Mea Culpa

I’ve never been very prolific with respect to posting on this blog, and certainly not consistent.  Even an election campaign featuring one of the most obviously unfit candidates for President in American history didn’t change this pattern much.  Still, I wrote two posts arguing that Donald Trump could not possibly win the election.

Well, I damn sure got that one wrong. I simply could not bring myself to believe that American voters would elect a incompetent buffoon* President simply because he promised things no one actually believed he would or could do and said the quiet racist and xenophobic parts out loud.

Like many liberals I checked out of politics for a while after the election.  I simply could not stomach watching Trump’s Keystone Cops transition.  And of course I went into yet another blogging hiatus.

Until, a week or so ago I took a look at Foggy Bottom Line to make sure everything still worked and noticed a rare comment – this one from a Trump supporter:

HaHa! Don’t you feel stupid.

He won and you haven’t had much to say since.

Liberalism is cancer. Hell, you guys can’t even determine how many genders there are. Yet, you’re so scientific and stuff.

It’s time we move on. Nationalism today. Nationalism tomorrow. Nationalism forever.

You’re losing progressives. Your powers are receding. Your spell casts upon humanity is vanishing. Your grip on Western Civilization is weakening and the forces of the Right are prying it from your pale bony hands. Your protest and lamentations are convulsions, the last final death throes of a rotten and corrosive ideology soon to be erased, replaced, and forgotten.

We president now.

Not much here but name-calling and unfounded assertions about where American voters are politically.  Yes, Donald Trump is President now, thanks to an anti-democratic election system designed to protect the political power of slave states.  But it’s important to remember that no liberal Presidential candidate has lost the popular vote since 1988.  And if winning the Presidency demonstrates primacy of a particular ideology, I would have been right about Trump – Barack Obama, after all, won the Presidency – twice – in the name of liberalism (albeit not the most progressive kind).  So it’s not clear how this very close election – won more or less on a technicality – demonstrates an ideological wave moving right.  And it begs the question: how long before Trump’s “spell casts (sic) on humanity” vanishes?  How long before (white?) “Nationalism” loses its new “grip on Western Civilization?”

Nevertheless, I do indeed feel stupid.  Stupid because I seriously never saw President Donald Trump coming.  Stupid because I never dreamed that “nationalism,” (white nationalism?) had gripped so many Americans as a governing philosophy.  But mostly stupid because I didn’t raise my voice loudly or often enough to help prevent it.

If progressive liberal ideology is in fact “soon to be erased, replaced, and forgotten,” I don’t intend to remain silent as it does.  No, I have not had much to say since Donald Trump won the Electoral College.  I aim to fix that.

*I mean…the man lost a billion dollars running a casino.  You have to work hard at stupid to make that happen.  The only case in known gambling history of the house losing – and bigly.

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Sunday Morning Coffee, Snowed In Edition

National Review stood across Donald Trump’s path to the Republican nomination shouting stop! this week with a series of essays by a who’s-who of the right-wing movement. Their argument amounts to “Trump is no Conservative” and it’s pretty rich coming as it does from the folks who basically created this monster.  Do yourself a favor and click that second link – Jeb Lund has a funny take and writes well in the Matt Taibbi mold.

One way the conservative movement has paved the way for a demagogue like Trump: consolidation of power through ignorance.  People are more likely to believe we can actually build a wall along the Mexican border when they’ve been trained to reject critical thinking in favor of conspiracy theory while distrusting our most basic institutions.  You can find a lot of good writing at Hullaballoo these days, by the way.

Democrats apparently also go after each other with “bile and bullshit.”   Corey Robin documents much of the atrocity of Clinton attacks on Bernie Sanders at Crooked Timber.  Note number 10, where Robin points out that the term “Socialist” may not carry the negative weight some people think.  I highly recommend Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind, by the way.

Speaking of books, a couple I’d like to read once I’ve finished Robert Reich’s book Saving Capitalism.  Kevin Kruse’s book connecting corporate attacks on the New Deal with the rise of religiosity in America, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, looks like an important read if this review accurately captures it.  And Jane Mayer writes to broaden our understanding of how the wealthy use their resources to influence public policy in her new book, Dark Money.  Alan Ehrenhalt reviews it for The New York Times here.

Finally this morning another armed moron has an accident with his firearm.  This one is especially rich – he felt like he needed a gun for self-protection in church.  Maybe God is trying to tell him something.  And maybe I need to start a new series: Moron Labe.

 

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Elections as Popularity Contests

I just read this post at Bearing Drift and posted a comment.  The author, Brian Shoeneman, is a Virginia GOP activist who has run for local office on old-school conservative policies.  He comes across to me as an establishment conservative who reveres the past and finds himself annoyed that Donald Trump, Tea Party activists, and other extremists have hijacked his Republican Party.  In the old joke about how many Virginians it takes to change a light bulb, Brian Shoeneman is the one holding the ladder and waxing eloquently about how great the old light bulb was.

Here Shoeneman complains that elections come down to popularity contests, and rational voters, who “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability” don’t exist.  As examples he uses Trump of course, but also Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  To be sure, he has named three popular politicians (though I would say that Trump appeals to a much more limited constituency), but he says nothing about the reason why people like them so much.  Charisma matters, but I point out in my comment that policy matters as well.

Since the comment is rather long and makes what I think is an important point about why some Americans seem to like Donald Trump so much I thought I would repost my comment here:

This is an interesting, but in my view rather superficial, take on the election campaigns so far. A couple of thoughts.

First, let me challenge your assertion that voters don’t “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability.” For starters, the chief hermeneutic voters use to select a candidate is party identification. Those without the free time to spend conducting detailed research start by assuming that Republicans and Democrats differ in certain fundamental ways. This is why the core attack made on Trump is that he’s not really a Republican, and he’s not a “conservative.” His opponents try to tell voters not to apply this hermeneutic to Donald Trump. So yes, ideology makes a lot of difference.

I would also respectfully suggest that your Clinton and Obama examples do not support your claim. Bill Clinton won the Presidency on some very specific policy proposals – raise taxes on the wealthy to fix the budget and health care system, energy conservation and environmental protection to name two – against a very popular incumbent President. Barack Obama also ran on a specific policy platform that included higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for economic stimulus and ensuring better access to health care and ending needless war in the Middle East, among other ideas. To the extent these elections were “popularity contests” it’s because the policies these candidates proposed made them…popular.

Donald Trump is popular for another reason: he has tapped into residual white (especially male) anger at changes in American society that threaten their power. He appeals to the Warmac9999s of the world by suggesting that American is no longer great because we’ve let in too many brown people and given to much voice to women. These people are pissed because they can no longer express racist, bigoted, and sexist opinions without someone calling them out. This explains the emphasis on “political correctness” and the fact that evangelicals support Trump – note that a key reason his supporters like him is that he “speaks the truth.”

Conservatives have spent the last 45 years demonizing government and any effort to create an egalitarian society. They did this mostly in the service of corporations by enlisting religious leaders and disaffected white men using dog-whistle messages (e.g., “welfare queens”). As wealth inequality has grown, women assert themselves more, and the country becomes demographically more diverse these disaffected white men seek a hero. Donald Trump is popular with this constituency not because he’s famous. He’s popular with them because the believe he agrees with them that Mexicans cause their economic woes, Muslims cause their security fears, and no one can say the truth about this because “political correctness.” Warmac9999 and his ilk like Trump because they think he’ll “make American great again” by giving them the specific policies they want: a wall to keep Mexicans out, deportation of Muslims, and government support for rhetoric that accepts racist and sexist attacks on people they don’t like. He’s not popular because he’s famous and on television a lot. He’s popular because he gives angry white Americans license to express their racism and bigotry openly.

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Sunday Morning Coffee

It’s difficult to overstate how much the Select Committee on Benghazi hearing on Thursday helped Hillary Clinton.   Republicans on the panel came across as defensive, dishonest, and disrespectful.  Secretary Clinton looked…Presidential…while withstanding a total of about 11 hours of interrogation.  She appeared to be in control of the facts, the proceedings, and herself.  Conservatives by and large agreed.

Republicans held this hearing because they wanted to showcase their attacks on Secretary Clinton.  The problem is that their attacks have no real factual basis – they cannot show that Clinton did anything wrong.  That they refused to back off – and instead gave her a golden opportunity to prove it – showcases the poor political judgement of the people Republicans send to Congress these days. But if you think Trey Gowdy is an amateur, wait until the new special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood.starts holding hearings.  This Committee will attempt to use demonstrably fake videos to make a case for withdrawing federal funding from the organization.  Like the Benghazi Committee hearings on Thursday this will backfire by giving those they’re out to get a prominent platform on which to defend themselves.

Check out this post attacking Congressman Dave Brat on immigration at Bearing Drift, self-described as “Virginia’s Conservative Voice.” This blog provides a broad range of conservative voices and sometimes even offers valid and well-reasoned challenges to liberal thought.  But the real fun comes in the comments when the more…activist…wing of the Republican Party stops by to show its bigotry. As an example take a look at this comment from “mpolito.”  To this person blacks and Hispanics “are more prone to crime [and] welfare use…emphatically, unequivocally, and consistently.”  And the only way to stop them is to put them all in jail.  As of right now this post has 231 comments, all too many of them in this bigoted vein.

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Cloward-Piven, Saul Alinsky, and Right Wing Fever Dreams

On Election Day I met a gentleman named Tom White, a local Hanover County Virginia IT consultant and insurance salesman who runs a conservative blog called Virginia Right!  He seemed a nice enough man whose knowledge of local politics suggested connections to the Hanover County conservative political machines that I thought might be interesting.  We chatted for a few minutes about local and national politics.

Intrigued, I took a look at his website hoping for new insights into conservative thought and perhaps some discussion of local Tea Party strategy.  Sadly, Mr. White’s blog reproduces the misreading of reality found at NoVATownHall but with none of the intellectual/insider take offered at Bearing Drift. Continue reading

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