10 November 2016

Many words, here instead of elsewhere

Most of my annoyance in the last week or two has gotten filtered into facebook posts among friends. But I'm also encountering now some of their own forms of annoyance. I have some thoughts.

Blaming third party voters is a waste of time. This was bad political strategy during the campaign for Clinton and her surrogates to go after Jill Stein or Gary Johnson supporters. It isn't any smarter now after the fact. What appears to have happened in the narrative of the campaign's history is she used those initial attacks, and the debates, and the grab 'em by the pussy statements to consolidate her more liberal support among third party voters (this is suggested by polling at any rate) back in early October which allowed her to get out to a significant polling lead. That left a solid cohort of "true believers", people who almost always vote third party and probably would not vote at all if they were forced to vote for Clinton or Trump, and whatever portion of that vote may have preferred Trump to her but were uneasy about actually voting for him, plus some portion of people who lived in non-competitive states and wished to voice an opinion.

Voters do appear to have engaged in some strategic voting, to reduce the chances of a swing state being carried by Trump as third party vote totals in close states like Florida are extremely low, while states like New Mexico or Utah were not. But what appears to have happened is not that this third party vote preferred Clinton uniformly and thus that the millions of Stein and Johnson voters could have swung the election to her, but that those votes went to Trump instead at the moment of truth in the ballot box. There is some math involved, which I will spare people, but so far it appears Johnson's presence on the ballot, and Evan McMullin's occasional presence, may have flipped Minnesota and New Hampshire to Clinton based on who showed up to vote and who Johnson's support was drawn from. Colorado is a possibility as well. This is in spite of Stein and Johnson possibly flipping Wisconsin and, especially, Michigan to Trump. What does this mean? Well it does not mean Clinton would have won. That would require a very different universe of voters turning out than who did.

There are two major flaws with this argument that the problem for Clinton was third party voters. First that the major party vote is deserved by even this small sliver of protesting voters who may have quixotic political views that are better reflected by minor parties. The best response to that is to make a pitch to appeal to those odd views in some way. Based on what I see Stein putting forward as her views on many issues, that was not very likely to be very similar to Hillary Clinton. In some cases, that's a good thing. She's weird, and her views are weird on a number of issues. Appealing to some of them as a mainstream Democrat, even a farther leftist one, would be weird and probably not ultimately helpful for winning an election. This is also true of Johnson voters and libertarians, except there the typical appeal is from mainstream Republicans. Like many third party candidates, Gary Johnson appears to have been a very awkward and bumbling representative for his overlying philosophy for governance: a bleeding-heart-libertarianism, which has some appeal to younger voters, and younger Republicans or conservatives especially. Still, expecting conservatives to decide Hillary Clinton is a good choice to vote for again suggests a very strange correlation based on the history of conservative media and its coverage of the Clinton family. Based on my understanding of conservative views, there were a great many who did not favor Trump's agenda. But they were not fond of Clinton's either. They may have presumed or calculated that it would be easier to manipulate Trump's than Clinton's into something they would find livable. You can disagree with that calculation, or point out that it does not account for a bunch of other things that you think are important, or point out that Clinton might actually be better for their preferred agenda, but that appeal has to be made. I do not think it was. It was instead assumed that third party votes should just not exist, and that all voters must obviously favor one candidate over the other and should vote accordingly. That this is the prevailing attitude both during the campaign and persisting afterward is not encouraging that Democrats and liberals have learned anything by this experience.

Second, the bigger flaw is to assume that these votes substantially preferred the candidate you did. They do not. "Libertarian" votes historically go to Republican candidates, not Democratic ones. Johnson tried to make a pitch to more socially tolerant or socially liberal voters, Bernie Bros for example, as well as civil libertarians of all political stripes. And maybe that's a chunk of the support he had left. But he also had a chunk of support from anti-Trump voters that didn't like Clinton either. And some who genuinely liked neither. It is not as simple as to look at his vote total and assume it would all go in the Clinton column, or the Trump column.The math from late polls suggests he was no longer drawing evenly, and the math from the disparity of polls and state election results suggests a bunch of his residual anti-Trump voters decided to give in and vote for Trump. What this means, in mathematical terms, is he was suppressing Trump's vote more than he was Clinton's by being on the ballot and attracting votes. It is wishful thinking to assume otherwise.

The appropriate response to all of this was not "third party voters are evil and stupid", and it certainly does not appear to be "third party voters have just created a fascist dictatorship because they're stupid", but rather "my candidate better reflects your agenda than this other person, and here is why". Or perhaps listen a little to why they do not think so. Many of these voters are otherwise normal people with weird habits and views. Some of them have very reasonable disagreements with either of the major political party candidates on issues of substance and significance.

And well. Some are just assholes. I for one will not miss the influence of alt-right, Ayn Rand fans, and the voters thereof upon the libertarian movement in favor of more classically liberal views. Go home to the Republican party and stay there. Libertarians as a political movement seem to be doing just fine at growing their support base without you anyway. I regard that as a good thing. I do not regard it as a good thing that you were apparently this numerous however.

There are some problems with the third party vote. Most notably: that a bunch of people who suggested they might vote for Gary Johnson in polls back in the summer mostly broke to vote for Donald Trump at the last minute, and over the last few weeks. Given there are fairly few policy parallels between these two (you almost can't get a more extreme variation on immigration, abortion, gay marriage, and civil liberties, as examples), I have a hard time understanding what that is based upon. I have this problem almost every election cycle, wondering what people with libertarian-ish views or claim to have libertarian-ish views are doing voting for most Republicans (or Democrats). But Trump appeared to be uniquely incompatible with a political ethos based around freedom or individual liberty and rights. He appealed strongly to authoritarian instincts, and toward the restraint of the rights of "others". Neither of which should be appealing to libertarians, or people who might have otherwise found the variety of libertarianism on offer from Gary Johnson that appealing. I seriously doubt his announced intentions to scale back banking regulations, among other regulatory changes, or to punch a huge hole in the deficit by passing a massive tax cut and not reducing spending was getting that big of a draw from Johnson voters.

What this last part suggests is the real problem for Clinton voters to answer. It is not enough to answer why some small sliver of libertarian-ish voters decide to vote for Trump. Why did people at all want to vote for Trump in the first place? I have not been satisfied so far with many of the answers that are given. Some of them I recognize as likely true, but I find appalling. Vast portions of Trump's agenda should have been regarded as politically disqualifying by a decent society. His avowed, willful, and bombastic ignorance of subjects relevant to governing also should have been regarded as a serious danger. His affinity for attracting support from authoritarians abroad, and from misogynists and racists at home also should have given serious pause (as it did for me with Ron Paul, as an added bonus for finding him too distasteful on a number of policy questions, immigration and abortion key among them).

There are two scary parts to this.

1- People who were aware of these as disqualifiers. Most of the public did not approve of his bombastic cruelties toward women or thought he was unsuited for the job of the President. Some number of these people who thought he was an ignorant asshole of some variety voted for him anyway. This is disturbing. There might be other reasons they preferred him to Clinton, some policy issue (for example, Supreme Court nominations). But then the question mark is why prefer and prop up him over some other more amenable source for advancing those policies? Trump actually got fewer votes than John McCain, in a country with more people and voters in it than 8 years ago. What policies are this important to risk a number of other issues, and to risk depressing voter turnout by having a nominee that disgusted large portions of the general public? Clearly there was a high level of disgust with Clinton as well, for sometimes legitimate concerns and sometimes rather tortured reasons. It is likely a generic Democratic candidate clobbers this fool.

2- People who ignored or embraced these as disqualifiers. Because of the unusual nature of Trump's campaign, lots of studies have already been done examining who his supporters are likely to be. It is not obvious to liberals or the media why he attracted this much support. So studies. There are large sums of people who are racist. Who are sexist and who hold anti-feminist views of a hostile or misogynist nature (rather than benevolent chivalry of a traditionalist view). Who are xenophobic or Islamophobic. Trump did very well with the voters who (still) think Obama wasn't born in the United States, or is secretly Muslim. Trump did very well in counties that George Wallace did well in in the GOP primaries, and often adopted some of the same tones. Democrats were not immune from these issues either. There was considerable racism found among Democratic voters too, just not as pronounced as among Trump's base. His campaign was very much a revanchist and white nationalist view of policy on many issues. It adopted strongly authoritarian tones ("I alone can fix it", among others). Violence was not an uncommon incident from his followers at campaign events, and he did little or nothing to discourage any of these views of himself or his followers, or their behavior. Indeed, his most ardent followers often reveled in being called "deplorable".

The assumption all along by liberals and polls was that voters, even Republican or conservative voters, would reject these as a stated agenda. They did not. Policy elites did, particularly on the issues of national security, where Trump has taken a very unpredictable and probably dangerous long-term stance on the use, goals, and promotion of the American hegemony (to the point that I think the biggest winners of the election were probably Russia and China, our biggest geopolitical rivals). But as it turned out, conservative voters did not care very much about the conservative agenda served up by standard Republicans. The voices of protest or conservative reason abandoned a ship that was ready to toss them off anyway. This is not what they cared about.

I have seen two vaguely laid out perspectives of what they did care about.

1- We want to blow up the system because we think the system sucks (or favors people we do not like/fear.) This is the "economic anxiety" argument for his support. I think most of his policy agenda is apt to foster far more economic anxiety particularly his positions on trade and taxation/spending, with the exception of pretty well off people like himself. But it wasn't like I felt Clinton did a good job messaging how she would do any better. She waffled on trade instead of defending it as something that benefits everyone, or explaining how it could be redistributed to better benefit workers. She waffled on immigration instead of defending it as something that can benefit all Americans by enriching us rather than "taking away jobs". And on and on throughout her agenda. A core problem appeared to be that she was seen as part of the system, someone who wanted to work within its limitations and understood them well, but did not seem able to elaborate what she intended to do. What was she focused on? Who knows? It seemed like anything she could get into and get done. Which is hard to sell in a stump speech, even if there's something in there for almost anyone.

Trump, for all his lack of policy details, it was pretty clear what he intended to do as a set of visionary goals. Build a stupid fucking wall. Kick out Muslims and Mexicans. Start a trade war with China. Isolate ourselves from our traditional allies. Adopt more authoritarian governing cultural norms. Cut taxes drastically for people like himself. And so on. This was an appalling policy vision to many people, but it serves the purpose of "burn down the system" simply because it was not smelling like rank establishment. That most of his actual policies were composed by or will be composed by the establishment Republican party was a fact missed in all of this and is now being arbitrated by his followers claiming that he won't be trying to go after gay marriage rights. He picked Mike Pence as his VP and the party platform was aggressively anti-LGBT, if you don't think he won't go after that question, among others that were feared by his political opponents, you are fooling yourself. Trump's appeals to LGBT voters and other minority groups all took the form of "I'm not anti-gay but", a problem which leads me to the second reason Trump appears to have gathered support.

2- "We don't like being looked down on by elites." This is the "he tells it like it is" version of his support. To an extent I understand some maligned feeling regarding PC speech. There are anecdotes of ridiculousness of speech codes and responses to offensive speech, questions which need more examination for me to get an understanding if this is a broad social trend that needs to be combatted or is just a few really wacky folks. I am also uncomfortable with using laws to try to shutter bigoted cake shop owners who refuse to make cakes for weddings they don't approve of (even as I agree they are most likely bigots and can or should be called such). But. Most of the time when I hear a statement complaining about PC culture and speech policing, what it amounts to is whining that you can no longer be a dick without being called out as one. People who are more offended at being called a racist than the fact that they hold racist views, suggesting that the label is accurate. Statements like "I'm not a racist but....." or "I have great respect for women but..." are heard as "I am a huge asshole and you should have to listen to me anyway". This is largely the methods Trump has employed in his lifetime. His "grab em by the pussy" comments suggesting casual sexual assault were often compared to rap lyrics as though these were similar word crimes (a common punching bag for all manner of right wing talking points seems to be Beyonce, I assume it's because she's really popular with liberals and not with conservatives). All while ignoring that it is the context of words that is suggestive of harmful behavior or intention and thus makes them potentially offensive. Not the existence and use of words that are deemed offensive.

This is not a segment of the population I am all that sympathetic toward as a whole. I think the advance of social norms of tolerance is a good thing in a diverse society. I think it will do so imperfectly, and should be called out when it is acting weird or counterproductively. The use of speech to suppress others speech by coercion is not going to be an easy space to walk in, and will have erstwhile allies on underlying policies, like gay marriage, who wish to go much further than I think is necessary. I do not agree that such norms as politeness or decency toward others should be generally enforced with laws and speech codes, where possible, which is where I often part from more progressive friends. But I do believe they can be beneficial to consider the impact and importance of words and behaviors on others and to treat them with more kindness or tolerance. I do not think that means we should revel in being a racist prick, or a misogynist pig who doesn't believe in rape as a crime. Or that that should be something to aspire to being. There's a middle ground there somewhere that involves the legal functions of using our freedom of speech with the laudable cultural norms of "not being a dick" when we do so, but I don't think we will be seeing it anytime soon. Large segments of Trump's supporters embraced views which are anti-PC. Much of his vote came from voters who have a very serious hatred or fear of Muslims and who somehow believe that calling a war, such as it is one, something different and labeling our opponent as Islam, or at least a portion of it, is somehow a good strategic concept. As but one example. There was a non-trivial sum of his vote that was willing to not only ignore these views and policies, but actively favoured more of them and has been celebratory for the return of a world where such abuses as they wish to hurl at others may do so again. These were abuses they were and still are free to hurl at others generally. The only difference is it is harder to say they are "wrong" when the cultural norm has elected someone who violates the norms (in spite of most voters agreeing this was wrong and unpleasant behavior).

So. Where do we all go from here? For my part, I will continue to argue against most of Mr Trump's agenda. Vociferously. There are portions which do not animate me with disgust, or fear for my fellow Americans, or which do not seem likely to be odious and harmful to millions of people. But not many. Had Mrs Clinton been elected instead, I would have had many disagreements there as well, particularly where it regarded foreign policy and civil liberties. These were issues I felt both candidates were quite awful, and the precise issues on which I normally vote for Presidential candidates. Neither candidate seemed interested in addressing the deficit or debt. Tax reform policies were scarcely discussed. The things I cared about most did not come up much at all (climate change, BLM, long-term fiscal security of the country, etc), in spite of being obviously high stakes between the two candidates for once. And the ones that did come up at all (trade and the appropriate use of American hegemony) came up in a really, really weird way that left me with no favored candidate.

I have the fortune of being in a relatively well off position that most of his policies will not impact me directly, or at least not immediately (his protectionist anti-trade and anti-immigrant stances will be a problem for everyone). That does not mean I feel comfortable waiting to see what he will do and how it will impact people who are much more vulnerable than myself for reasons of ethnicity or religion. He has announced what he intends to do. People for whom he has announced policies that will target people like themselves have every reason to be afraid and to take calls for patience and unity as sanctimonious nonsense. Don't come to them telling them to calm down and not be angry.

In brief discussions so far with friends since election night. Many people are angry, angrier than I am even that the result of this election cycle was this man, in particular, becoming President and the prospect of his agenda being enacted frightens or disgusts them. The thing that occurs to me most is that people should work to defend those causes and issues they care most about. If that is pro-choice abortion rights, find a clinic to volunteer at. If that is Black Lives Matters and general questions of police reform, keep pushing back on police militarization and brutality and violations of civil liberties by police, and assure that the goal is that police can and will do a better job cleaning up crime and violence by citizens rather than rousting and annoying ordinary citizens because they can. If that is gay marriage, work to make sure many people you know who can get married and want to will do so and support those marriages as friends do. If that was immigration or refugees, see what can be done locally to protect people here in this country or seeking to come here. If that was climate change, keep trying to do things that are environmentally friendly personally, or push for local and state action where you can. Broad scale changes in the form of legislation and regulation are coming on these and many other issues. They may not be amenable to your goals as a person for what you want this society to do with its powers and attention. Go forth and defend them on the front lines if you can.

I had also entered this election cycle wondering what would happen with "reasonable" conservatives (and libertarians). I am now left very confused still about that question, with even less clarity than expected. It would seem to me that both major political parties need to have a serious "what the fuck are we doing" discussion, as the political elites in both parties have been annihilated and overturned for the most part. They will (both) need new agendas for long-term stability moving forward as a younger generation comes of age and starts voting at higher rates. Budget hawks, civil libertarians, anti-drug warriors, and anti-interventionists or IR realists have had no homes right now at all as expressed in the major party Presidential candidates or Congressional politics over the last couple of cycles. Those seem like they could be substantial portions of the American polity to attract votes for a political party in several cases. Why aren't they reflected by one party or the other? What happens to anti-Trump voters that ended up voting for him out of a disdain for Clinton? What happens to weak political parties in an era of intense partisanship?

Really the question of what happens with the portion of Trump's voters that were not sexist/racist morons (roughly half of his voters don't fall into those categories, most of the rest do so pretty clearly) had interested me the most. Since they "won", in a close and contentious election at that, I'm now intensely curious what they think they won. I don't see that there was some prize in the box that they will come away with better for. In a few cases, I see some policy wins (pro-life voters for example), but those wins are liable to be very hollow rather than long-term advances. I'm not sure what that leaves. I would have had some similar concerns regarding Clinton had she won. Other than the importance of a symbolic win of a woman over a clearly sexist opponent and rival, that wasn't entirely clear what we were getting either as a country that it would be helpful, or would stand a chance of passage. I have a hard time believing that Trump's support was entirely based on denying this from occurring. But. I am not seeing many coherent and sensible ideas on offer instead.

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