Sunday, October 30, 2016

Now Do You Like Me?

While drifting around online looking at news and commentary, I came across a story of another Black supporter of Donald Trump being ejected from a rally, on orders of the candidate, because he'd been mistaken for a protester and a paid "thug." Earlier today, I decided that I'd track down the story again. A quick Google search started turning up stories before I'd even finished entering search terms, and one thing I noticed is that almost all of them were from left-leaning commentary sites - but there was also one on Russia Today, "Trump mistakes black supporter for 'thug' and removes from rally."

One of the interesting things about the Russia Today article was that it included some tweets from the person in question, an ex-marine named CJ Cary. This bit, in particular, stood out for me: "It's not his fault he did not know who I was at that moment. He has been so traumatized by Black hate.." Part of it is politics as usual - we tend to have high standards for political candidates (or pretend to, anyway), and rather than admit that we support someone despite the fact that they fell short on a particular occasion, we tend to move the goalposts. So far so good. But the concept that Mr. Trump was unable to view Mr. Cary as an individual, simply because of the color of his skin, due to the fact that most Black voters actively oppose him ties into one of the ongoing debates that has roiled the Black community for the past hundred years or so: Respectability politics.

In a nutshell, respectability politics says that the respect of others is something that a person or a group purchases by behaving in a way that the others find respectable. While in many circles, respectability politics is considered a particularly insidious form of victim blaming, there's another way of looking at it: beggars can't be choosers, even when they feel that the have a moral entitlement to choice. Mr. Cary's formulation that its the fault of Black people that Donald Trump appeared to confirm the widespread impression of him as a racist, will likely be said by some to blow clean through respectability politics on its way to Uncle Tom/"slave mentality" territory, but it fits in with the overall message of respectability politics, namely that Black America needs to clean up its act if they expect to be respected by White America.

In the end, respectability politics divides the Black community because it it expects a high degree of unity from it. It's difficult enough to order pizza for five with any degree of unanimity, the idea that you're going to be able to drive an agreement among some 26 million adults on a plan to meet the not-monolithic-either expectations of of White America is little more than a pipe dream. And in that regard, the idea that in order for any of us to be treated as individuals worth the benefit of the doubt, an overwhelming majority of us are going to have to toe an ever-shifting line seems ridiculous.

The irony of Mr. Cary's case is that "Cary says he wanted to deliver a note to Trump urging him to be less offensive and more inclusive to four demographic groups: black people, women, people with disabilities and college students." Which seems a lot to ask of a "traumatized" man.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I'm Not Speaking To You

So Anita Lynch, a Bernie Sanders delegate to this past summer's Democratic National Convention, tells NPR's Audie Cornish:

I actually met with two strong Hillary people after the convention 'cause I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to hear their perspective. I really wanted to try to understand. And one of the things I said to them was, convince me to vote for Hillary and two things I want you to leave out the conversation - the word Trump and the words Supreme Court. And then tell me why I should vote for Hillary.
When Ms. Cornish asked Ms. Lynch if they'd been able to pull it off, the answer was "Not totally, no."

And so, in the next segment, Ms. Cornish puts the question to one Roz Wyman, a lifelong Democrat and superdelegate who is firmly in the Hillary Clinton camp. Ms. Wyman's answer?
Well, I can certainly be happy not to mention that man's name, but the Supreme Court is obviously very important. And if somebody doesn't care about who's going on the Supreme Court, they're not probably a very good Democrat.
And this leads Ms. Cornish to remark that the potential to name nominees to the Supreme Court is the most important thing for her. Ms. Wyman then says:
Well, it's not the most important thing. I - you know, I balance a lot of things. But the Supreme Court is absolutely important beyond belief. And they're there for, you know, 30, 40 years. And some of the issues - I mean just imagine getting rid of Roe versus Wade. That's one of their prize things. Or we might get Citizens United - get rid of that. The court is absolutely important if you're Democrat in my opinion.
Ms. Wyman's unwillingness to put forth another argument for voting Mrs. Clinton stood out for me. And, yes, I'm saying unwillingness. I'm taking her at her word when she says that the Supreme Court is not the most important thing for her, in spite of the fact that she describes it as "absolutely important beyond belief." And if we take her at her word, she understands that she has other priorities than defeating Donald Trump or being able to seat Supreme Court justices. But when given the opportunity to make the case to someone who might be persuadable, based on those priorities, she refuses to take it, and her response left me with the impression that she considered it thoroughly wrongheaded for anyone to even want to focus on them.

And this is why I consider many everyday Americans to be poor salespeople for the candidates and the policies that they support. Because they can't bring themselves to understand other people's priorities, and instead insist on framing things as a responsibility to their own priorities. Whether one is a very good Democrat or not, a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for Hillary Clinton, and if Mrs. Clinton is elected to the White House, she'll be able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court whether that was a given voter's first, second or twenty-fifth reason for voting for her. When given the chance to advance Mrs. Clinton's chances to name justices to the Supreme Court, Ms. Wyman seemed to toss it away because she couldn't bring herself to ignore the lack of ideological purity that such an act would entail. And while it may make some sense to have a litmus test for the people you vote into office, it doesn't make much sense to have a litmus test for the people whose votes you would court on their behalf. Yet, this strikes me as a common habit.

It's often said that politics are a way for people to express their identities as members of a particular ideological community. And people will self-segregate based on those communities. And while it may make sense to not talk to people who are of an opposing community, with whom one has so little in common that it seems difficult to carry on a worthwhile conversation, once the borders of community preclude speaking to potential allies, simply because they live outside the lines, it becomes counter-productive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Words Will Never Hurt Me

My father could tell stories that would make it hard for you to sleep at night. But then again, he grew up in the Deep South before the Civil Rights movement, when ignoring the mockery of white people could, at times, be a very dangerous thing to do. Not because the jokes that whites told about blacks were themselves dangerous, but because they could be a prelude to violence. To borrow a phrase, "Those who people would attack, they first dehumanize." But here's the thing, to my understanding - it's not a causal relationship. Nor it is an ironclad correlation. In my father's time, or my grandfathers', the fact that a group of white guys was talking among themselves and laughing at you could very well presage violence. Today? Not so much. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but today, it's newsworthy.

But while these things may have happened in the past, many people who remember them are still alive and they passed those memories on to their children and their children's children. After all, when I was a child, my parents had no inkling of what 2016 would look like, and I couldn't even conceptualize a time so far in the future. So they didn't teach me to live in the world of today. The world they taught me to live in was a combination of the one they found themselves in, the one they had grown up in and the one that they had been prepared for by their own parents. And they did this because this is what they understood.

I suspect that many parents end up doing the same. And so a lot of people wind up living with one foot in the past, and fearing that as long as the vestiges of the past are still visible that the other foot may join it. That takes a long time to die. But so too does the past itself. We may think of the bad old days as dead and gone, but its not as if the people who made them that way were suddenly swallowed whole by the Earth. And even if they were, their ideas didn't die with them. There are people younger than myself who would gladly return the United States to a time that I'm not old enough to remember, but have heard enough about to understand that I never want to visit.

I'm of the opinion that when it comes to offense, people only have the level of power over us that we have learned to give them. And sometimes the people who taught us those lessons did so with the best of intentions. And while the best thing that we can do for ourselves is un-learn them, that process is neither quick, easy or painless.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Thursday, October 20, 2016


This morning, on the radio, I heard a political analyst make the point that "it's difficult to say that [Donald Trump] he is trying to win." Or, at the very least, his campaign had hit upon a strategy that wasn't likely to work.

Whenever I hear that someone is doing something nonsensical, a reflex kicks in that prompts me to ask under what circumstances it would make sense. And so I started thinking about it. I recalled seeing a headline, somewhere along the way, in which Donald Trump said that about two-thirds of people who backed him were die-hards who would support him no matter what he did or said. Let's say that he honestly believes this to be true. (Now, as a politician and a showman, it's hard to be sure of what Mr. Trump actually believes, and what's part of the act, but let's say, for the sake of argument, that he really does believe this part.)

For all that people may think that Hillary Clinton is the far better candidate of the two, it's unlikely that her level of die-hard support is that high. I pulled a 50% number out of thin air, and when I spoke to a couple of people I knew, they floated the same number, so let's go with that. Using those numbers we can cobble together a chart that looks something like this:

All numbers completely fabricated.
The red bars represent people intending to vote for Donald Trump, and the blue bars for Hillary Clinton, natch. And the size of the bars, when taken together, give Mrs. Clinton about a 6 or so point lead in our imaginary poll, which is in the ballpark of what I've been hearing recently, if perhaps a bit on the low side.

The dark red bar represents our hypothetical die-hard pro-Trump voter. The lighter red bar can be thought of as anti-Clinton voters - people who are voting for Donald Trump as the lesser evil, as it were. And, of course, we can view the blue bars in the same way: Dark blue being strongly pro-Clinton and light blue being less invested anti-Trump voters. To use standard polling-speak, you can contrast the committed voter with the voter who merely leans towards a candidate.

It's often said that Donald Trump is more focused on his die-hard base of support than he is is trying to appeal to voters outside of it. And if you think that the actually electorate looks something like this chart, you can come up with a workable theory as to why. If Mr. Trump can sow enough Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to get the light blue portion of the voting public to "stay home" on Election Day, he wins, even if that costs him all of the light red portion. (Conversely, Hillary Clinton can carry the day by mobilizing the light blue portion to turn out, even if that means that the light red portion shows up to cast a vote against her.) Everyone in the blue section of the chart (as well as those voters who don't support either one of them strongly enough to show up) are effectively write-offs; the Trump campaign has no interest in inducing them to defect. Hence the negative tone of the campaign; negativity doesn't convert voters, it simply makes them apathetic. And if you're attempting to stage the election between only the die-hards in each camp, apathy is your friend.

Because of the way the Electoral college works, there are really only a few states in which this can, or needs to, work. Blue states are going to vote for Mrs. Clinton, regardless of what strategy Mr. Trump uses, and the Red states are in the bag. So there are only the swing states that Trump needs to influence in this way.

Is this the actual plan? Don't ask me, I came up with it while brushing my teeth this morning. But it strikes me as a framework that one can place Donald Trump's actions into that lends them rationality, rather than randomness. And it's unlikely that someone who can get this close to becoming President of the United States, win or loose, is random.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


No candidate has earned a majority of all potential (regardless of registration) voters, not once in my lifetime. Which means that the people who don't vote, or who vote for a third-party candidate, have an enormous amount of power. Which they waste.
Seth Godin "Ketchup and the third-party problem"
In Mister Godin's post, "waste" was a link, and it lead to "There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote," by Clay Shirky. The piece opens with a simple theory:
In 2016, that system will offer 130 million or so voters just three options:

A. I prefer Donald Trump be President, rather than Hillary Clinton.
B. I prefer Hillary Clinton be President, rather than Donald Trump.
C. Whatever everybody else decides is OK with me.

That’s it. Those are the choices. All strategies other than a preference for Trump over Clinton or vice-versa reduce to Option C.
He then gives three reasons why people make protest votes, the enormous amount of power that Mr. Godin says that they waste. The votes that Mr. Shirky describes as thrown away.

The three reasons, the theoretical frameworks that Mr. Shirky ascribes to protest voters (or non-voters) are:
  1. Boycotting the election in the hope of delegitimizing it.
  2. Defecting from one of the major parties in the hope that they will come courting later.
  3. Hoping their candidate will somehow win.
The argument against delegitimizing an election through boycotting is fairly simple: In the United States, people don't have to vote, and in most (if not all) elections to seat people into offices, there is no minimum threshold, below which the vote becomes void. And a lot of people don't bother to vote. Enough so that in Presidential elections "none of the above" (didn't vote) tends to be the single largest block of voters. And it's difficult to impossible to make a statement by not voting when so many other people are doing the same, with little regard to message.

The argument against defection is also simple: the political parties don't tend to work to align themselves with voters they didn't capture in the last election. Remember all of the talk about how the Republican party needed to show itself as more friendly to Hispanic voters after the drubbing Mitt Romney took in 2012? Yeah, that lasted about all of a half-hour, didn't it? And if the parties aren't going to chase your vote, then withholding it does little good.

The argument against victory is perhaps the simplest: It never happens. Even a wildly-popular ex-president like Theodore Roosevelt couldn't manage it. And despite spending literally years denouncing the Democrats, Bernie Sanders ran for their nomination, rather than as a third-party candidate because he knew that as a true "outsider," he stood no chance. In this light, voting for a minor-party candidate thinking they'll actually win is delusional.

All points well taken. But. If you don't find either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton compelling; that is to say that between the two of them you have no preference, is your vote any less wasted or thrown away by giving it to either one of them?

While Mr. Godin sees "an enormous amount of power" in those disaffected with options A or B, that power only exists in the aggregate - and in the aggregate they could deny both of the major parties the Presidency. As individuals, however, what are those votes worth? While it's not a majority, or maybe even a plurality of voters, the number of people who vote for the major party candidates is large - and in that pool of active support, the passive support of "not wasting a vote" is not going to make a difference - after all, it's not like the people who simply didn't bother to vote is small. A few more votes here or there are unlikely to sway the outcome without a concerted effort to coordinate all of the would-be protest (non)voters - if they break down roughly the way the rest of the populace does, the final tallies are a little higher than they would have been otherwise, but that's it.

And, for that every same reason, "un-defecting" is unlikely to make a difference. Political parties are no more responsive to small groups of people who simply hand over their votes than they are to small groups of defectors. Otherwise, it could be argued that the Democratic party would have made a fairly hard and youth-driven turn to the left over the past eight years. And if you live in a state that's strongly Red or Blue, a few more voters here and there are significantly easier to ignore.

That leaves the final consideration: being on the winning team. But if there isn't going to be a payoff, in terms of policies one supports, what good does having picked the winning side do? Sure, the winners may pat you on the head for having done what they understand is your duty, but what has the would-be protest voter won? Nothing.

Given that the arguments against protest voting aren't really reasons to not protest vote, is it really accurate to describe those votes as "wasted" or "thrown away?" They're not really a resource for anything; at least from the point of view of the voter.

In the end, Messrs. Shirky and Godin were both making points about engagement. Mr. Shirky was making the point that loudly proclaiming one's protest vote was simply a form of posturing, and Mr. Godin was pointing out that the work of shaping democracy is mostly done well way from the polls. And those are very good points. Putting a check next to the name of the person you want to be savior-in-chief and then walking away rarely produces results. While it is certainly very true that "The system is set up so that every choice other than 'R' or 'D' boils down to 'I defer to the judgement of my fellow citizens'," that doesn't mean that 'R' and 'D' are automagically non-deferments.

For the person who doesn't see their desires, ambitions and intentions reflected in the major-party candidates for office, there is no way for them to not waste their vote. It's thrown away by definition, because simply picking one or the other crowd to follow gets them nothing more than writing in Mickey Mouse or setting fire to their ballot in the driveway. Rubbing their noses in this fact doesn't get us anywhere. Democracy is full of compromises; it's part of gaining the consent of the losers. We can have them in the electoral process, in the governing process or both. Picking a random side of a compromise that you find deplorable in all of its facets isn't any better or worse than not participating in it at all. There are some 220,000,000 adults in the United States who are eligible to vote. Of those, some 145,000,000 are registered. The fact that the political system, any political system, is going to serve some number of them poorly, and some number not at all is a given. Sure, we can give those people shit about wanting the system to be on their side, when they simply don't have the resources to make it worth anyone's while. But I don't know what we get out of that. Pointing out that they're spending a lot of energy to get nothing for it doesn't help them get anything for it. And it doesn't tell them how to better spend their energy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Win Or Lose

In “Democracy Depends on the Consent of the Losers” Uri Friedman references Losers’ Consent: Elections and Democratic Legitimacy, telling us that the “democratic bargain,” as it is termed, “calls for winners who are willing to ensure that losers are not too unhappy and for losers, in exchange, to extend their consent to the winners’ right to rule.” But somewhat later on, Mr. Friedman notes the winner’s side of the bargain as follows: “Winners do not suppress losers, which means losers can hope to be winners in the future.” But that’s a different thing than ensuring that the losers are not too unhappy. That idea never surfaces again in the piece.

And I think that it should, because that’s really what’s at stake. For much of American history, there have been various groups, such as the landless, immigrants, slaves, et cetera who could be made unhappy so that the losers in elections didn’t have to be. One could, perhaps, view the American Civil War as a breakdown in that pattern. The residents and (perhaps more importantly) leadership of the Confederate states concluded that they were too unhappy with the direction of things to consent to the Union’s right to govern. And so they went to war.

There have been threats of civil war in this election cycle, some of them over laughably trivial slights. But they point to losers who are too unhappy to consent to the winners’ right to govern. Does this mean that the winners are not holding up their end of the bargain? And if they aren’t what are the losers allowed to ask for? Since most of the toy saber-rattling about civil war today comes from the Right, let’s look at one of their concerns. The American Left can be stereotyped (if not always accurately described) as concerned with ecological and environmental issues, “saving the planet,” as it were. To this end, they can be hostile to fossil fuels, and the vehicles that run on them. (It’s a typically urban mindset. Mass-transit works in cities, not so much in places where one’s nearest neighbors are over the horizon.) And even if they aren’t hostile to the people who do the day-to-day work of producing fossil fuels, they don’t spend much time thinking about what those people would do if their jobs went away. It’s easy to assume that whatever new form the economy takes is going to magically create enough well-paying positions that no-one will notice the change, but job market shifts have not historically worked that way, in that it’s rare for the old economy to demand the skills that will be useful in the new economy. So even if enough new jobs are created to take up the slack in the job market, for someone who’s a 20-year veteran of their field, they’re unlikely, even with retraining programs, to qualify for the jobs in the new professions that would pay them as much. In fact, they’ll likely be fortunate to do much better than entry-level. And that’s quite a hit to one’s finances. Faced with that prospect, should the losers be “not too unhappy?” Or should they try to force the winners into conceding more to them? With what leverage?

I suspect that a number of other examples could present themselves. As the two parties have drifted further and further apart from one another, they’ve come to care less and less about whether the other side’s voters would be “too unhappy” with the policies that would be enacted after their victory. They’ve simply told themselves that consent to their right to govern is their due, because “elections matter.” But both sides have carved out exceptions to that rule for themselves, and so they understand that there are situations in which elections don’t matter, because the subject matter is too important - whether it’s about the rights of couples to have their same-sex marriages recognized by the state, or that abortion should be considered murder. Many people understand that there are some things that should not be subject to the will of the people. It’s the degree to which we understand that these should be the issues we compromise on that matters. Partisanship tends to lend the causes one agrees with greater legitimacy than those one disagrees with. When we see the losers as deserving to loose, whether or not they will be very unhappy with the result becomes less of a concern. And there’s a danger in that.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


The fact that a debate may be about us, or about something important to us, does not mean that it may only take place with our permission. We cannot prevent other people from having a debate over an issue that they have not yet decided, even if we, for our part, have determined that we already know the answer.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

War Is the New Flex

I understand the idea that the Culture Wars may, one day, actually escalate into a shooting war. It's not like it's never happened before. But it's beginning to seem to me that threatening a new civil war in the United States has become a method of showing one's Conservative bona fides. In this quick screen grab from LinkedIn, a commenter warns that civil war will break out over media bias. Never mind that the story isn't identified as "Computer industry news." It's just something that's trending among readers who self-identify as being in the Computer Software Industry. People like me - after all, that's how I wound up seeing the link for the story in the first place. And given that there doesn't seem to be a single media outlet that lacks the bandwidth for another story about Donald Trump, it's not surprising that a lot of people in the Computer Software Industry have seen the story. It's a safe bet that a lot of Hairdressers have seen it, too.

But even if LinkedIn had intentionally miscategorized the story to smear Donald Trump, that's worth starting a conflict that's likely to end in the deaths of at least tens of  thousands and likely millions of people? Really?

Part of me says, "of course not," and so it seems that this part of a feedback loop, where, in order to be heard over a million other voices saying the same thing you have to say it just a little louder, just a little more stridently, until the next thing you know everyone is screaming at the tops of their lungs just to be heard at all. The talk becomes more and more outrageous, because everyone is talking it.

I understand that at the heart of the "civil war" rhetoric is the idea that there is a group of Americans who feel that the nation is being taken from them and given to people less conservative, more religious, less loyal, less invested in the proper idea of "America" than themselves. And the people taking it are tyrants. And sometimes, the only way to deal with a tyrant is to take up arms. But wars, even (and sometimes especially) civil wars, are brutal and bloody affairs. They are only romantic in hindsight or from a very safe distance away from the battlefield.

I suspect, to a degree, that part of the "civil war" rhetoric is just that, rhetoric, designed to show the speaker as disdainful of the American Left, whose aversion to the tools and practice of violence is becoming self-parody. And "the (Mainstream) Media" is also said to be a creature of the Left, so threatening war to protest its apparent excesses is a two-for-one. But it shows how divided we're becoming as a nation, when we casually speak of unspeakable tragedy, simply to pose for the adoration of political campmates.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Monday, October 10, 2016

The Look

The Sporkful podcast is produced in partnership with NPR station WNYC. And as the various WNYC-produced podcasts tend to advertise on one another, it popped up on an On The Media podcast that I was listening to. During the ad for The Sporkful, they played a couple of clips from their "Who Is This Restaurant For? Pt. 1: Us vs. Them" podcast. One of them was Shirikiana Gerima, co-owner of Sankofa Video Books & Cafe in Washington, D.C. asking: "What is on your mind when you can’t go into a restaurant when there are people who don’t look like you?" She was asking this in terms of why White people may not feel comfortable eating a restaurant where everyone is Black, and it raised a question for me.

Why, I wondered, do we use "looks like you" as a euphemism for "is visibly of the same race or ethnicity (and sometimes gender) as you?" When I consider whether or not to eat in a restaurant, for instance, I don't evaluate it based on the perceived ethnicity of the clientele. If I felt uncomfortable entering a space that didn't already have other Black people in it, I'd almost never go into local restaurants, as the neighborhood that I live in is predominantly White. And most of the places where I spend my free time are like this, because they tend to be either in relatively close proximity to where I live, or in neighborhoods that are similar to the one that I live in. And Black people are underrepresented in my hobbies - so when I went to Penny Arcade Expo, the Lego convention and the local photography expo, while I wasn't the only black person there, the number of people who "looked like me" didn't come close to reaching the about one-in-eight segment of the population as a whole that is Black.

But, of course, this doesn't mean that I'm not visually sizing up places when walk into them. Just that whether or not a group of people "looks like me" or seems inviting is evaluated on something other than skin tone. Being a middle-aged, single, suburbanite, those are the visual cues that I tend to look for. Or, perhaps more accurately, I look for their absence. So does this seem like a space that caters mainly to people either much younger, or much older, than myself? Is the parking lot full to the brim with Harley-Davidsons? Are latex and body art the going fashions? Does it seem that everyone's in a couple and/or a parent? Is English the primary language being spoken? While some of these criteria (like language) do correlate with race or ethnicity, a group of English-speaking Latino gamers is more likely to appear to appear welcoming, or "look like me," to me than the clientele of an urban coffee shop.

And when it really comes down to it, I suspect that when a lot of people look at others, look at themselves and attempt to determine how good of a fit they might be, they're using more information than just race. I doubt that the stereotypical accountant walks up to a biker bar, scans the customers and concludes that everyone there "looks like him" simply because he and they all happen to be White. This, of course, isn't to say that there aren't any accountants out there who would feel more comfortable in the presence of a biker of their own ethnicity than with a fellow accountant from the other side of the world, but I don't know that I buy into the idea that an Asian accountant looks less like a Latino accountant than a Latino outlaw biker, simply because from a social perspective, all Latinos look alike.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

March of Words

Not everyone who engages in victim-blaming explicitly accuses someone of failing to prevent what happened to them. In fact, in its more understated forms, people may not always realize they’re doing it. Something as simple as hearing about a crime and thinking you would have been more careful had you been in the victim’s shoes is a mild form of victim-blaming.
Kayleigh Roberts "The Psychology of Victim-Blaming"
One of the more interesting things about growing older is watching language evolve in real time. When I was in my teens and twenties, saying that: "Recognizing the possible efficacy of precautions and noting when they may have been absent is necessarily a form of blaming victims for the events that have befallen them," would have been considered laughable. Not because it didn't happen; laying blame at the feet of a person for their having been victimized by another person was a common way of taking sides or simply expressing a dislike of the victim. And, for that matter, it still is. But because the definition of "blaming the victim" that we commonly used was less about how one treated the subject of a crime, and more about how one felt the perpetrator ought to be treated.

That concept of "victim blaming," that actions on the part of the accuser could be viewed as an affirmative defense of the accused, hasn't gone away, but it's much less prevalent than it had been. And it's also become much less a part of the conversation around crime and punishment. When I was a child, it was generally understood that the criminal-justice system at times openly played favorites and one of the ways it did this was to look for ways in which an accuser could be said to have "brought something upon themselves." The ur-example of this was the woman who was raped after "leading a man on," but it was far from the only one. It was presumed that whenever society really wanted to let someone off the hook for something, they wouldn't rest until they'd found some aspect of the victim's life for which whatever crime had been perpetrated upon them was just deserts. That openly partisan aspect of society has somewhat fallen by the wayside. Not completely, but it's seemingly much less prevalent than it had been several decades ago. But the concept of blaming the victim is still with us, and usage of the term has been adapted to fit the present, rather than remain in the past.

What makes this sort of language evolution interesting is that it doesn't give one a way of differentiating between the older and newer usages of the term. Noting a failure to take a given precaution is a difference in quality ("mild" versus more severe) but not the difference in kind that we understood it be. Perhaps, as with understandings of privilege, this is a result of the fact that we didn't have a specific word that covers the modern usage of the term. In any event, it's an interesting change in the language; brought about by generation-driven cultural change. It won't be the last, and the future changes promise to be just as interesting.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What the Meaning of Trump Is

I have to admit that I'm well past the point of "Reasons why Donald Trump is bad person" fatigue. There seems to be a grand experiment running to see how many criticisms of past and present behavior it will take for Mr. Trump to cease to be a viable political candidate. Here's a hint; they are like the stars in the sky, none can count them.

What Donald Trump has managed to do, and, for that matter, what Bernie Sanders had also managed to do (if not quite to the same level) was convince a number of voters to move their ideological, worldview and identity investment from their political party to himself as an individual. And I think that this accounts for why Mr. Trump has become effectively bulletproof in a way that few, if any, other candidates for President have been.

It's true that not all Republican voters have made this switch. A good number of them likely still have their base investment in their political party and will vote for Mr. Trump out of loyalty to that party and to their desire to see the policies that it promotes remain viable in the years to come. Supreme Court nominations are an example of this. If Hillary Clinton wins next month's election she's going to have at least one empty seat on the bench to fill, and possibly a few. If she can get the ideological tilt to 6-3 in her favor, the chances of the conservative movement in America being able to use the courts to drive the policies they want will be greatly diminished, perhaps for a decade or more, even if they later manage to win both Congress and the White House later. That's likely a reason why any number of Republican voters are holding their noses, but planning to vote for Trump anyway; there are policy considerations that simply, well, trump any issues of character.

But it's safe to say that for a lot of people, Trump represents the idea that their ideologies, worldviews and identities are the right ones for the United States at this point. In noting that "Trump Is No Moral Exemplar—He's a Champion" The Atlantic's Yoni Applebaum says that Donald Trump's offer to use his driven pursuit of self-interest to reverse the supposed "decline and dysfunction" that so many Republican voters feel have overtaken the county "represents a repudiation of America’s civil religion, an abandonment of the notion that Americans share an individual and collective obligation to carry out God’s will."

I disagree with that assessment. And instead I offer this one: that for many Republican voters, especially those who considered themselves "working-class" and/or conservative Christian, it is secular, liberal, "elite" and urban America who have abandoned the national collective, and their own individual, responsibility to work God's will on the world. Everything from allowing for elective abortion as a family-planning tool to making the tax-exempt status of churches contingent on them staying out of politics to expecting politically-correct speech - all of these things seem like not only attacks on them as individuals, but attacks on the nation as a whole. Back in the halcyon days when the United States was on top of the world; when it was "wealthy," "strong," "powerful" and "safe;" back in the days when America was "great;" none of these things were an issue. Judeo-Christian values were encoded into the laws of the land, everyone was made to pledge allegiance to the flag, not believing in God was shameful and who cared if not everyone was allowed to vote? Everyone was better off. Sure, some people were dirt poor, uneducated and more or less legally bound to stay that way forever, but the streets were safe, everyone who wanted work could find it, families were headed by fathers and you could trust your neighbors to be there for you. Who wouldn't want that? What was so bad about it?

Like so many other things, "progress" was over-sold and it under-delivered, and so a sizeable number of people have decided that they don't want all of it. Sure, they like Social Security, and high technology but they can do without the porous border with Mexico, and the Green Energy initiatives and Donald Trump came along and told them: "You know what? You DO know what's best for the country."

People who are planning to vote for Mr. Trump understand the sort of nation they want to live in, and they understand that it's slipping away from them and this may be their last chance to keep that from happening. And if bringing that back means letting Donald Trump off the hook for the ridiculously high standards that we tend to apply to politicians (but rarely to ourselves), then they're going to do that. When Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed says: "[P]eople of faith are voting for president on issues like who will defend and protect unborn life, defund Planned Parenthood, grow the economy and create jobs, and oppose the Iran nuclear deal. I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns," that's exactly what he's speaking to.

Donald Trump is a different variety of politician than most of us are accustomed to. He defies the laws of "political gravity," and has shown an ability to ignore rules that don't suit him. There are good reasons for that; ignoring them won't make them go away.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Call Them What You Will

Don Gonyea: These separate discussions about Colorado in 2016 happened today and nearly 200 miles apart. The tone was always casual and very civil. The closest thing to name calling came when the Lenzes, on their farm in Yuma County, started talking about socialism. Here's Becky.

Becky Lenz: Listen to Hillary's speeches. And when she's offering to fix everything for everybody with some government program, that's socialism.

Gonyea: It is, they said, a label that can also be applied to Clinton's supporters. Back in Denver, Becca Sunshine-Dewitt said in response that she has a word to describe Donald Trump.

Becca Sunshine-Dewitt: And that word is bigot.

Gonyea: And she asked, what if she labeled all of his supporters as such?

Sunshine-Dewitt: And I think that if I used the term bigot to describe the farmers on the Eastern Plains, they would say, no, no, no. You don't understand us. That's not how we feel at all. And I think they're probably right. I think they probably don't feel that way.
In Colorado, The Rural-Urban Divide Looks Like 'Core Values' Vs. 'Progress'
One of the things that I've learned about people who throw around words like "Socialist" and "Bigot" as pejoratives to describe people who scare them - is that they've likely never actually met anyone who actually deserves, or would openly claim the label. Having met self-described Socialists and spend time chatting with dyed-in-the-wool White Supremacists, I can say that when people I've met call anyone more likely to vote more Democratic than themselves a "Socialist" or more Republican a "Bigot," they have had no idea of what the actual people who might better deserve these labels actually think or feel.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Not "So Bad"

The deposition of Donald Trump and his children in his lawsuit against restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian is available online as a PDF file, and I've been reading through it, having seen some snippets in various media outlets. You could spend a lot of time sifting through it for various points, so I'm simply going to throw out a couple that stood out for me. They're answers that Mr. Trump gave to Mr. Zakarian's lawyer.

I don't understand why, why they did this [backed out of the lease for the restaurant]. I'm running for office. I obviously have credibility because I now, as it turns out, became the Republican nominee running against, we have a total of 17 people that were mostly senators and governors, highly respected people. So it's not like, you know, like I've said anything that could be so bad. Because if I said something that was so bad, they wouldn't have had me go through all of these people and win all of these primary races. And I'm pretty even in the polls or close to even in the polls right now.
And a little later:
And I've tapped into illegal immigration. I've tapped into other things, also. But, you know, when you get more votes than anybody in the history of the party, history of the party by far, more than Ronald Reagan, more than Richard Nixon, more than Dwight D. Eisenhower who won the Second World War, you know, that's pretty mainstream, when you think about it.
These are interesting to me; not because of anything that they might reveal about Mr. Trump, but because I think that they're indicative a broader way of looking at prejudice, bigotry or what have you in the modern United States. Mr. Trump says that clearly couldn't have "said something that was so bad" because if he had, he wouldn't have garnered so many votes in state primary elections in his successful bid to be the Republican presidential nominee. In other words, people who say things that are "so bad" aren't accepted by the mainstream. And so one can use mainstream acceptance, or even approval of, one's words or deeds to demonstrate that they aren't so bad.

This has the effect of placing the people who don't accept, or who disapprove of, those words - the people who do feel that they are so bad, outside of the mainstream. And this has the side effect of making acceptance of what the mainstream decides is acceptable a prerequisite for being part of the mainstream.

But perhaps more to the point, and to be a bit more specific, what Donald Trump might say about Mexican immigrants (or the children of immigrants), Moslems and the Black community don't fall into the category of "so bad" because of what those people and their allies think of those statements. They would only fall into the category of "so bad" when the overwhelmingly White base of Trump's support decides that he's gone too far for them to support him, and his standing in the polls craters.

And I think that this is the general attitude that White America has adopted about itself - that it is the best judge of when what it does harms other people. And so when it can't see the harm, then no harm has been done. Which is not unreasonable in and of itself. A lot of people have adopted the general philosophy of if they can't understand why it's a problem, then it must not be a problem. Where I think that it causes problems is in the idea that the truly prejudicial must lie outside of the mainstream; and in this the mainstream holds itself harmless, regardless of what those outside the mainstream are saying.

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.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Do As I Say...

Late in her losing primary campaign against Barack Obama eight years ago, Hillary Clinton put out her “3 a.m. phone call” ad. The idea was that real presidents have to deal with crises at short notice and with very high stakes. According to the ad, then-Senator Clinton’s greater experience meant that she’d be better at making those 3 a.m. decisions than the relative-rookie Obama would be. If you supported Hillary Clinton, you found that persuasive. If you preferred Obama, as I did, you were less impressed.
James Fallows "Trump Time Capsule #123: Tweets at 3 a.m."
Look at what Mr. Fallows is saying here. It's a truism of American politics. Once someone has decided to support a candidate, messages matter less. Here, the implication that Mrs. Clinton may have been better suited to handle a sudden crisis in the middle of the night cut no ice with Mr. Fallows, not because of anything he tells us about the message, but because he'd already selected a candidate and was judging incoming information in light of that determination.

And this strikes me as par for the course in American politics, especially when any sort of strong partisan feeling is involved. So...
And I hate to say it again, but it’s still true: Republican officials from the Speaker of the House on down are still saying, He’s fine! Let’s make him Commander in Chief!
Why does Mr. Fallows, who otherwise strikes me as an intelligent and thoughtful person, expect any different from Trump supporters or the Republican leadership? The only other viable candidate in the race at this point is Hillary Clinton. Whom everyone knows is a Democrat. She's not the most Liberal of Democrats (which may be part of her problem in this election), but to most Republicans, that doesn't matter. Anyone who lists a (D) after their name on the ballot is an obviously wrong choice for whatever office it is, from President on down to Alderman.

Why should anyone who feels that ANY Republican is better than ANY Democrat find any of the negative things that one might say about Donald Trump persuasive? Why shouldn't they stick with the choice that they've already committed to, and that their short-term political fortunes arguably depend on? Republican officials from the Speaker of the House on down are, first and foremost, Republicans, and if there is one thing that the modern Republican party has always had an advantage at, it's maintaining party orthodoxy. Now, I've had people make the point that what's good for the nation should take precedence over what's good for the party, but that ignores one of the central pillars of modern (and perhaps traditional) partisanship - what's good for the party IS what's good for the nation.

People can say all they want that former Secretary of State Clinton's more even, and less vindictive, temperament means that she'll be better at making important decisions than the more volatile Donald Trump would be. People who support Hillary Clinton will find that persuasive. And no-one, not even Mr. Fallows, should be surprised that those who prefer Donald Trump (or just someone who isn't Hillary Clinton who has a chance at winning) is less impressed.