Sunday, October 2, 2016

All To the Good

Once you’ve convinced yourself that a president of the other party is the very worst possible thing that could befall America, then any nominee of your party—literally no matter who—becomes a lesser evil.
David Frum. The Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy
While I follow Mr. Frum's logic, viewing someone as the "lesser evil" presupposes an understanding that all of the available options fall into the category of "evil." And one of the things that I have noticed in this election cycle is that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" (and a true friend at that) has migrated into the world of politics. I was in an online discussion with a particularly committed person some months ago, and made a point that I've often made in political discussions, namely that: "The fact that you have decided that one candidate is a bad option doesn't automatically make the other a good option, or vice versa." The response was effectively: "Yes, it does." When, in Sioux Center, Iowa, earlier this year, Donald Trump said: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters," he was asserting the willingness of voters to pay for something that they wanted. Which was something that everyone already knows and/or assumes. Mr. Trump was simply being more explicit about it than most, and he was able to do so because he was already becoming an affirmative good in the minds of a certain subset of the public.

To be sure, this is not a strictly partisan phenomenon. But strong partisan sentiments have ways of enhancing it. For many people I've spoken to, to even see their chosen candidate as the lesser evil is a form of false equivalency, since it starts from the premise that "both" candidates, theirs and the other party's, are both evil. And this rankles, because how can someone who has set out to prevent an ineffable life, liberty and pursuit of happiness-destroying monster from undoing the good work of centuries possibly be evil? And at the risk of being accused of another instance of false equivalency, part of what the support bases of both Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders had in common was a strong belief in both the inherent goodness of their candidates and the idea that the nation needs that goodness in order to avoid catastrophe.

You can make the point that the leadership of the Republicans in Congress, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, are more sophisticated than the average bear, and therefore better able to understand the nuances of policy. Hand in hand with this, however, tends to be the idea that they are also more deliberately cynical than the citizenry at large, and so realize that sometimes, they're not the best choice to take things forward. But from where I stand, while this might be self-evident to political thinkers like Mr. Frum and David Brooks, it's less so actual politicians, who I think are less likely to see themselves as crassly power-seeking that we ourselves often see them.

And in a Republican party that has long demonized anyone who can properly spell the word "Democratic," there is little room to withhold support from the single person who can prevent despised Liberal Americans from voting in the end of all that is right and just as they know it. (Despite the fact that the end of all that is right and just has apparently been voted into the White House on multiple occasions, yet the right and just have survived just fine thus far...) Despite the fact that common wisdom holds that elected officials in the United States are leaders, simply being seen at the head of any parade that forms is not leadership in way we commonly understand the term. They're just as, if not more likely to have been convinced by factors outside themselves that a Democrat in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, being elevated to the Oval Office represents an unrecoverable catastrophe as to have willfully convinced themselves of that fact. While we can see them (and die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters, for that matter) as motivated critics of the former Secretary of State, "motivated" should not be seen as a synonym for "insincere."

While it's true that many people have come to view politics as a cynical exercise in deceit and self-aggrandizement, it's worthwhile to understand that this isn't the attitude of all of the people, all of the time. And while it may be difficult to understand how a person one finds reprehensible can garner the support of people "who should know better." we've been working towards this for at least past two decades. Given that, it shouldn't have snuck up on us.

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