Monday, February 22, 2016


Not that I Agree mind you

Bruce Wilder 02.20.16 at 9:18 pm

bexley @ 319

First of all, it is a silly sort of navel-gazing politics to treat a “preference” for one candidate over another, drawn from a visceral reaction to their public personas, as if it you were engaged in a detailed examination of your own conscience foundational to your self-esteem. Voting for Hillary Clinton is not going to make you a better person, no matter who else may be on that particular ballot, or posed in that particular polling question.

If I could get people to hear one thing in my comments on this thread, it would be the protest against this fine-grained less evilism, where you put candidates side-by-side in your mind, and ask which one a decent, good moral person (your own lovely self and possibly your friendly interlocutor, if you are being friendly and not one of the Mean Girls™ that day) would choose, if forced to choose. It’s like some adolescent’s game, where they choose which of two famous actors or fictional characters they would prefer to have sex with, if isolated with them on a desert island. Only the total goofiness of the scenario is part of the fun for the idle adolescent mind, but is apparently totally lost on many commenters here who take the moral weight of the comparisons very seriously indeed.

It is not hard to see why people fall so easily into this pattern: we are trained in it by skilled propagandists. Identity politics is all about setting up these levers on your loyalties, so that you can be reliably herded into the proper partisan divisions, into your Tribe and away from the their Tribe(s), aka the tribe of the evil or misguided people (depending upon how ungenerously you view those who appear to differ in their political tastes and preferences).

I, myself, am only a recovering addict partisan. My epiphany was my disillusion with Obama over his failure to prosecute banksters or turn away Bush policy and personnel in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or in security/surveillance state matters. I didn’t vote for him in 2012. I watched people who thought the most morally serious political act of their lives was voting for Obama against Romney because the election was so close and the Republicans such a threat. I did so with a mixture of curiosity and stunned self-awareness: I recognized those patterns of distorted thinking in my self. I abandoned my life-long identification with the Democratic Party with regret and from demoralization; it was painful and depressing, because it carried with it a hopelessness and despair. That’s my personal experience, if you’re interested in where I am coming from. No one should think I am unaware of psychic costs of stepping out of the illusions of partisan pseudo-struggle. But, it is not about me, as they say.

bexley: What I’m getting from your contributions is that the economic issues that affect Bruce Wilder are the only ones that concern you. The worries of minorities of a Trump presidency can just be handwaved away.

Thank you, thank you for an admirably clear statement of your reaction.

In comments, I often come back to economics because that’s often the aspect of a question that I feel I understand best, but Hillary vs teh Donald doesn’t turn on some wonky b.s. about Glass-Steagall.

And, to the point, I am more personally detached from the politics than you imagined, and I am consciously trying to be more detached, and I am advocating that others try to be more detached. Let politics be less about personal identity and more about the society and the political economy. (And, yes, I can and do support society and culture becoming less racist or sexist, not that you should need to ask.)

Peter T (who is one my favorite commenters) @ 175: Clinton would be a battle against the plutocracy one failed to win. Trump with a Republican Congress and appointments to the Supreme Court would be a stain on America’s political conscience it would take decades to scrub clean.

That puts it very starkly, I think, as a choice between the economic issues and the identity politics issues, in a way that seems to compel choosing identity politics because of its moral import. And, I don’t disagree with his implied view of Trump. Trump is a horror show. (I said that before.) What I am trying to get across is how it distorts one’s thinking to focus on a side-by-side choice of evils. That “stain on America’s political conscience”? I think it is already there, folks. More than one stain. And, I don’t see much in Hillary’s self-presentation that suggests she sees a need to scrub. (Or repent, washing her own hands.)

When I wrote that Trump has been a talker, but Hillary has been a doer, I was trying to draw attention to that difference. Hillary doesn’t have a self-presentation that includes a lot of provocative, bombastic crazy talk; she’s a very serious person, doncha know? The very serious person, who thought invading Iraq was a good idea, who thought bombing Libya and undermining Assad were going to be winning policies, and who thought Gaddafi’s gruesome murder was a good joke.

I am not advocating Trump over Hillary. I am protesting against a political analysis where you lay the personas of those two side-by-side in your imagination, and conclude to a deep moral certainty, that one is acceptable and one is not. Like this election is a chance to assassinate Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch and Save the World. We don’t know, can’t know, what Trump would do with power, or even if he would have the slightest capacity to wield it, because he’s never been in office and has few partisan ties. (Let me be clear: I wouldn’t risk giving Trump power, if it were up to me personally, which it is not and never will be beyond the infinitesimal degree given a voter in a State where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, no matter who is on the California ballot in November. And, if it is in your power, whoever reads this, don’t let me discourage you from your existential duty.)

What I am protesting against is what RNB did @ 238 and @ 240. @ 238, I was excoriated for ignoring a great “social problem”. OK, honestly, I don’t care that much about the personal insults hurled @ 238 — not about me, right? What I am protesting is the argument @ 240 (a bare 15 minutes later), where RNB sarcastically refutes the thesis of an allegedly anti-militaristic Trump: “Trump is not for militarism? Is this a joke?” And, as far as I know, every thing he said about Trump’s affection for blowing things up far away and Trump’s general posture of belligerence toward the world is spot on. What’s wrong with his comment @ 240 is the way he uses the side-by-side contrast with Hillary to imply that Hillary is practically the Opposite. All of a sudden, Trump the Militarist is the Manichean Opposite of Hillary the Diplomat whose successor(!) negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.

Granted RNB is a committed advocate for Hillary — and I’m not saying RNB shouldn’t have that opinion; let the case for Hillary Clinton be made by someone who knows and believes it — what I am trying to argue is that the fine-grained lesser evilism of these side-by-side comparisons distorts one’s thinking. The moral certainty of the imagined consequences and the psychological need to heighten the contrast in the dichotomy is overwhelming not just natural ambivalence but balanced and informed judgment. The contrast with Trump doesn’t add any information about Hillary’s foreign policy stance; if anything, in RNB’s partisan hands, it subtracts some. The technique itself is wrong, because it always subtracts information and distorts the consequences.

Some people see some kind of neo-isolationism in Trump’s 3rd grader’s stream of consciousness, and I don’t know that is wrong, though I tend to see Trump’s rhetoric as that of a salesman mirroring the Id of his mark. He says what they want to hear and clearly revels in his control of them (shoot someone on 5th avenue). His target audience hates and fears The Other, wants to hear that they themselves are part of a “good” and deserving In-Group, and so on. I think the way the Republican Party coalition has been evolving is frightening, not least because I think the political psychology of authoritarian followers makes isolating them in one Party or one political faction is political dynamite. (See Kevin Phillips.) So, yes, very alarming.

But, none of that changes anything about Hillary Clinton’s pro-plutocratic, pro-war, pro-Deep-State militarist agenda or helps us to understand it and its implications. And, really, feel free to make the case that Hillary Clinton’s deep seriousness is less blood-thirsty than her record suggests to me. Just don’t distort your own judgment (which may well be better informed than mine) with specious lesser-evil comparisons. To address Peter T, at least consider the possibility that the Plutocracy drives foreign policy sin and conceding power once again to the Oligarchy of the Globalized Rich almost guarantees that they use the U.S. military for their own irresponsible purposes with all the usual, regrettable, reprehensible consequences.

The politics of personal identity and partisan tribalism distorts how we view people with whom we disagree — or just don’t have that much in common with — as well as the candidates we are presented with by a corrupt Media. When I made that remark: “Black Lives Matter” may suggest that your life doesn’t; it sure doesn’t feel like it matters.” I was trying to make a point about the dynamics of tribal politics. I was trying to say, think about how it is heard by someone who is fearful, and hurting and feeling neglected and isolated — maybe someone who doesn’t think much about politics and isn’t highly educated — empathize with that person and ask if you are doing anything to bring that person into a coalition, to represent that person among the oppressed. Political partisanship and coalition-building is always partly a matter of the push-pull of the Big Tent — everything the political entrepreneur does to attract one constituency risks pushing away another. Suck up to the Protestants and you alienate the Catholics, to bring up an example that probably doesn’t work with very many people any more, but did once, and illustrates the problem. I suspect the (often privileged) leaders of Black Lives Matter either don’t appreciate how others might hear their rhetoric or they may actually revel in the reaction they imagine getting from an imagined faction of racist opponents. The snide references to white privilege that have cropped up in this thread suggest a degree of personal contempt for economic suffering that may be driving the populist impulse in the Republican Party especially.

It is a problem, I think, for the Democratic Party, that they no longer have much credibility on economic issues as a party of the people, that the loyalty of the old working class — once a big part of the Democratic coalition — is so faded. Of course, the working class itself has faded; it is not all race, but on the economic issues, identity politics can create obstacles to electoral power. (Even the memory of the New Deal is distorted, as it has become a shibboleth on the Left to say the New Deal excluded African-Americans or that industrial Unions were racist institutions back in the day. These unqualified generalizations are seriously misleading at best.) You don’t have to be the white working class guy in despair to have some empathy for him, to understand how the sense that no one in the political establishment cares about him (where “him” can be defined by class or race or geography or education or as her and who knows what else) leads to the political revolt emerging behind Trump and/or Sanders (but not Clinton, I think).

OK, I’ve run out of steam. I’ll risk bad editing or just poor phrasing and I am sure to be misunderstood . . . again.

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