Thursday, July 26, 2018

Considering the Other Side

As I just got finished saying, my politics have drifted over time. I have voted NDP the last three times I've had a chance to vote, and my distrust and disdain for the strain of so-called "conservatism" which has infected my own province, as well as the United States and a growing number of European countries, has been growing as the object of my distrust and disdain grows. That level of emotion tends to suppress rational thought.

This is going to be a very difficult blog to write, because I'm pretty sure people are going to assume, after reading it, that I am now a Donald Trump fan.

NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. I do not like Donald Trump. I do not like his lack of class; I do not like his racist ass. I do not like him here or there; I do not like him anywhere. I believe there has never been a more unfit man elected to the office of the President of the United States.

And I'd lay money on him winning in 2020. Probably with a larger margin of victory than he had in 2016.

Okay, here's the first choke point. I'm choking too. Depending on the poll you read, his current popularity is either below 40% and falling, or above 45% and rising. What's unequivocal is that he's YUGE within his own party. More than half of Republicans approve of the way Russia is handling him he is handling Russia, versus just six percent of Democrats.

Why? Why are so many Republicans happy with Trump, even in the wake of Helsinki, when he seemed to sell America down the Moskva River for a bucket of borscht?

The snap answer is that he's a racist asshole who appeals to racist assholes. While undoubtedly true, I refuse to accept that's the whole story. I simply can't believe that every single Trump voter is a Nazi in waiting. 

The key to Donald Trump's inexplicable popularity is implied right there in the word "popular". It's populism. 
Populism is ascendant right now, thanks to an orchestrated set of policies that has worked to exclude huge swathes of the citizenry from their chance at the American Dream. I'm not speaking of sexism and racism here, by the way. Those are real, important, systemic problems that exist, and you don't have to go far to see those problems being confronted and worked on. But there's one problem at least as large that goes all but unmentioned in American politics today...and the people in power, both Democrat AND Republican, take great pains to stifle any mention of it. Which is unfortunate, because it's the source of much of Donald Trump's appeal.

Have you figured out the appeal of populism? If not, ask yourself what the opposite of populism is.


I've touched on this before, and I'm about to deep-dive into it. 

The extent to which you sympathize with Donald Trump is the extent to which you reject elitism. You don't have to be poor to reject elitism. In fact, contrary to received wisdom, many Trump supporters are middle class or better. All it takes, and the one thing that virtually every Trumper has in common, is a feeling of being sick to death of being talked down to.

We on the Left are really, really bad for this. We talk down to people. We do it loudly and we do it constantly and the only people who listen to us any more are the people who already agree with us.  Let's take one social issue and one environmental issue and see how this plays out.

The transgendered. Now, AGAIN, let me state for the record that I myself care about trans rights. I will ask you what your preferred pronoun is and that's what I'll address you with. I care, and I want to see a world where gender non-binary people are free to be who they are without fear. 

In order to make such a reality come about, what have we done? Well, we've informed people that,  gender exists on a spectrum. We've further informed them that to question this new information in any way means they are transphobic and evil.

They push back, because they don't think of themselves as evil. Short of the truly psychopathic, nobody does, you know. And nobody likes to be called evil when in their mind they're clearly not.

So they snap back. And we invoke science. And that's where we lose.

Once again I want to distance myself from what I'm about to write here. I believe in science. I think it's the best method we've yet devised as a species to arrive at answers to physical questions; I further believe that given world enough and time, science will eventually come up with answers to many metaphysical questions (at which point members of various spiritual traditions will greet Science at the top of the mountain and say, "what took you so long?")

But science is not without its problems just lately. There's the replication crisis: it turns out a very significant fraction of scientific experiments can not be reproduced. There is quite a robust debate going about how much of a concern this is. I find that rather telling, myself. Replication is the entire point of a scientific experiment: if you can't reproduce it, how valid is it, really?

Science, like everything else, has also been politicized. My side of politics likes to crow that "facts have a liberal bias"...and all that does is cause people who don't have liberal sensibilities to shut us off. More academic, abstract lecturing from ivory towers, they think.

And that bolded word is critical. As much as we know science concerns itself with cold, hard realities, unless you've got something of an education in it, what you're mostly going to see are senseless, meaningless abstractions with little or no relevance to life as you've lived it. Like that there's some ridiculous number of genders. Again, I do believe that gender exists on a spectrum. I'm telling you what they believe. Most of them haven't  (knowingly) seen a gender non-binary person, ergo, such people either don't exist or are obviously mentally ill. And even if they do exist and it's normal, it's a tiny fraction of the population. So why is it that the media is covering this issue as if it's the most important thing in the world? It's the left's latest cause being "shoved down their throats".

To which I would quote a meme Jade posted last night:

"No, we're not 'more sensitive, now'.
People aren't 'too politically correct, now.'
Nor are people 'just looking for a reason to be offended now'.
We, as a people, KNOW BETTER, NOW.
Therefore we, as a people, are trying to do better, now."

I see that meme as inspiring and uplifting. They see it as condescending. "Do better", they think. "When are we going to be allowed to question ANY of this without being instantly branded transphobic evil stupid idiots? When are you going to start talking to us as if we're human beings like you?"

We on the Left have some hard questions to answer here. Many of us are atheists, but our politics seems an awful lot like a religion. (To be fair, so do the politics of the Right.) There are rituals performed both online and in real life to show your piety (many of which, like many traditional prayers, are mostly empty words signifying nothing--I'll be getting to one of those in a minute). There are purity tests, and those who fail are of course heretics, hell with them for not believing what we do. We on the Left are the Saved; the Right are the Lost.  I've even seen a few particularly smug "priests" assert that they love their fellow conservatives, but wish they would recant from their evil ways. Sounds an awful lot like "love the sinner, hate the sin",  doesn't it? Isn't that the same line of patter we rejected wholesale? Exhorting unbelievers to get with the One True Faith under threat of Hell doesn't work very well nowadays. No matter what religion you're pushing...the heathens aren't interested.

We come off smug, self-centred, and arrogant. You'd turn us off too. You might even get so sick of us over time that you'd willingly vote for a crass. boorish man to be your President...IF he promised to tell those snooty elitists where to get off.

Let's look at another piece of hypocrisy my side's pushing. Plastic straws, banning of.

In the manner of many of our crusades, it's well-intemtioned but completely ineffectual and heavy-handed to boot.

Let's never mind the accusations of ableism we'll face if we ban these things (there are disabled people who, if they're going to drink at all, need a straw.) Let's instead focus on whether or not banning plastic straws is going to do anything towards our stated (and laudable, and DESPERATELY NEEDED) goal of ridding the oceans of plastic.

"But it's only one straw," said  seven billion people.

That's what John Michael Greer calls a thoughtstopper, right there. You're not supposed to argue it. You're not supposed to dare to argue it.

I never could resist a dare.

How much of the plastic crap floating around the ocean consists of straws?  Do you know? Good luck finding an actual number. I can't. What I do find is that Americans use 500 million straws a day." It's asserted that most of these end up in the ocean. That's unsourced so far as I can determine with half an hour's research. You're just supposed to accept this on faith.

I CAN tell you that the most famous mess of plastic in the ocean is primarily fishing gear. So if you really want to do something about this plastic crisis, you are out there agitating to ban seafood consumption.

I haven't seen anyone doing that. Have you? Of course you haven't. That would be a real sacrifice, and we would much rather ask others to sacrifice for our sins than do it ourselves. It also affects the interests of the elite in a way that banning straws doesn't. Gotta have your lobster and crab, you know.

We ban straws, but not the plastic cups we use them to drink out of. Or the hundreds of millions of water bottles, many of which never get recycled. There was talk about banning plastic bags here. That didn't happen; instead we started charging for them and the corporations pocketed most of the money.

Yes, it's better to do something than it is to do nothing. But the something we choose to do...could we maybe make it a little more relevant? When the people we're trying to convince see us acting hypocritically, they reject us out of hand, and wouldn't you?

Holier-than-thou. Sanctimonious. And oh, boy, have you noticed the classism? Trump supporters, to use some of the terms I have seen floating around, are "a basket of deplorables"; "banjo-strumming sibling-fornicators"; "low-class trash"...and all three of those epithets and many more were hurled before Donald Trump had even taken office. Before he did anything to earn them. They're also, of course, "white supremacists"...the whole kit and caboodle of them.

How do you feel when people call you names? Are you receptive to them and their arguments?

Okay, so here's where things get really dicey.

I could actually get behind a fair bit of the Trump agenda as I think I understand it. The problem is--one of the MANY problems is--that his words belie his actions.

I see three things Trump is trying to do from his actions (never mind his words):

  • retreat from empire. Britain had the great good sense to do this during the last century. America HAS to do it this century. The alternative is simply unaffordable. Maybe the world does need a policeman...does it have to be the United States?
The problem with retreating from empire is that if you have enemies. you don't want to broadcast to them that you're doing it. Hence things like "We're America, bitch!" and the (probably) toothless threats Trump occasionally tweets out. But if you look at what he actually seems to be DOING....pulling back from NATO, making nice with Russia and North Korea, withdrawing from international seems to me he's doing something no president has even thought to contemplate...and oddly enough, something the Left has been agitating for over quite some time.
  • going to bat for the wage class. This is a big one. These are people whose concerns have been the subject of promises in every political campaign for the last forty years....promises and nothing else.
Proof of that?  You have to actually get out of your coastal elitist enclave where all is well and all manner of things are well to find ample proof. Get into a part of the country summarily dismissed as "flyover" and you'll find all is not well and all manner of things are not well. Jobs are scarce and  pay peanuts. Families are fractured. There's an opioid epidemic. There's no hope, no future. 

You won't often catch me saying this -- I've called this out in different contexts many times. Normally, if something isn't working, it's crazy to double down on it. 

There are exceptions. Tariffs would be one.

Trump's tariffs are the object of INTENSE scorn. And right now they're not doing what they're supposed to do. What they're supposed to do is incentivize local production and sale of goods and arrest the downward pressure on wages.  I'd argue that's not happening because they're not comprehensive enough. It's like climate change: Canada, contributing less than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, should of course do its part--while recognizing that we could shut our economy down entirely and India and China would replace our GHG emissions within a couple of years. 
Tariffs need to be enacted intelligently by many countries to stand a chance of working. That won't happen. Why not? Because free trade OVERWHELMINGLY benefits the elites, the profit class,  at the expense of the wage class.

This is so contrary to the vast majority of contemporary thought that I'd ask you to go read the case for tariffs here (and please note when you do that Greer is not arguing for total isolationism and economic nationalism. Greer's like me: you'll rarely find us on the extreme end of anything. If you'd  rather see a shorter treatment, I am indebted to "David, by the lake" for this one:

The way I would argue it, tariffs are a necessary tool, not a good or bad thing in themselves. A comprehensive tariff wall would be needed to protect domestic production from the predation of foreign competition so that a nation could develop a robust, self-sufficient economy employing its citizens at a livable wage, producing their own goods and services for their own consumption using their own labor and their own resources. This would also allow for resource depletion taxes, anti-automation taxes, and other measures favoring the employment of humans rather than robots, promoting human well-being, and supporting frugal, sustainable resource use. 

Are these not things the Left would normally JUMP on?

If only there had been someone for the wage class on OUR side...oh, wait, there was.

Bernie Sanders would have done many of the things Trump is doing...but without the babies in cages, without the constant drama, without the buffoonery. I think it's even possible Sanders might have tightened immigration himself (in a much more coherent way, of course)....because free and open borders drive down wages the same way free trade of goods does. 

It's not racist to say this. It makes no difference whether the immigrants flooding your labour market are white, green, or pink with purple polka-dots. But as soon as I said "tightened immigration", you immediately thought I'm a racist pig, didn't you?

If we're to have any hope at all, we need to stop alienating the very people we're trying to convince. We need to stop REFLEXIVELY shouting "racism!" -- because while systemic racism does exist and is a serious problem, if ever the poor white trash comes to understand he has a lot more in common with disadvantaged people of colour than he's been led to believe all these years....well, THAT would be seriously threatening to the people who run the show.

Those people  rode Bernie Sanders out of town on a rail. Because he was for the working class, and those people must be kept in their place. Instead they went for the most elitist candidate in living memory and they told everyone that if they didn't vote for Herself, they were obviously sexist.

Look how well that worked out for them. 

(But she won the popular vote!) Yeah, big whoop. Popular vote counts for nothing in American elections; it never has. Face it, folks, any Democrat paying even a shred of attention to what USED to be the Democratic base--not the kind of attention where they're called "deplorables"--would have sent Donald Trump slinking back into the Manhattan swamp from which he came. 

Instead he's going to win a second term, whatever the polls tell you.

I hope to God I'm wrong. I really do. Because as cartoonishly bad  as Donald has been, there are people surrounding him with VERY coherent ideologies, and if you think Trump is bad, impeach him or assassinate him and you'll quickly find Mike Pence is worse.

C'mon, Dems, get it together. 

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