Sunday, February 24, 2019

Problem Statements

Trump equating the failure of the Chavista state in Venezuela with the European-style reforms proposed by Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and others is dishonest. There’s room to criticize proposals like Medicare for all and free college tuition as unrealistic or unwise without hyperbole. Trump and his allies have also offered exaggerated, inaccurate descriptions of the Green New Deal.
David A. Graham, "Trump's New Red Scare"
But this is unsurprising in a political environment where casting fear, uncertainty and doubt on alternatives is considered to be the most effective argument in favor of one's own position.

The fact of the matter is, and it pretty much always is, that there will be winners and losers. I'm not sure that there is anything to be done about that in any society that hasn't managed to convincingly conquer scarcity. And it may be a simple truism of politics that the easiest way to appeal to the winners (and aspiring winners) is to tell them what they suspected to be true all along, that they're doing it right, and the people who are offering different ways of doing things are poisoning the easily-addled minds of the weak. Weak enough to be losers, and perhaps worse still, weak enough to not realize that, solely due to their own faults, they will always be losers.
“Socialism promises prosperity, but it delivers poverty,” Trump said. “Socialism promises unity, but it delivers hatred and it delivers division. Socialism promises a better future, but it always returns to the darkest chapters of the past. That never fails. It always happens. Socialism is a sad and discredited ideology rooted in the total ignorance of history and human nature, which is why socialism, eventually, must always give rise to tyranny, which it does.”
None of this is proof that capitalism, either genuine free-market or the "business over all" sort that tends to hold sway in the United States, is any better. After all, the United States has poverty, division and, to some people, tyranny, in abundance. Otherwise, there would be little interest in socialism as an alternative.

Positive messages, affirmative statements of what a particular system will bring to people are hard. They create expectations, and with those expectations comes the chance for disappointment if they are not met. True believers may be willing to declare whatever happens the target, but those people whose support is based on the promise of tangible benefits will be expecting those benefits to materialize.

Hyperbolic threats of disaster, on the hand, are, easier promises to deliver on. As long as the nation doesn't descend into poverty, hatred, division and tyranny (at least no farther than is usual) then the defenders of capitalism can claim victory by simple virtue of the fact that they've maintained the very status quo that has given rise to an interest in socialism to begin with.

Socialism was conceived as a response to a problem. True, if you're winning at what we in the United States gamely insist on referring to as "capitalism," the existence of socialism might be a problem, itself; but it was designed to solve a problem that the economic status quo of the time was unready, unwilling and/or unable to solve.

And while President Trump slanders, in Mr. Graham's opinion, the Green New Deal, Medicare for all and free college tuition, what's important is the omission of any other solutions to the problems that these policies are designed, however imperfectly to solve. While President Trump tells his base of support that they are the forgotten people, he doesn't offer that no-one will be forgotten. His base appears to want that other people are sent to the oubliette, at least, that's a large part of what he's offering. And that is what will lead, if it goes on long enough, to the very outcome he inveighs against, one way or another. Either some or another election will place into office enough supporters of whichever brand of Socialism to move policy forward, or a majority will move to prevent such an election from coming about giving rise to tyranny, even if the backers of said tyranny would be unlikely to describe it as such.

And this is the problem with scares; the deployment of fear, uncertainty and doubt becomes an alternative to actually understanding, and remediating the problems that lead to the initiative that one is scared of.

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