Two Political Web Sites (Jacobin and Young Americans)

Peter Frase introduces “Saint Monday,” his new blog at Jacobin magazine, with some kind words for the site’s designers:

As you can see, things have been prettied up quite a bit around here, as Remeike Forbes and Daniel Patterson have stepped up their game once again with a great site redesign.

For me the design is an example of an implementation that manages to impress on first glance, but actually does the client no favors. Of course, in such situations, it’s not always clear whom to hold responsible for confused effects.

If you poke around, you may also find that the site is difficult to use and navigate – it’s not clear when we are “at” one of its blogs, or to what part of the magazine a given article is supposed to belong. More to the aesthetic-ideological point, though a testimonial blurb reminds us that Jacobin means to be “radical left,” the site’s “prettied up” user icons, fonts, and half-tones, flattened Toussaint-Louverture graphic, and self-conscious article excerpts (“my blog, my very own blog”) and cute grace notes (“Bookmarx”) convey an overall impression that’s about as radical and polemical, as revolutionary and Jacobin, as a restaurant menu. It’s “radical leftism” as de-constructed period piece or bourgeois diversion, hardly as, say, a life-and-death confrontation with power.

Compare Jacobin to the also new, mobile-friendly, highly pictorial and interactive Young Americans sub-site at

It is not a fair “straight-up” comparison, of course. For one thing, I would not be surprised to learn that Young Americans, even as a mere sub-installation by salaried staff, would cost out to 50 times as expensive as Jacobin. The two sites also have very different, if partly overlapping, purposes. Also, both design teams are dependent on their clients for content and direction, for good or ill.

Still, the visual statement at Young Americans is not just more technically sophisticated, it’s about 50 times more substantial. It is something that has to be dealt with and can be interacted with effectively – unlike, for instance, today’s radical left.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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