28 March 2016

Thoughts on Drumpf

"For one thing, what’s wrong with a lot of what he says isn’t about truth or falsity but moral repugnance. If you are an adult and you don’t know why it’s insane for Trump to mock prisoners of war or call for intentionally killing innocent family members of terrorists there’s nothing the media can tell you to change that. The government already spent twelve years paying to educate these people for eight hours a day five days a week and for many that apparently didn’t work. I’m not sure how an hour of Anderson Cooper every night is going to accomplish much." I've been looking at this narrative for a while, several months really; that the problem is that the media covered him too much. Except that at the outset, the media more or less chose to ignore him. Various entities have tried to boycott or block him. The whole thing is a mess. There's also been a lot of work involved in this idea that dismisses the behavior and ideas of his followers. I don't think that's necessary at all. This sort of thing was an ugly possibility anywhere. The US has never quite embraced it. Not for decades at least. Some of the uglier Progressive era policies (which accounts for most of the stuff Wilson and Hoover did), maybe? The campaign involved in Prohibition often resembles this. Jim Crow does also. Huey Long got shot before anything came up there. Father Coughlin went off the air (because of the war). Andrew Jackson might be the last populist to succeed in American politics at this level and he won a major battle in a war that was already technically over to allow him to pretend to be a war hero (incidentally, he was also a POW). Trump doesn't have even this kind of faux credibility. (To be clear, Jackson was probably one of the worst Presidents in US history, and this is largely why). So even this modest possibility of capturing a nomination of a major political party suggests an institutional problem has occurred in the country to create this. I would put forward the proposition that the media did not do this. They didn't create several million people willing to vote for this idiot. Though they certainly haven't helped (bending over backward to talk to him, and thus giving him free airtime instead of making him pay for his primary campaign in order to get publicity and attention, not the best idea in the world). That means WE are the problem. The public. The populace has to be in a position to embrace a populist. We created this. Expecting the media to mediate it, to reduce it, or to push us away from what (some of) the public tends to be, when it tends to endorse as darker and more craven impulses, that's not going to work. We have had a series of curious moral failures. Large numbers of the public believe torture is morally acceptable. Huge numbers of Republicans do, but that there are not acceptably large numbers of liberals and Democrats who reject such a policy, and indeed who do not insist on the treaty agreements that were put into place by Ronald Reagan (of all people), that we should prosecute violations of torture and human rights ordered by or carried out by our government officials, is suggestive this is a deeper problem than merely red state politics running off the deep end. We shouldn't have to waste time explaining why these are not things Americans should do; torturing captives. Bombing civilians deliberately. Murdering families. Excluding thousands of suffering people from emigrating away from their homes because of their religious prayers referencing Allah instead of Jesus. Vast numbers of people apparently believe these are acceptable behaviors now. How did that happen? Who is to blame? Fear? Maybe. Rage? More likely. Ours has historically been an optimistic culture. Even as it recognizes that it fails miserable to live up to that promise of opportunity, freedom, fairness, justice. A certain amount of idealised nonsense pervades what constitutes patriotic fervor at any time, a certain amount of blindness is necessary to pretend this is a great thing. "A noble experiment." It seems clear that there is among us a certain subset of people who perhaps felt that experiment was fine so long as they believed that experiment was rigged to favor people like themselves. This belief has collapsed for some number of people. Trump does better (if not his best) in counties that voted heavily for George Wallace. That was nearly 50 years ago. Entire generations of families have been raised and grown old since. These counties apparently have had nothing better to do than to harbor and protect resentments. Few of them have changed substantially, apparently. I can't in good conscience defend such people and their views, to shield them by giving them the excuse that it "was not their fault". These views, given form in a public figure, are morally repulsive. As are the people who hold them. We were supposed to conclude in 2008, I felt erroneously, that racism had been destroyed. That our resentments were no more. I think it is clear from events since that this is not the case. We were to conclude that the death of Osama bin Laden meant that the "war on terror" was over. Cynically, I was aware this would not be the case. And that fear remains a powerful weapon to exploit. But that fear existed before most of these people had ever heard of OBL. If it is fear that these people are engaged with, and wrestling with, I am not the best messenger for overcoming it. I do not recognize most of these as valid fears ("race wars", fear of other religious beliefs, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants). Indeed, I find there is no evidence in support of any of these to be generalized as policies, or carried out in our names. Such fears are unreasonable and best suffered and indulged alone and in private than as a public recrimination. But if it is rage that drives us, and in turn hatred and not merely fear. That is something else entirely.
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