distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


February 03, 2017

Reality Check

The question came up in a recent discussion, “Why are you so sure if more people had voted they would have voted for Hillary?”  Well, I’m not.  I am fairly certain most of them would not have voted for Trump.  I base that on a very simple number:  Trump pulled the base that always votes that way and in fact received fewer votes than Mitt Romney.  You can try to spin that any way you like, but to my mind that says something very significant.  Namely that the GOP in its current manifestation is utterly dependent on two things to stay in office—that base and keeping the rest of the country disaffected from the political process. They do this by a number of strategies, the two most important being propaganda about their opponents and redistricting in key states.  A host of lesser strategies added to these have effectively suppressed votes in some areas while largely throwing the opposing electorate into a bog of ambivalence about their political choices.

For their part, the opposition—Democrats, liberals, so-called socialists, and a variety of smaller categories with perhaps less clearly defined boundaries—have played into this by a combination of solicitude and poor explication of their positions.  As well, it seems that they have failed to connect with the ground level concerns of those who normally would be their natural constituents, namely working class people being displaced by the changing economic and social ecology.

To be clear, when I say solicitude, what I mean is the perfectly reasonable and basically preferable practice of bipartisan cooperation in order to move the business of the people forward.  We have a rich history to show that this always works best and it is natural to assume it is the way to govern most effectively. However, it presumes a two-way street, give and take.  When one side or the other decides that no matter what, cooperation is not on the table, then it behooves the other side to understand the new paradigm and respond accordingly.  When you see the kind of obdurate obstruction on the part of your opponent that we have seen for the last eight years, it becomes frustrating to see your preferred representatives continually yielding in an attempt to “work with” the other side.  That willingness is being used quite opportunistically to undermine programs and run a cynical power grab to their own benefit. The Democrats for their part seem not to be willing to risk losing what seats and positions they have to form a line and push back against this, possibly because what information they get from whatever sources they use tells them people wouldn’t like it.  They might even feel retributions for such resistance could cost ordinary people.  Whatever the reason, they have been unwilling to play as dirty as their Republican counterparts, at least in the public’s view, and this has resulted in continual loss of confidence.

To be clear, “playing dirty” is not something either side should be doing on our behalf, at least not with each other, but it is a reality.  The Right has a plan, or at least a goal, and they have adhered to it with religious fervor.  One thing we should note is that criticisms of that goal based on the undesirability of it play poorly.  Telling someone that what they just voted for will result in a loss of civil liberties for a particular group has no moral traction because that is exactly what the desired outcome is.  When you say to someone who seems to be on this bandwagon “But you’re taking away their rights!” it is as if an imp of the perverse in the depths of their psyché claps its hands in glee and shouts “They shouldn’t have those rights in the first place!”

We must be clear about this.  Legislation based on the notion that certain groups, however they’re defined, should not have certain rights—which in the parlance of the Right comes out as “privileges” instead of rights—we cannot confront this by trying to explain to them how they misunderstand the nature of such things. As far as they’re concerned, they misunderstand nothing.  Their desired outcome is to suppress.  What needs to be done—and is being done by many—is to confront and declare that they are flat wrong.  And their success will bite them in the end when they lose their rights.  Or are they privileges?

It is unpopular and unpleasant to recognize a basic misapprehension about rights.  We have floated for centuries now on the belief that rights are somehow Natural.  The Natural Law argument which informed most Enlightenment thinking, which is the thinking that defined the context in which the Founders constructed our national image, may have considerable to recommend it, and we could have a very healthy discussion about it, but we aren’t talking here about nature but politics.  The reality is, and has always been, that a right is an artificial construct, and is only as true as our ability to assert it in the face of antagonistic forces seeking counter-advantages.  This is why we put such stock in so-called Rule of Law.  If a right were so self-evident, as we like to say, why would we need law to establish it, define it, and defend it?  We may wax philosophical about “natural rights” all we want, but rights do not exist in nature, they are the product of intellect and political will.

This is unpopular for many reasons, but one of the chief in our present era is that it demands responsible participation, and for people who do not wish to be bothered this is burdensome.

Seldom in our history have the consequences of not wanting to be bothered come so viscerally home.

Why do I say that?  Because, depending on which breakdown you look at, the entire edifice of the current Right is in power based on less than a quarter of the electorate. Somewhere between 35% and 50% nonparticipation in regular elections—all of them, not just national, but it is in national elections where the consequences are so dramatically evident—means that a minority always determines the political complexion of the country.  It may well be that the true majority of Americans prefer what we have now, but we don’t know because people do not vote.

Voter suppression is real, however.  Let’s not forget that. In fact, that alone is illustrative of my point above about rights.  The right to vote ought to be a given, so how could it be possible to deny it to so many people?  One example that rarely rises to the surface in such estimates is the approximately six million people denied the vote outright due to felony convictions.  If voting is a “right” then why should that be allowed?  Redistricting—gerrymandering—has resulted in distortions of state elections and subsequently a distortion of the electoral college outcomes.  The Supreme Court overturn of the Voting Rights Act resulted in the closing down of several hundred polling sites, overwhelmingly in the south and overwhelmingly in African American and Hispanic districts.

But this kind of thing has been the case for a long time now and we have seen higher voter turnout even when it has been difficult for many people.  Ninety million people did not participate this past November, which suggests that all the effort to dissuade as well as suppress paid off.  Because Americans have traditionally disdained politics, advantage was taken.

All the major news sources failed to behave ethically, some morally.  Trump received an inordinate amount of free air time and in a culture that values celebrity the way we do, negative coverage can be just as useful as good coverage.  Any careful analysis of what he said on the campaign trail shows he had very little of any substance.  Hillary Clinton demonstrated clear superiority in all three of her debates with him—command of facts, comprehension of the global situation, a set of policy positions—while his entire rebuttal amounted to “She’s a nasty woman.”

Uncharitably but realistically, one can only conclude that people did not vote for her because they didn’t like the way she dressed.

The argument that she carried a “lot of baggage” is simply another way to avoid the responsibilities of reason and the requirements of citizenship.  During the course of the campaign, as details emerged, and material was made available, it became increasingly clear that most of the negativity about her was baseless, that in fact she proved to be even more honest than her chief rival, Bernie Sanders (a fact which surprised even me), but overcoming well-nurtured antipathies and working through the tsunami of rightwing invective about her apparently proved to be too much effort.

During the campaign one could make the argument that Trump’s opposition was based on the same kinds of detractions—smear—and that once he was in office it would be different.

I doubt any reasonable person, even one who voted for him, in the secret chambers of their own heart, thinks he is doing the job they may have imagined him doing.

On the other hand, maybe he is.  Maybe what was desired was no more than validation in the office of the president of their basic belief that government does not work.  Maybe they put him there purely to prove their opinion—uninformed, ill-considered, often bitter and sometimes malevolent—was right.

Whatever their reasons, what should concern us all is that so many who most likely feel otherwise felt it acceptable to stay home.

But to return for a moment to the current situation.  Trump’s selections for his cabinet demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of the purpose of the office. He is surrounding himself with mediocrities.  Nixon did the same thing, but he also had a few people who actually knew what they were doing.  The conflicts of interest alone ought to disqualify most of these people, but the Republican majority is proceeding to try to rubberstamp them.  To be clear, Rex Tillerson is not a mediocrity—but clearly he has no business being there.  I’m sure some would disagree, but his financial ties to Russia alone argue against him, and right now a bill is being introduced in the Senate to repeal a disclosure law that sheds light on foreign bribes which has been a thorn in the side of Exxon.

Trump did not seem to be aware that Steve Bannon would have to be approved by the Senate before taking a seat on the national security council.  This is basic knowledge.

We can continue, but his supporters will not care.  What is important is that those rights of which I spoke must be recognized as at risk and that relying on the privilege of never having been a target to remain uninvolved is inexcusable.

Lastly, regarding Trump, is the question of moral suitability.  “Giving him a chance” is an empty plea.  When he mocked Serge Kovaleski, he demonstrated a clear absence of moral capacity. How can I say that?  He was just goofing?  No.  This is basic.  This was at the level of courtesy, it is so basic.  We don’t even consider it in the context of moral failing because we view it in terms of good manners.  But this was a powerful man making fun of a less powerful man in public (South Carolina) in order to discredit him.  Rather than attack the news article that prompted the attack, he attacked Kovaleski’s handicap.  That is the tactic of a bully.

No.  Special pleading, “Oh, he didn’t mean it”, attempts at recontextualizing it after the fact, none of that alters the fact that he behaved boorishly, without regard for another human being, attacking—mocking—the thing that had nothing to do with any issue at hand, and then lying about it afterward.  That was a test and he failed.  And if you voted for him, you failed, too.

So, reality check:  Supposedly, you voted to “Make America Great Again.”  How is that working out?  We have a bully in the White House who instead of “draining the swamp” is importing more alligators.  None of them have a thing in common with you unless you’re a member of the seven figures annually club (and most of them probably did not vote for him).  He is threatening to end longtstanding agreements around the world, given verbal approval to Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear programs, annoyed China to the point where a war is at least imaginable, appointed people to his cabinet with zero expertise in the fields chosen for them, thrown hissyfits on Twitter over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, placed gag orders on various agencies, made promises he is either backing out of or revising to fit the feedback he gets from FOX News, has anointed  a xenophobe as his chief strategist, threatened long-settled law with Executive Orders, allowed that a man dead since 1882 is an African American who has done great work that is being recognized more and more, asked for  prayer at the first national prayer breakfast for the new host of one of his reality shows, and has yet to release his tax returns while threatening American businesses and playing with their futures by indiscriminately tweeting about them.  He has given tacit approval to the president of the Philippines for his “program” of murdering alleged drug dealers in the streets without due process and he has gotten into a flame war with the president of Mexico over a wall that would do nothing to alleviate a problem he has no real concept about in the first place.  He has signed an order barring immigration based on religion—no, it is, because we have it on record that he asked several people, especially Giuliani, how he could legally keep Muslims out of the country, so his backpedaling on that is for naught—while not barring immigration from countries we already know have originated terrorists that did us harm.  He is restarting the antipathies with Iran that over two decades of diplomacy was beginning to alleviate and get us to a point of normalizing relations with, in spite of their presumed leadership, what is really is a moderate country and could be an ally given the right moves on our part. He has placed people’s lives in jeopardy over this for no reason other than apparently a lot of his supporters are scared to death of people who dress funny and speak with an accent.  The only reason he has apparently, for now, backed off of attacking LGBTQ rights is that a “friend” of his called and asked him not to.

There is no thoughtful consideration evident in any of this.

While all this is going on, at the state level we have a sea of Republican controlled legislatures and governors who are passing Right To Work bills designed to strip unions of any serious power and although we have seen the consequences of such laws in state after state wherein standard of living and even environmental conservation erode in their wake, somehow the people voting for these representatives believe it won’t happen to them.

My conclusion is that such votes are driven by spite.  The almost volcanic eruption of people who suddenly realized that they might loser their healthcare under the man they voted for is telling.  It’s just probable that they thought it would only affect Those People Over There, the ones they’ve been told to fear and hate, who have been “getting away with things” and “cut in line” and “get things they don’t deserve.”  Along with that, the number of people who apparently did not understand that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were one in the same thing, while marginally amusing on one level, is stunning example of the corrupting power of corporate media.

Next up is the privatization of Social Security and MediCare.  I’m sure some people think doing so won’t change a thing and then maybe congress can balance the budget and pay off the national debt.  I’m sure some feel that way.

I’m sure.

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