Thursday, January 2, 2020


In "The Inverted Likability Test," Yascha Mounk makes the point that when voters believe that candidates don't like them (or, more broadly, people like them), they're also likely to believe that those candidates will be more willing to trade away their rights and interests in favor of voters whom they do like. Accordingly, voters are assessing whether or not candidates appear to like and respect them; and this may be as, or more, important than whether or not a given voter likes the candidate. Mr. Mounk puts it this way: "A politician who finds the idea of spending time with [a given constituency] unpleasant is not going to balk at selling them out."

Mr. Mounk uses Senator Warren as the "how not to" example, citing what she said she'd "say to a supporter who told her that his faith teaches him that marriage is between one man and one woman."

The problem with Warren’s response is not that she strongly supports same-sex marriage. (Biden, who publicly pledged his support for legalizing same-sex marriage before Barack Obama, does too.) The problem is that she gave the impression that she would regard anybody who disagrees with her—or is married to someone who does—as a loser.
Mr. Mounk sees this as dangerous for the Democrats' chances of regaining the White House.
Maybe Kerry did not lose to Bush because people didn’t want to have a beer with him, then; maybe he lost because he gave the impression that he didn’t want to have a beer with them. If Democrats don’t change their ways, they may, for some of the same reasons, fail to stop an even more deeply flawed president from gaining a second term.
But didn't that same "even more deeply flawed president" effectively campaign on telling his supporter that he despised the same people that they despised? Sure, one can make the point that Secretary Clinton lost in 2016 because of her "basket of deplorables" comment. But between talk of "drug dealers," "rapists" and "enemies of the people," President Trump appears to have built up a solid base of people who will support him, no matter what. And he has no problem with regarding "those who disagree with him—even those with manifestly more knowledge and experience—[as] stupid, or slow, or crazy."

If one understands that part of the appeal of President Trump is that he was, and is, willing to put down those who disagree with him, or with the people who support him, as losers, it stands to reason that among the Democratic Party's contestants for the Presidency, there would be people willing to call out others as unintelligent, gullible or intentionally unethical. As trying as this might be as a personal quality, if it comes across as a winning political strategy, someone is going to adopt it, especially in an election where there stakes are perceived to be remarkably high. When winning becomes the only thing, risking loss in the name of civility seems like a fool's game. Perhaps, someone has reasoned that the reason Secretary Clinton list isn't that she was too dismissive of people who she understood weren't going to vote for her; rather they've concluded that she didn't go far enough in channeling the disdain that her voter base felt for the "basket of deplorables."

While I understand Mr. Mounk's point, his failure to address why the strategy appeared to work for President Trump, or why it's incorrect to think of the President as having used it, left a hole in the argument. As the parties drift farther apart, and, more and more, come to regard each other as deliberately evil, I think that overt political attacks of the sort that Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump have waged on their supporters' perceived enemies will become more commonplace. And if more people than President Trmp can ride them into the White House, I suspect that they'll become an enduring feature of the political landscape.

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