Saturday, January 18, 2020

All's Unfair

The headline, like most, is designed to be attention-grabbing: "Trump Is a Remorseless Advocate of Crimes Against Humanity." But it's nothing surprising. Slate is, after all, a left-learning commentary and opinion site; it's little wonder they would be at odds with President Trump. The article itself was also designed to preach to the choir, to remind people who don't like the President of why they don't like the President and to arm them with talking points to take into pointless debates with people who do like the President. While the point of the article is that the President is an amoral bully who doesn't care about the way things ought to be done, something else also comes out of the portrayal: President Trump is an advocate for the idea of American superiority, and the idea that entitlement comes with such superiority.

What counts as genuine proof of strength has always been in debate. One argument says that strength is the ability to take what one wants or needs without needing to worry about the consequences. Another says that strength is the ability to refrain from imposing on others. If there is a camp that says that American greatness has come from being able to get along in the world without stooping to the idea that might makes right, there is another that presumes that might is greatness, and weilding it strongly is one's right.

But for most people, that's all just philosophy. What matters to them is how do they do better for themselves tomorrow than they were doing yesterday. And they'll follow whichever path they understand is in their interests to follow. President Trump, to all appearances, believes that the strong prosper by using their strength against any who would interfere with that prosperity, regardless of their reasons, and irrespective of what anyone else has to say about it. And for the segment of the population that voted for him out of a sense of being left behind in favor of others who were less deserving, that resonates. Not because they would necessarily choose the same tactics and strategies that the President has, but because they understand that the result will be an improvement in their fortunes. And if this is the path that brings that improvement, so be it.

And this is worth understanding, because if one is going to say that the United States should be a kinder, gentler place than President Trump would have it be, one should be prepared to make the case as to how this serves people in the end. Telling them that they are wealthy enough that they are required to be magnanimous falls flat when people don't feel themselves to be wealthy. And we see this over and over again. Adam Serwer's article in The Atlantic, "Civility Is Overrated," is subtitled "The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false promise of civility." If, as Mr. Serwer, points out, "Civility, in other words, is treating Trump how Trump wants to be treated, while he treats you however he pleases," the case can be made that for the President, the rules of war, in other words, are treating the enemies of the United States how those enemies want to be treated, while they treat the United States however they please.

It's worth pointing out that if everyone always insists on playing the game at the level of the most ruthless and driven players, then it simply degenerates. But the problem with that analogy comes when people stop seeing the situation as a game, and instead as a matter of life and death, prosperity and poverty or equality and oppression. Then the stakes become too high for rules that people don't feel are in their interests. When winning is the only thing that matters, how one gets there becomes unimportant.

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