Saturday, March 12, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: The Marketplace of Ideas, Or, In Praise Of Dog Whistles

Not sports, might annoy you, read or not.

In 2004, I spent many nights and weekends walking the streets of Reno, Nevada. Why Reno? Because Nevada in 2004 was a swing state, unlike California, where I lived. So I walked the streets as part a canvassing and get out the vote effort, eventually devoting hundreds of hours, and talking to thousands of people. It was a life-changing experience, for good and ill.

Here's the deal with states that have early voting. You start with strong and consistent people on your rolls, and try to "bank" those votes. Once that list is clear, you talk to people who vote less often, and eventually independents, or new voters. And the bane of your existence is the undecided voter, especially if they used to be strong for your side.

Instead of getting to the less hot portion of your list, the folks for whom a canvasser might feel they were making a difference, you keep pestering people who seem weak, either in their convictions or their intellect. It's a clear difference between candidates, and being undecided is increasingly rare. It's easy to denigrate those folks who are on the fence.

Or, at least, it was, until I had an epiphany while canvassing one day. I talked to a woman in her mid '60s... who was also the sole caretaker for another undecided voter. Her mother, in her late 90s, in very fading health. She wasn't undecided; she was exhausted. More than any person I had ever met, before or since. And in that moment, I lost my disdain for undecided voters, and kept a great philosophical truth in the back in my mind: Audi alteram partem. Latin for hear the other side. Believe that those who think differently than you do, could be doing so in good conscience. It's harder than just painting with a broad brush, but it leaves you in a world with hope, or one that you might want to live in.

There are people who, in this election cycle, want to tell me how a vote for Hilary Clinton is the same as a vote for whoever the Republicans nominate, because of the corruption involved in the system. That it doesn't really matter if someone like Ted Cruz is elected, because the eternal threat to Roe v. Wade has been in place for something like 40 years now, and that we've had Republican presidents and Senate and House control before, and yet Roe is still settled law. That voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil, that voting only encourages the continuation of a corrupt system, and that the current political climate has been wildly entertaining, or at the very least, Not Boring.

I'm trying to be charitable for these views, to hear the other side. But the marketplace of ideas has winning ideas, and losing ones.  And in my judgment, with clear facts as the basis for such decisions, the scorecard is easy to read.

In the matter of Roe, just look at what happens in states where the Republicans have clear and safe voting majorities, and how remarkably limited reproductive choice can become. How the view of jut 19% of the populace -- that abortion is never permissible, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, because those exceptions just open the door for wanton use -- have become the guiding force for the entire Republican party. And how even if Roe stays on the books, how it's becoming irrelevant if the woman in need doesn't have money, time off from work for repeat consultations that deal in the patient being told things that are not true, or access to easy transportation.

In the matter of the parties being the same, consider the number of wars started under the previous Administration (two), and the number started under this one (none). Or the relative tax rates on the wealthiest among us, the actual size of the national deficit, the unemployment rate, the price of oil, the percentage of people with health insurance, and so on, and so on. There is a difference, and voting for the lesser of two evils is what grown ups do. And if you don't believe that you ever compromise your time or fortune in that fashion, I'm sorry for you, and the state of your teeth, your tax returns, your body that never goes to the gym, and so on, and so on.

But all of that is the ordinary stuff. Instead, I'd like to address the Trump phenomenon, and speak to the merits of what's been referred to as dog whistles.

When a candidate strips away the very small veneer of artifice around obvious racism, it's not an act of bravery, or courage in the fact of some nefarious act of political correctness. Rather, it's a clear and dangerous call to establish a new and dramatically lower standard of discourse. It is aid and comfort to the worst among us, and a challenge for them to up the ante. To claim as truth, your opinion -- and an opinion that is based around generalizations.

So last year's concerns about voter fraud -- as if that's swung an election of note since the butterfly ballots and hanging chads of Miami Dade County in 2000, or possibly how Kennedy beat Nixon in 1960 -- become this month's profiling of rally attendees. Or how the plainly dishonest use of the Confederate Battle Flag, unseen in southern circles from the end of the Civil War to the start of the Civil Rights movement, is all about some 150-year-old celebration of a heritage that wasn't, well, entirely about slavery, or the "right" to not submit to the parts of being in the United States that you don't like. (Personally, as someone who has spent his life in PA, NY, OR, CA and NJ, my objection is that I've never lived in a state that has collected as much as it paid in federal taxes. It's fun, how the people who claim the feds can't do anything right, and that they are paying for everything, well, anything but. But moving on.)

The apparent rollback to racism isn't something that everyone who isn't an angry old white male is going to accept, of course. That's why Trump's rallies are violent and filled with protesters, unlike the campaign events for literally every other candidate in this election, and pretty much every candidate dating back to Pat Buchanan and George Wallace.

So please don't claim, as many will, that Trump isn't responsible for the acts of the trouble makers at his rallies, both for and against his cause. He's the architect of all of it, and could stop it, but won't... because to do so would limit the passion that his supporters are bringing to his campaign, and make him sound like, well, every other candidate. You know, the ones that want to be elected, rather than coronated. It wasn't a mistake when his campaign took his own sweet time in disavowing David Duke. It was a calculated move to energize his base.

I used to prefer Trump to his remaining rivals, under the most cynical of reasons. That he didn't really believe much of the over the top stuff that was being said. That he was the least likely to devote his time to making reproductive choice impossible, and that I prefer rule by an ineffectual thief to that of a devoted zealot. That his negatives were so strong and obvious that, in a general election, he'd lose to any Democratic candidate, and drag down the party so much that my side could even re-take the Senate or House, and that the country would continue the remarkable progress made, but without the remarkable obstruction.

Now?

Well, even if nominating Trump is the electoral equivalent of going all-in with 7-2 off-suit, even the worst starting hands win far too often to feel good about the gamble. Let alone what we will look like to the rest of the world with another 7.5 months of riots, racism, international concern over what will be regarded, correctly, as a national nervous breakdown, and so on.

I don't have a vote in the Republican primary, or a candidate that I can possibly support in the general election. But to any of you that think this is all been such a hoot and fun and great entertainment, one question:

How little do you care about your country?

And a follow up...

Is having one more reality show worth the trade off in lives, international reputation, coarsening culture and language?

And will you still feel the same way after someone dies from the injuries that they suffer at a Trump rally?

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