Sunday, November 19, 2017

Liberals, don't defend Al Franken with the same arguments used by Trump, Moore, and Cosby

There are a few arguments that are continually used in defense of people accused of sexual harassment or assault. Since Leean Tweedon accused Al Franken or forcing a kiss and put out a photo of Franken humiliating her, arguments primarily used by assaulters and/or their right-wing supporters have been put forth by Franken's defenders. Suddenly the left is attacking the accuser in words used to attack every previous accuser. I find that disturbing.

I'm not arguing that Franken's actions are equivalent to those of a child molester like Roy Moore or a rapist like Bill Cosby. I'm simply saying that people should not change their evidentiary standards based on how much they like or dislike the accused. A sleazy defense of a murderer or a shoplifter is still a sleazy defense.  If you don't accept an argument put forward by Trump or Weinstein then don't use the same argument to defend anyone else.

So here's a handy table comparing the defense of Franken with the defense of various other men in hopes that this will make clear why these arguments are always bad.

The typical defense The Franken defense Just like ...
The timing is suspiciousFranken's Republican accuser was trying to create a distraction from the Roy Moore scandal. Why else would she come out with this now? If the "why now" argument sounds familiar, it's because Moore just used it, asking why his accusers have come out a month before the election. Trump expressed similar suspicions when the Hollywood Access tape came out.

Trump actually had a better argument than Franken or Moore, because sexual harassment wasn't a big part of the national discussion until Trump was accused of it. With the Harvey Weinstein-inspired #MeToo movement convincing women that their accusations might finally be taken seriously, this is exactly the time one should expect a flood of these reports.

Yes, Tweedon could be making a calculated political move, but by that logic don't we have to dismiss the claims of Trump's liberal victims as well? Are we going to have a rule that we'll only believe victims who are politically aligned with the accused?
She was friendly afterwards Hey look, here's a picture of Tweedon sitting next to Franken smiling! How upset could she have been? This is a big defense in the Hollywood cases. Weinstein and Cosby have both trotted out examples where their victims had lunch with them later, or sent them a friendly email, or worked for them again. I wanted to post a link explaining the psychology behind this phenomenon, which is quite common, but my google-fu is failing me at the moment.
It was long ago He wasn't even a senator! The Franken photo is about as old as Trump's Hollywood Access tape. Moore apparently hasn't trolled the mall for teenage girls in years. 
She's not so innocent On the same tour, Tweedon goosed a guitarist. So who is she to talk? This is pretty much every defense for every sexual crime or misdemeanor ever. Sexy clothes, raunchy behavior, kinky tastes, any sexual history whatever is used as a reason to dismiss the victim's claims. Even if you have evidence that a woman is raunchy and inappropriate and sexually charged, it doesn't in any way prove she wasn't assaulted.

It's fake  Social media is flooded with people claiming it was a joke Tweedon was in on, that she was pretending to be asleep, or that the photo was altered. They're saying this even though there's photographic evidence and Franken has admitted to posing for the picture. Disputing evidence is very popular. Moore signed the yearbook of a victim but denies he ever met her and claims the signature is a forgery. The main difference between Franken and people like Moore and Trump is he didn't start making the bullshit lies some of his fans are making for him.
It's not so bad Franken didn't do much. He's not really touching her breasts, just posing as though he is, and a forced kiss isn't like grabbing a woman's breasts.  The tough thing here is everyone has a different line. You have a right to your opinion that Franken's photo was no more than a tasteless, ultimately harmless joke, but others have a right to believe that there's nothing wrong with a guy in his thirties hitting on teens or a celebrity feeling entitled to grope every woman he meets.

I think it's fair to say any line Franken crossed was crossed further by Trump, many, many times, but if the victim feels a line was crossed, who are you to tell her it's a stupid line?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Three Stooges meet healthcare reform

The collapse of the Trump/Ryan attempt to destroy Obamacare was one of Washington's more fascinating train crashes. What's wondrous is not that some things went wrong, but that pretty much everything went wrong in completely predictable ways, and that multiple parties, all Republican, were involved in the takedown. If you could have planned the destruction of the replacement legislation, the ACHA, you would have planned for things to play out exactly as they did.

They played out like a Three Stooges movie, with the Stooges played by Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, and, collectively, the Freedom Caucus. And the process is such a mess that it's not even clear whether Ryan or Trump is Moe in this scenario.

Let's look at the destructive power of the Republican Stooges:

Paul Ryan

Ryan was the key architect of the ACHA, and my god, what a mess. For years, the Republicans have insisted Obamacare was a disaster but have refused to present an alternative, and now we see why. ACHA had no real philosophy of healthcare, instead focussing entirely on giving billionaires tax cuts and cutting services for the poor.

At the same time, the bill kept a lot of the most popular parts of the ACA, because Republicans were terrified that taking all the benefits of Obamacare away at once would lead to election losses.

The result was strange, because after 7 years of  Republicans saying they would get rid of Obamacare, Ryan's bill really didn't. Instead, it kept many of the key ingredients but made them all worse. Ryan's bill was set to take insurance away from every single person who had gained it under ACA while only having a minor effect on the deficit.

The bill had been created in secret and Ryan attempted to rush it through before people could figure out what was in it. He failed. He seems to have written the bill with little input from anyone - not healthcare experts, not other factions of his own party, and certainly not Democrats - and he wound up with a bill that even he probably didn't like that much.

When the criticisms started to rush in, Ryan decided to make the bill even worse in hopes of pulling in recalcitrant conservatives even at the risk of losing recalcitrant moderates. He piled failure on top of failure like a master Jenga player.

It turned out that the only quiver in Ryan's arrow is the one that lessens the taxes of billionaires. That was the only part of his bill that looked like it would work the way it was supposed to. While Ryan has managed to cultivate a reputation as a smart policy wonk, the ACHA is wildly supportive of Paul Krugman's portrayal of Ryan as a fake and a habitual liar.

The Freedom Caucus

For Obama's entire time in office, the GOP was the "party of no." The Tea Party wing represented by the Freedom Caucus functioned as party of no within a party of no. Essentially anti-government anarchists, the Caucus simply doesn't want government to work, and believes that compromise is the ultimate evil.

For them, Ryan's bill, as awful as it was, wasn't nearly awful enough. While many Republicans just cynically used Obamacare hatred to fuel voter disenchantment, the FC contains the true believers whose passionate hatred for all government programs is unfeigned and wildly destructive.

For many in the FC the only acceptable option was to roll back Obamacare in its entirety. Crippling it or even fatally wounding it was not enough; it had to be a clean head shot or nothing.

Basically,  the party of no's inner party of no proved incapable of saying yes.

To some extent, this could be politics. The FC is full of people from hardcore conservative districts where there is a constant threat of challenges from the right funded by rich extremists. So making stupid decisions that play to the base make electoral sense. And after 7 years of saying Obamacare was the Hitler of American politics, they had painted themselves into a bit of a corner.

Still, insisting on everything or nothing in politics is the best possible way to get nothing. And the FC got nothing of what they wanted, with little chance to get it any time in the near future.

But from what I've read, the FC sees this not as a disaster but as proof of their power. Which means they are likely to stick to their path of purity politics during every subsequent legislative fight. And that could mean that the Republicans basically get nothing done for their entire time in power (fingers crossed).

Donald Trump

Everything his opponents predicted about Trump was on display during the ACHA clusterfuck. After promising an amazing healthcare bill with better coverage and lower premiums for all, he simply turned over the creation of a new healthcare system to Paul Ryan, who had no interest in any of those promises. Trump didn't understand the bill, and in lobbying for it he apparently didn't even try to make a case for any of its policies (because, of course, he didn't understand them). All Trump could do was try to charm and threaten Republicans (he didn't even bother reaching out to Democrats, which didn't stop him from complaining that none of them was willing to vote for ACHA). It turned out that he was not charming or threatening enough to get a majority to vote for a turd.

When support for the bill proved hard to come by, Trump was completely flummoxed, finally tossing out an ultimatum that failed dismally.

It's unlikely that Trump even really cared about the ACA. For him, Obamacare hatred was a campaign weapon, and he no more wanted to end a working healthcare system than he wanted to jail Hillary Clinton. All he really wanted to do was cater to the base and rack up a win. It didn't happen.

Of course, Trump being Trump, he is now playing off this disastrous defeat as no big deal. Trump's inability to admit mistakes means he can never learn from them, so expect him to continue to ignore experts and allow hacks like Ryan to create legislation he doesn't understand or care about.

Why It Happened

For eight years Republicans have been dreaming of what they would achieve when they finally were back in power. So how did their first major push to reshape government end so disastrously?

One big issue was that Obamacare was based on the Republican plan known as Romneycare, forcing Republicans to run against what was basically the Republican healthcare solution. It wasn't the bill they hated but Barack Obama himself. This left them with no place to go; they would have been better off had Obama created a single-payer system that could have been countered with Romneycare.

With the only sensible Republican plan co-opted by Democrats, Ryan created pure nonsense and hoped hatred of Obamacare was so strong that no one would care what disaster they replaced it with.

Part of Ryan's own explanation is that Republicans don't know how to govern. He explained that for ten years all Republicans had to do was be against things, and they've only had three months to learn how to be a governing party.

This sums up everything that's wrong with the modern Republican approach to government; they believe you only govern when you are in charge. In reality, governing is something you can do from either side of the aisle. You can introduce legislation, you can engage in bipartisan dealmaking, you can win people over to your side and let them win you over to theirs. The GOP's decision to forgo governing  in favor of continuously attacking  Obama has allowed their government skills to atrophy. Many of them don't even seem to understand how government works.

If Trump really wants to govern, his best shot would be to move a little to the left, ignoring the Freedom Caucus in favor of winning over moderate Democrats in pursuit of actually fulfilling campaign promises like improving healthcare and increasing employment opportunities. If the Freedom Caucus wants to further their agenda, then they would need to stop insisting on all or nothing when they simply don't have the power to get that all. If Ryan wants to be effective, he needs to stop pretending to take policy matters seriously and actually take them seriously.

I don't see much indication that any of that is going to happen. The Three Stooges of the GOP will continue to poke eyes and slap faces and create nothing but mayhem. And just like the real Three Stooges, it's only funny sometimes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Radical claim: It's wrong to make sweeping claims about any subgroup

I'm going to list some statements, and for each one, I want you to consider whether you find that statement acceptable.

Muslims are terrorists. I hate Muslims.
Women talk about their feelings too much. I hate women.
Gay men are too effeminate. I hate gay men.
Jews own all the media companies and the banks. I hate Jews.
Men are always raping women. I hate men.
Russians are drunken assholes. I hate Russians.
Christians are sanctimonious assholes. I hate Christians.
Black people are criminals. I hate black people.
White people don't give a shit about the problems of the oppressed. I hate white people.
Asians are nerdy superior assholes who all play violin. I hate Asians.
Mexicans are drug smugglers. I hate Mexicans.

For a lot of people, some of these statements are outrageous. and others are perfectly acceptable. Personally, I feel the basic expressive form of "this subgroup does this thing, therefore I hate people of this subgroup" is inherently bad. But among a lot of my friends, two of these statements are perfectly okay. It's okay to say you hate men or white people. All the other statements are horrific, but those two are fine. And I think that is problematic.

Now, if you're one of those people who thinks those statements are fine, you're probably thinking, right now, oh look, white male fragility. This privileged asshole wants people to cry for his fucking oppression.

This is the risk of talking about an issue that affects you personally. If I talk about how it's terrible that people claim Islam is an inherently evil religion that encourages violence in a way other religions don't, and say that's bullshit, no one will say, "oh, you're just saying that because you're Muslim." Because I'm not.  If I say white people shouldn't wear blackface, no one will say, "oh you're just saying that because you're black." Because I'm not. But the moment I say anything suggesting white men shouldn't necessarily be grossly stereotyped and trashed, I am a #notallmen-hashtagging asshole.

There's no real way out of that. If people want to dismiss your arguments by attacking your motives, well, that's what people do. If I claim that for me this is, like a lot of what I am concerned about, a matter of logic, reason, and civility, well, I can go fuck myself, because clearly, I'm just one of them.

I will say this, though. I am not hurt when someone says, "white men suck." First off, it's absurdly hyperbolic, because everyone I've ever heard say this has white male friends. Secondly, it can't do me any harm. The attitude will not cause me any problems in my life. I'm not crying about it.

You can believe me or not, but my objections to saying all white men suck are akin to my objections to saying all Muslims are terrorists. Both are damaging to civil discourse and reasoned discussion. Both cause harm to the fragile fabric of civilization.


The Geneva Convention is an agreement between nations that requires signatories to treat captured soldiers and civilians halfway decently. The countries who signed on did not do so, for the most part, because they were moral people who wanted decency in war. The goal was, rather, to protect each nation's own people.

If the U.S. tortures Iranian POWs, they are de facto endorsing torturing POWs in general. It's a simple statement that it is okay to torture soldiers if they are captured. Which means if some Iranians start torturing U.S. soldiers, the U.S. can't say much about it. "Torture is wrong" is a powerful argument; "torture is wrong when you do it but fine when I do it" doesn't have the same ring.

Anytime someone uses the form, "this subgroup does this thing, therefore I hate people of this subgroup," they are endorsing this as an appropriate way to look at things. They are saying that they believe, thoroughly and completely, that it is acceptable to take the behaviors of some people in a subgroup, claim those behaviors represent the group as a whole, and then write off that entire group as in some way inferior or dangerous or subhuman.

They are saying that incivility and sweeping judgments are okay. They are agreeing to a certain set of rules, and they're only argument is, "it's okay when I do it, but not when you do it."

Of course, there is a simple argument as to why the rules are different when it comes to white men; it's because society's rules are different for white men. This is what is referred to as privilege, and it means that white people and male people have certain inherent advantages. And if society is going to treat white men better, what is wrong with evening things out just a tiny bit by treating them like odious, subhuman monsters. It doesn't do them any real harm, and it feels so good to trash a subgroup; no wonder it's so popular!

I don't say this is entirely unreasonable. I do think there's a difference between saying shit about Muslims and saying shit about white people. White people are not going to get jailed by our oppressive, white-run government. Men are not going to be prohibited from certain medical procedures because of angry Christians. Talk all the shit you want about the groups in power; their privilege will protect them from all of it.

But I still it's inadvisable. Both because, as I say, you are giving sanction to the idea that subgroups can be stereotyped and dismissed, and because you are creating enemies out of potential allies.

Recently someone I know on Facebook complained about people telling her she needed to give potential allies some slack. Why, she asked, should she be gentle to these privileged assholes? They should do what's right because it's the right thing to do, not because she is mollycoddling them. Or as is often said when white people claim to have done something to make the world a better place, "what do you want, a cookie?"

First off, only a small number of people who do anything are motivated entirely by altruism. The people who fight hardest for a cause are those who have a personal stake in it. Gay people fought hardest for marriage equality. Black people fought hardest for an end to Jim Crow laws. Women fight hardest for equal treatment in the workplace. This is natural and understandable. I think there's something admirable about those who fight for a cause because of moral conviction rather than because of personal interest, and honestly, I don't think there's anything monstrous about wanting credit for doing the right thing. Everyone wants a cookie now and again.

But I believe that most people do, in general, want to do the right thing, even if their reasons can be complex and self-interest is always in the equation. And a lot of people will be inclined to help you, are at least not actively act against you, if you are pleasant to them.

For example, let's say you're going into a dangerous country full of savage beasts with a group of people you don't know very well. Let's imagine that some of them are very experienced with savage beasts, some are carrying guns or swords, and some are bigger and stronger than you.

So, as you walk across the border into this dangerous country, you can say to your fellow travelers, "I just want you all to know that I think you're fucking pieces of shit, and if you let me die then you are monsters, and if you help me survive, well, I give you no credit, because that's what people should do for other people."

Or you can say, "you guys are terrific, I think it's great you're so prepared and I think by all working together we have a really good chance of making it through this crazy place. I want you to know I have your back and I know you have mine."

Even if you really hate most of these people, don't you think the second option is more advisable?

Yes, some of your companions will fight just as hard to keep you alive either way. Some people are good, and noble, and understand your anger and don't take it personally. But some would rather help their friends than their foes, so why not be their friends, at least for now?

I mean, if some of your companions are punching you in the head repeatedly, go ahead and kick them in the crotch. But don't just say, "hey, these people are punching me in the head so you're all fucking assholes, even those of you who are trying to stop the people from punching me in the head. You can all go fuck yourselves."

White men have a lot of privilege and a lot of power. That makes people with less privilege understandably angry and mistrustful. But it also means that there are white men who can help or hurt oppressed groups a lot if motivated to do so. It may not be fair, but that's the situation. You can rail against that situation, or you can use it to your advantage.

There are bad people and good people. They cannot be neatly divided by race or sex or wealth or sexual preference. You can hate them by category if you like, but I will always prefer to hate people individually rather than by group, because I have yet to find a subgroup that doesn't have awful people in it, and I have yet to find a subgroup that doesn't have good people in it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Trump, Racism, Granularity, Rationality, and Things That Quack Like Ducks

Scott Alexander's SlateStarCodex is one of my favorite blogs. Much of it involves trying to really look at what's going on, ignoring noise and assumptions in favor of data and rational evaluation.

Recently he did this on the topic of whether Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate for president. His conclusion - argued persuasively and at length - is that no, Trump is not the candidate of white supremacy and the hysterical claims that he is are doing harm. The article is not a defense of Trump, but just a challenge of one particular narrative.

It's a terrific article, but as I read it, I had the vague feeling that at least some of his points could be refuted. But a superficial googling on the article didn't show that anyone had tried to refute any of it. There were just articles lauding the piece.

As I thought about the article there were a few things that began to bother me, and since Alexander turned off comments on the post in order to avoid chaotic flame wars, I'm just going to discuss them  here.


Alexander makes a lot of good points. Take, for example, Trump's famous statement "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. Their rapists." Alexander points out this is not actually racist because Trump is specifically saying that there are good Mexicans, and that it's just those aren't the ones immigrating to the U.S. It's not actually racist to say, "all the good Mexicans are living in Mexico," even though it's clearly untrue.

Alexander points out that while Trump's obsession with birtherism seems racist, Trump actually believes all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories, many involving white people. He points out that, outside of the liberal bubble, Trump has made many statements praising U.S. diversity, like every other politician. He skillfully takes the "racist Trump" arguments apart piece by piece, leaving you with Trump as an asshole whose racism is closer to that of Robert Dole than Adolph Hitler.

He's probably right. And yet, as I thought about the article later, I began to think of Rodney King.


Rodney King, as you may recall, was videotaped being savagely beaten by the police in 1991.

Watching the video, it was clear that King had been beaten mercilessly for several minutes by many cops while he tried to escape. But when the case went to trial, the defense slowed that video way down and convinced the jury that every time King's arm flailed out as a baton hit him, every time he tried to get on his knees to crawl away, that he was in fact lashing out and trying to attack the cops.

This is the danger of granuality. Anything, when looked at closely enough, can lose its shape. It's like those paintings that look like people in a park from a distance and look like a bunch of dots of paint up close.

Alexander is looking at Trump on a granular level, and on a granular level, you can prove an awful lot.

As much as Alexander is admirably trying to look at all the evidence, he's still just taking a small section of the immense number of things Trump has said and using it to push back on a narrative.

Alexander does, in fact, understand that. In point 17 of his post he shows exactly how all arguments against an insupportable theory can sound, to a believer, "weaselly." If you believe Trump is a racist, you can reject pretty much any arguments to the contrary. And if you're living in the liberal bubble with me, where you basically keep hearing the same five quotes from Trump on an endless loop, it's easy to see the case for racist Trump as a slam dunk.

I'm not saying Alexander's granuality means he's wrong. I'm just saying it's something you need to pay attention to, because he's a very persuasive writer and as anyone familiar with Malcolm Gladwell knows, persuasive writers can persuade you of things that are not entirely true.


As I continued to mull his piece over in my mind, certain other things began to bother me, like this:

13. Doesn’t Trump want to ban (or “extreme vet”, or whatever) Muslims entering the country?
Yes, and this is awful.
But why do he (and his supporters) want to ban/vet Muslims, and not Hindus or Kenyans, even though most Muslims are white(ish) and most Hindus and Kenyans aren’t? Trump and his supporters are concerned about terrorism, probably since the San Bernardino shooting and Pulse nightclub massacre dominated headlines this election season.

This seemed fine when I first read it, but then it began to seem really, really wrong. Because he is basically saying that racism is tied specifically to skin color. That if Trump is more afraid of "white(ish)" Muslims than darker Kenyans, then somehow he can't be all that racist.

As much as I respect Alexander, this is blatantly stupid. Because racism is not a visual thing. In the past, Americans have been racist against Irish and Italians, among others. My mom had a friend who once said she could deal with her daughter dating a black guy, but would disown her for dating an Asian, even though Asians are generally somewhat lighter (the reason having to do with a hatred of Japanese born during World War II).

And, of course, Hitler hated Jews more than any other race even though Jews were often physically indistinguishable from Germany's non-Jews.  I don't know how Hitler felt about Kenyans, but I'm pretty sure he spent less time worrying about them.

And yes, hatred of Muslims has been exacerbated by Muslim terrorists. But racism doesn't have to be based on nothing. It is a matter of taking some aspect of a racial group, whether real or imagined, and applying it to all people of that group. Some African Americans are criminals. Some Jews are greedy bankers. Some Poles are stupid. If you think that subgroup represents the whole, that's racist.

After all, there are tons of white terrorists in America, shooting abortionists or blowing up buildings, but we don't take actions against all white people because some of them are terrible.

I wonder whether a 1930s version of Scott Alexander be able to examine Hitler on a granular level and conclude that he wasn't really more anti-Semitic than other German politicians? After all, the level of anti-Semitism in 1930s politicians was pretty high.


While point 13 is Alexanders worst argument, others are also  problematic. For example, the fact that Trump believes in all sorts of conspiracy theories, only some of which are racist, doesn't mean his belief in birtherism isn't still racist; if I believe all drug dealers are black, and I believe moon people have invaded earth, the second belief doesn't make the first one less racist.

And yes, it's true that people have physically attacked Trump supporters, and that's terrible, but there's a difference between attacking someone for how they voted and attacking someone for who they are. If a Muslim is a wearing a Clinton button and someone attacks her you can say it's equivalent, but if she's just wearing a hijab then she's not being attacked for her vote, but for her race and religion. There's a fundamental difference between saying "fuck you, Trump supporter," and "go back to Mexico, wetback."


Alexander is very persuasive, and I am willing to admit there's a pretty good liklihood that Trump isn't the most racist Republican out there and that the actual white-supremist part of his constituency is tiny and is only seeming significant because the media has glommed onto the white-nationalist story and is giving fringe groups way too much attention.

But I'm still nervous, because I'm not convinced that this country hasn't opened the door a crack for racists now. That there is a new acceptance for racism, and sexism, and homophobia that Trump is helping along, and that he really is more dangerous than a typical Republican not just because he's corrupt and incompetent but because he is going to at worst institute racist policies and at best just let racism grow without challenge.

There's an old expression: if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. For a rationalist like Alexander, this is untrue. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you can only say for certain that it is something that shares certain characteristics with a duck. It's an important perspective, because the truth is, common sense is not always sensible, few things are truly self-evident, and to assume is, as the saying goes, to make an ass of you and me.

I admire Alexander's attempt to rationally look at that quacking thing to try and figure out if it's really a duck. I just wonder how many data points he would need before finally admitting that, yeah, what we've got here is a duck.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump voters are idiots and jerks who blithely voted a racist fearmonger into office - here's why we shouldn't demonize them

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is one of the most horrific moments in U.S. history. A blatant racist whose election has the KKK dancing in the streets, Trump is a crude, corrupt, unqualified moron who will cause damage to this country - through his Supreme Court appointments, through his destruction of progressive programs, through his encouragment of bigotry and xenophobia - that will continue on for decades.

The people who voted for Trump should be ashamed. They have unleashed a great horror on the country, and it is little comfort that Trump's policies will wind up ruining the lives of many of his most fervent supporters.

So yeah, it is outrageous to suggest that we need to understand these people, as some are suggesting. What's to understand? These are white people whining about their lives even though many of those voters aren't suffering, demanding that the little we've given our country's minorities be taken back, that our halting attempts at equality for women be smashed. They were dumb enough to believe Trump's promises and uncaring enough to not care who got hurt. The majority of them are so racist that they think Obama is a Muslim foreigner. They are monsters.

On the other hand...

There is a problem with painting Trump voters with too broad a brush. Certainly, the worst people in America - Nazis, Klansmen, sexual assaulters - embraced him enthusiastically. But that doesn't mean everyone who voted for Trump loved everything about him.

John Scalzi posited in the Cinemax Theory of Racism that even if everyone who voted for Trump isn't actively racist, they all basically accept racism as a part of the Trump package that they can live with. And that's true. But they are not the first voters to accept the bad with the good. In 2012 I read an article by a progressive who refused to vote for Obama because he had sent out drones in the pursuit of terrorists that had killed many innocent people. For him, to vote for Obama was to say he could live with a president who would kill innocent foreigners.

I voted for Obama anyway - it wasn't like Romney was a peacenik who would end all the killing - but in doing so, I have to accept that I made a statement - to keep the Supreme Court from becoming even more conservative, to keep making progress against racism and sexism, to further a (somewhat) progressive agenda in the United States - I could live with drone strikes that killed civilians in the Middle East. I feel bad about it, but I did it, and I did it knowing I was doing it.

So if you're a conservative afraid of a liberal Supreme Court, if you believe liberal economic policies will make the country poorer, then you might say, "I really hate that Trump is calling Mexicans racists and Muslims terrorists, but I have to protect this country from a greater threat."

I might disagree with that analysis and those priorities, but I can't say I have never compromised on the perfect in favor of what I perceived as the least bad option.


I've read a fair amount about those Trump voters. My main takeaway is that they feel like government cares about everyone but them, and they're very resentful. They feel that there is affirmative action for black people, new rights for gays, and nothing for them. That they are taken for granted and undervalued and their struggles are ignored.

And if you're like a lot of my friends, your reply to that is, "Damn right I'm ignoring your so-called 'pain.' You problems are nothing compared to those of people of color. There are people getting pulled over and shot by the police while you're whining that your kid didn't get into their first-choice college. Fuck you with your slightly-lower-than-your-parents standard of living and your undeserving lazy-poor-people tropes. You white straight people are at the top of the heap, and if you're suffering, then how do you think the people without your privileges are doing right now?"

Or, to put it another way, "yes, white America, you really don't matter at all. Just shut up and vote for the Democrats."

I understand this attitude. I have had advantages in life and I feel people with less advantages deserve a boost up; that their need is greater than mine. But at the same time, I can appreciate that if you feel you are getting less so that others - no more deserving than you - can have more, then you might be annoyed.

Look at it this way. Let's say you're a kid, and every day your parents give you one cookie. Now, you have friends who get three cookies a day, so you're already a little resentful about your lot in life, but at least you get that one cookie.

Then one day your parents say, that kid next door gets no cookies, so from now on every Wednesday and Sunday we'll take your cookie and give it to him.

If you're a really noble, self-sacrificing kid, you'll be okay with that. You'll say, give him my Monday cookie as well. But if you're like most kids, you will be consumed with the unfairness of getting less cookies not because you have done anything wrong, but because someone you don't even know is just being given the cookies that have always been a part of your life.

There is a difference between not being noble and self-sacrificing and being a monster. But people who drift to the self-sacrificing side of life can forget that.


There's a big problem with the "fuck all you whiny-ass Trump voters, you're all racist monsters" attitude. By lumping everyone together like that, you make everyone in that lump unreachable. If someone came up to me and said, "you are a monster and every death caused by Obama is blood on your hands; people like you should just die, because you care about no one but yourselves," I would not listen to much that person had to say.

And we may really need those non-KKK Trump voters soon. Because there are people who were horrified by aspects of Trump but ultimately thought that voting for him would not destroy the country. They thought Trump was all talk and wouldn't really have jackbooted thugs going from house to house arresting Muslims and Mexicans.

But if they are prooved wrong, they might cool on Trump. They might say, "wow, I did not realize this would happen." And they could join the opposition to Trump.

Unless, of course, you've told them they are all privileged assholes whose concerns are stupid. In which case, why exactly would they want to join with you?

The fact is, white people do have problems, because everyone has problems. If you're white, you are less likely to be shot by a cop, but it can still happen. Innocent white people get shot by cops. White people get sick and go bankrupt paying medical bills. White people lose their jobs. And you can't insist that people shouldn't complain about their problems because others are suffering more. If you lose a child, you don't want to hear, "that's nothing, I lost my whole family, quit whining."


I don't excuse people for voting for Trump. They did a terrible thing, for terrible reasons, and will cause irreparable harm to this country. But I still believe we need to understand their views and listen to their complaints. Because the fact is, as they just proved, they can vote in big enough numbers to put a fascist in the White House. And if Democrats don't try and understand and communicate with them, then in four years they will give him a second term.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I'm not That Excited by Hillary Clinton ... But That's How I Feel Every Four Years

It's said that Hillary Clinton suffers from an enthusiasm gap. People just aren't that jazzed to vote for her, and her greatest assett is that many voters are terrified of the apocalyptic disaster a Trump presidency is liable to usher in.

Her supporters have been trying to convince us to get excited. She's incredibly qualified. She has a long history of public service. She's smart and willing to engage with the nuts and bolts of government.

But why should I get excited for Hillary, when I haven't been excited by any of the presidential candidates I've had to vote for over the years?


Even before I could vote I followed the elections, and the last time the candidate I liked actually became the nominee was in 1972, when McGovern became a cautionary tale in nominating the genuine liberal.

After that it's been all disappointments. In 1976 I really liked Mo Udall, and thought Jerry Brown showed promise, but instead got Jimmy Carter. Whoopdefucking do. 

The first election I could vote in was 1980. Once again, Jimmy Carter was the nominee, and since he had just instituted draft registration for people my age, I was really unhappy with him. I would have preferred Ted Kennedy, or, once again, Brown, but Carter was the nominee. I voted for third party candidate John Anderson. I wasn't excited by Anderson, I just really didn't like Carter. And I was going through my "they're all the same" phase, which ended as I watched Reagan dismantled the government and put foxes in charge of every henhouse, creating a swathe of destruction we have yet to recover from.

There were some good guys running in 1984. I remember liking Alan Cranston. George McGovern took another shot at it. And Jesse Jackson was an exciting possibility. And in their wisdom, the people nominated bland, middle-of-the-road Walter Mondale. Who I did vote for, because, after all, Reagan was gutting the country.

In 1988, my guy was the bow-tied liberal Paul Simon (no, not the Garfunkle one), though Jesse Jackson was still a solid second. Instead, we got the uninspiring Michael Dukakis. I voted for him, but we still got the Bush that gave us Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and an idiot son for our future.

I don't know who I was cheering for in 1992. Jerry Brown. Eugene McCarthy? I know who I wasn't cheering for: Bill Clinton, the guy who brought neoconservatism into the Democratic mainstream. Still, better than more Bush.

It was Clinton or nothing in 1996. He'd turned out to be even worse than I expected; his biggest achievement was gutting welfare. But it wasn't like the Republicans were going to be an improvement.

I wasn't impressed by Al Gore in 2000, who I knew of mainly through his wife's stupid music censorship activism, but it was a year of little choice. I voted for him, but a bunch of people going through their "they're all the same" phase went for Ralph Nader, leading directly to the American invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS.

My guy in 2004 was flaming liberal Dennis Kucinich, although Howard Dean also held a lot of appeal. So we got John Kerry. And another four terrible Bush years.

Kucinich was still my man in 2008, although quirky Mike Gravel was also pretty appealing. As for Obama, well, he was basically an early-70s Republican, but at least he brought some history with him, and he was pretty darn likable. That was probably the closest I came to being enthusiastic about the Democratic nominee, but I knew he was going to be a disappointment. And I voted for him again in 2012 even though he had proved me right.


In 2016 I wanted Bernie Sanders, of course. In this crazy election year he really did have the potential to win and be the most progressive president of my lifetime. So I'm disappointed that I'm stuck with Clinton.

But - and I guess this is my real point - I'm not any more disappointed than usual. In spite of all the antipathy she inspires in people, I don't see her as worse than Gore, or Mondale, or Obama, or her husband, or even Carter, who in retrospect was actually pretty good. She just represents another time when the middle-of-the-road Democrat beat my liberal favorite.
I don't need to be enthusiastic about Clinton. I have voted for every Democratic nominee since 1984, and I will do so again.

I vote for the Democrat because I learned in 1980 what happens when you don't vote for the Democrat. Terrible, terrible things. And I know that a neoconservative replacement for our neoconservative president is still a lot better than an unqualified authoritarian narcicist. 

If Clinton wins, I will be thrilled. I will be dancing in the street, because we will have dodged the biggest bullet in my lifetime and a woman will have broken America's highest glass ceiling. It will be a great night.

Then I'll brace myself for the inevitable disappointment, just as I have with every Democratic win. It's better than bracing myself for the shit show of a Democratic loss.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Clinton’s Suicide of a Thousand Cuts versus Trump’s Big Lies

Hillary Clinton has once again got herself in trouble for holding back information, in this case not letting the press know that she had pneumonia until she almost collapsed. It’s ultimately a pretty small lie, but it feeds perfectly into the narrative of Clinton as shifty.

At her most dishonest, Clinton doesn’t come close to the dishonesty of her rival, Donald Trump, who tells huge whoppers on a daily basis. Clinton more often paints things in the best light based on the public record, and then continually makes small changes in her story as new information comes to light. Overall, her stories don’t really change all that much, but the constant drip-drip-drip of modifications makes it seem like she never actually tells the truth.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, tells huge, ridiculous, easily disproved lies, and when he is shown the evidence, he simply insists the evidence is wrong. The irony for Clinton is that her attempts to adjust her story to conform to the available facts creates a perception of shiftiness, while Trump’s bold, unapologetic dishonesty just makes people think that he’s a man who sticks to his guns.

Imagine Hillary Clinton were accused of shooting someone. The police would take her into the interrogation room, and she would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.”

When the cops would show her a photo of her with the victim, she would say, “well, we may have met once, but I don’t remember them, and anyway, I was out of town and don’t own a gun.” And when they bring in the gun, registered in her name, with her fingerprints on it, she would say “come to think of it, I do have a gun, but I certainly never shot someone I barely knew with it.”

Now imagine Donald Trump was accused of shooting someone. He too would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.” Faced with a picture of himself with the victim, he would say, “I never met him, that’s not even me in the photo.” When they brought in the gun, he would say, “I never owned a gun, those aren’t my fingerprints.” When they showed security video of him pointing the gun at the victim and pulling the trigger, he would say, “no, that’s not me. Absolutely not.”

Trump’s ability to stick to his lies makes it difficult for the press to even report on them. Every time Clinton makes a small change in her story, the press can write, “faced with new information, Clinton changes story.” But how many times can the press report that Donald Trump has repeated the exact same lie in the exact same way? It’s not really news; it’s like reporting that the sun rose this morning.

It must be frustrating for Clinton to see her every lawyerly prevarication become a damning headline while her opponent tells so many lies that journalists consider them nothing but “dog bites man” stories. But she keeps reinforcing the negative perceptions by refusing to get ahead of a story; she always waits for events to catch up with her. If on Friday she’d simply announced she had a touch of pneumonia but was going to try and keep going, she would have seemed forthright for admitting to illness and tough for pushing through, and video of her staggering into a car would have been nothing but proof that you shouldn’t run around when you have pneumonia. By waiting until she had no choice but to say something, she encourages people to think she has something worse than pneumonia. If in a couple of days she announces she actually has double pneumonia, no one will be surprised, because that’s what she does.

And if in a couple of days Donald Trump announces that he is incapable of getting sick and in fact hasn’t even aged since he was thirty, people will shrug. Because that’s just Donald being Donald.