It also provides a useful reminder of just how new full-ish American democracy actually is.

Tatmadaw not happy

This bit jumped out at me in an Irrawaddy article on the Army’s views of the Rakhine insurgency:
“Deputy Chief of Military Affairs Security Maj-Gen Than Htut Thein said Parliament had rejected Myanmar Army proposals calling for necessary responses. The administration in Maungdaw had collapsed and hatred between the two communities had reached its peak, he added.”

This kind of violence is a godsend for militaries looking to maintain/expand their political influence – it lets them paint politicians as weak and ineffectual guardians of the nation, and argue that a vigorous military response is necessary to supplant broken civilian governance and hold at bay otherwise uncontrollable ethnic cleavages. Something to watch.

Cheesman on ‘national races’ in Myanmar

Want to understand some of the deep historical background to the Rohingya issue? Nick Cheesman’s piece from May is invaluable reading.

“National races’ or taingyintha is among the pre-eminent political ideas in Myanmar today” but “It remained on the periphery of political language over the next decade.”

So what changed?

“But on February 12, 1964, a new day dawned for taingyintha, one in which it would go from being a term of limited political salience to the paradigm for military-dominated statehood. General Ne Win, who had seized power for a second time two years earlier, now grasped the idea of taingyintha and wielded it with hitherto unprecedented enthusiasm. . . .

By the 1980s it was orthodoxy that political texts at some point refer to national races’ eternal solidarity, their historical fraternity and their intentionality in working together for a new socialist economic order.

Although that economic order collapsed under the weight of nationwide protests in 1988, the national-race idea not only prevailed, but also emerged stronger than ever. . . .

Because taingyintha identity had trumped citizenship, the place of people belonging to non-national-race groups is precarious. Those people excluded juridically from Myanmar but living within its territory now have to find a way back in to the political community. And the only way available to them politically, as a collectivity, is to submit to the politics of domination inherent in the national races project, and insist that they too are taingyintha, which is exactly what Rohingya advocates have done. . . .

ultimately Myanmar’s problem is not a ‘Rohingya problem’ but a national-races problem: how the idea of taingyintha itself is the problem.”