Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Arbitrariness Candidate

For those struggling for an explanation of what happened, here's the best I can come up with so far:

Obviously, Trump's election represents a rejection of the Establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is, in many ways, the perfect embodiment. But if that's what the voters of this country have rejected, what, exactly, are they *embracing* by selecting President Trump?

Contrary to many of my liberal friends, I don't think the fundamental is racism or sexism or bigotry or even nationalism or authoritarianism. Those are elements of Trump, to be sure, and they are things to be concerned about, but they don't represent the fundamental of what I see people who were enthusiastic about Trump in my own circles embracing. I don't think the Trump supporters among my friends are motivated primarily by hate (though some are far more tolerant of it than I would prefer).

I think the fundamental thing people are embracing is this: the arbitrary. Trump was the Arbitrariness Candidate. He may well be the Arbitrariness President.

The arbitrary is that which is put forth without any evidence. The putting forth and accepting of claims without evidence (or in contradiction of it) defined Trump's campaign and his supporters. He asserted things (e.g. Mexicans are rapists, Ted Cruz's father participated in the JFK assassination, he alone can fix our problems without articulating any realistic or specific solutions, etc.) and a large number of his supporters accepted them even when no evidence was provided, time and time again. Even the racism and sexism that so many liberals fear are based in the belief in the arbitrary: the belief that one race or gender is superior (a belief for which there is no evidence). It is the essence of the Trumpian 'believe me', which is code for 'take my word for it because I'm not going to give you any reason to actually believe me.'

And among his supporters, there is a widespread attitude of 'we know what Hillary represents: the Establishment'. This is true. But then it is quickly followed up by some version of 'Trump may not be perfect, but at least there is a chance that he will be better.' This belief, too, is rooted in accepting the arbitrary. Donald Trump has been in the public eye for many, many years. There is ample evidence to draw conclusions about what he will do as President. The inferences we might reasonably draw based on that evidence aren't guaranteed to be right, but they are at least reasonable, as contrasted with the belief that he will be consistently pro-freedom, conservative or, indeed, consistently anything, which is pure fantasy.

Pure fantasy is not worthy of the same cognitive consideration as a belief for which there is some evidence, however robust or scant. (This is the answer to the emerging group of non-enthusiastic Trump apologists who are starting to say 'Well, you don't know what he'll do as President. Maybe it will be ok." It's true that we don't know for certain, but just imagining that it might be ok without being aware of any specific reasons to think so doesn't count as a refutation of people's legitimate, evidence-based concerns.)

It is a grave, grave error to entertain the arbitrary in your thinking, even for a second. If someone puts something forth without any real claim at supporting it with evidence, there is no reason to even consider it possible. If one entertains every statement that someone puts forth as possible, even with no evidence, that does not constitute thinking. It constitutes engaging in a flight of fancy that one has mistaken for cognition. It is a recipe for the sort of cognitive fuzziness and paralysis that allow one to fall victim to the next charismatic figure who comes along who is capable of conjuring up those fantasies and evoking the emotions they connect with.

I think a good, day one answer to 'what do we do next?' is this: fight the arbitrary. Both in your own mind and in the public square. Demand of your friends, your leaders, your teachers and yourself that views be supported by evidence. Train yourself, and help train others, to identify when things are asserted arbitrarily and to reject them out of hand until and unless some actual reason to believe them is provided -- whether you are disinclined to agree with the assertion or, especially, if you are inclined to agree with it. Do not accept the common belief that because we can't be certain of something, we must entertain all possibilities. That attitude elevates ignorance to the status of cognitive gold standard and is a direct path to the destruction of the intellect.

Contrary to the prevailing cultural attitude, not all opinions are equally valid. If, as a people, we were as adept at detecting the arbitrary as we are at, say, detecting racism, I don't think we would have President Elect Trump, and I certainly don't think we would be as primed for abdicating our collective responsibility to think and judge and embracing an actual dictator as I fear we are.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election 2016 Final Take

Here's the truth: Trump is poison in a way that is unprecedented for a major party nominee. Hillary may not be a steak dinner, but she is some type of food, however unappetizing.

There is no hope for the people who think that Trump is a steak dinner. They'll either figure out that he's poison eventually or they won't. But as amusing and sad as those people are, there just aren't enough of them to swing the election.

If Trump does win, it will be because a bunch of people at the margin are too ignorant, lazy, uncritical or habituated to voting Republican to appreciate the difference between a plate of food (however lousy) and rat poison.

If you still find yourself not knowing who to vote for but considering Trump, or have resigned to vote for him as the lesser of two evils, you are one of these people. You, and the system around you, have failed to prepare you to do your civic duty. If you see Trump and Hillary as basically equivalent, you don't understand what is going on or what is at stake, and those of us who have been trying to help you understand have also failed you. For that I am sorry. I tried my best.

If you are one of these people, my final request of you is this: please recognize that if you actually go and vote, you aren't doing your civic duty. You have already failed to do that (or are simply unable to do so under the circumstances). Casting an actual vote in this condition is like standing in the middle of the town square and firing a gun at anyone who looks vaguely suspicious because you are concerned about a recent rash of burglaries.

This election is a battle for the future of our country against someone who is trying to destroy it. If you see it as something other than that and are considering a vote for Trump, don't take the law into your own hands. On Election Day, please stay at home, shelter in place and let the police handle it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The 2016 Election Tobacco Analogy: Extended Version

Most politicians: a pack a day smoking habit

Hillary Clinton: going from 1 to 1.15 packs per day

What even Hillary's strongest supporters think she is: going from 1 to 1.15 packs per day but also going for a light jog

What Trump's more naive supporters have convinced themselves he is: removing cigarette from mouth and inserting a spoonful of plain old (but definitely vanilla) yogurt

Old version of what Trump actually is: trading in pack a day smoking habit for full blown heroin addiction

Improved version of what Trump actually is: removing cigarette and inserting a lit sick of dynamite while trying to convince others that this is beneficial to one's health

What the more self aware Trump supporters think they're doing: removing cigarette and inserting a lit sick of dynamite while trying to convince others that this is beneficial to one's health 

Bernie Sanders: a humidor full of secondhand Cuban cigars that someone has failed maintain the proper moisture level in

Jill Stein: That which one finds in the ashtray after all the Bernie cigars have been smoked

Obama: A pack of Marlboro Lights that, due to the fact that it is being followed by Trump and Hillary, is mistaken for a green salad.

Gary Johnson: weed

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The three kinds of Trumpies I meet on Facebook

An extremely unscientific survey based on my newsfeed.

The three types of people I see on Facebook who express support for Trump:
  1. Women who are strongly anti-abortion, recognize that Hillary Clinton is an extremely pro-choice candidate and believe that there is at least some chance Donald Trump would do things to reduce or restrict abortions (such as nominating anti-abortion justices).
  2. People who hate Hillary Clinton, the Clintons generally and/or the Democratic Party so much that they would vote for a Dark Lord of the Sith if he were running against her. In fact, some acknowledge that this is what they are doing in voting for Trump. Mix of genders.
  3. Men who believe the Establishment is destroying America. They see a vote for Trump as falling somewhere on the spectrum between registering a protest against this Establishment and an opportunity to actually burn this motherfucker down.
Attributes shared by members of all three groups:
  1. Whiteness;
  2. Sense that something is very wrong with this country (e.g. a great injustice being done to the unborn, economy that doesn't work for the people, danger posed by HRC/Establishment/people who don't look like them and don't share American values);
  3. Skepticism or rejection of mainstream media or any information presented to them if derived from mainstream sources;
  4. Tendency to obtain/post news and opinions from sources that cater exclusively to people who share their ideological viewpoint (e.g. right wing media, Catholic publications, etc.) and being highly credulous when it comes to any information that comes from these sources;
  5. Among the 2nd and 3rd groups (less so the 1st), a tendency to see anyone who disagrees with, questions or challenges them as being hopelessly deluded into towing the Establishment line.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Unhappy People and The Orange Man (A Cautionary Conspiracy Theory Fable)

Bad hombre puppets, which do not actually appear in this fable

The country was an absolute disaster and a lot of people were unhappy.

The Unhappy People felt like America was becoming unrecognizable. They thought it had lost its standing in the world. They saw that the economy wasn't working for them. They had lived through terrorist attacks and unnecessary wars. They saw more and more faces they didn't recognize and felt like they belonged to people who didn't share their values: real bad hombres. It wasn't great.

The Unhappy People saw a political Establishment that didn't work for them. It wasn't responsive to their needs -- only to those of big banks and corporate interests and itself. Its policies weren't effective at keeping them safe at home or abroad.

Worse, its leaders weren't doing what they were supposed to: they kept overstepping their bounds under the Constitution, increasing the government's power and reach. You couldn't even trust what you read in the papers because the mainstream media was so biased in favor of the Establishment. And now, it seemed like the country was about to get another Clinton for President (or else some wishy-washy, out of touch Republican elite-type). More of the same.


Then along came The Orange Man. He announced he was running for President. The Orange Man was good at business. He built amazing things. Huge things. Things you had heard of like hotels and casinos and steaks. He was a TV star! Not only that, but he spoke the Unhappy People's language! He shared their concerns. He talked about the same issues that they did. And boy could he talk! The Orange Man loved to talk. And not in the fake way that the Establishment guys did. He told it like it is! He got in your face and wasn't afraid to shake things up. Because that's what The Orange Man was here to do: shake things up. Finally! 

And he did. He really did. He steamrolled those weak, low-energy Establishment Republicans in the primaries. He took over their party just like that. And they all fell in line, Establishment types and all. Because The Orange Man was tough. A real leader. And when the system is as broken as it is, that's what you need: a real leader. A man who's strong: a strongman, you might say. Someone who can repair the broken country by himself (because the Establishment sure isn't going to help). Someone who, alone, can fix it.

Sure The Orange Man said some things that seemed extreme and vaguely unamerican to some of the Unhappy People. But drastic times called for drastic measures. Sometimes you need to take the good with the bad.

The Establishment really didn't like any of this. They were afraid of The Orange Man. They said he was the dangerous one. They started using their pawns in the liberal media to try to discredit The Orange Man. Some of what they said about him was true, some of it was lies. But none of it mattered. It was just the Establishment trying to protect itself. Fortunately, The Unhappy People had their own media by now. And that media was the only one willing to tell the truth about things. They were the only ones who seemed to even care about what an awful, dangerous, corrupt, dishonest liar Hillary was. And they thought The Orange Man was great. In fact, The Orange Man even hired some folks who lead this special Unhappy People Media to run his campaign.


As the election got closer, things started to go badly for The Orange Man. Bigly badly. He wasn't doing well in the polls. Most people thought Hillary beat him in the debates: even some people who supported The Orange Man. A bunch of stuff came out that was embarrassing for The Orange Man: his returns showing he paid no taxes and maybe wasn't such a great businessman after all. A tape of him saying some very rude things about women (the liberal media claimed he was bragging about sexual assault but of course that was just them being all PC -- it was just words and Hillary's husband did much worse).

Still, all of this stuff seemed to have some effect, because The Orange Man looked like he was losing. But how could that be? The Orange Man might be a lot of things, but he was no loser.

Fortunately, The Orange Man himself explained it. He wasn't really losing: the fix was in. Voter fraud. The liberal media spinning things again. And of course Hillary shouldn't even be running: she should be in jail. The Unhappy People Media agreed.

To the Unhappy People, it made perfect sense. The establishment could never beat The Orange Man fair and square, so they had to cheat. They had to steal the election from him.


But what The Unhappy People didn't know was that The Orange Man actually was losing -- and The Orange Man knew it. Or at least the people running his campaign did. They had known all along that he couldn't possibly win. Because even though The Orange Man's supporters really wanted him to win, there just weren't enough of them who would actually go out and vote. That was a little sad for The Orange Man, the people running his campaign and the people who lead the special Unhappy People Media, but fortunately they had a plan. Because they were playing the long game. Team Orange Man had an agenda of it's own.

And what was that agenda? It was to get someone into power who would support all of the most extreme things The Orange Man and his nuttiest supporters wanted. Things like banning all people of a certain religion from entering the country. Jailing political opponents. Some pretty vile, racist stuff. Stuff that can only work if enough Americans were willing to ignore or reject the country's basic principles. Stuff that could only work with a strong, authoritarian figure in charge, rather than a functioning system of checks and balances.

The Extreme Orangists had learned that the country was almost ready for all this, but not quite, so they held a dress rehearsal. It gave them a chance to verify their techniques. See how people would respond. The Establishment did just what they expected: the Republican elite got in line because they were afraid to alienate The Orange Man's voters. Some people in the mainstream media had an inkling of what was going on, but for the most part they focused on the superficial stuff (like the nasty things The Orange Man said) and even helped The Orange Man when it served their interests (like in getting ratings). Whatever The Orange Man's original reasons for running were, the Extreme Orangists had taken over. To them, The Orange Man was a charismatic stooge with just enough of the important features to be useful for a trial run.

See, the Extreme Orangists had studied their history (though not the Orange Man himself: he doesn't read). They knew that to bring their agenda about, they had to get enough people who were willing to go along with it. Enough people who were willing to look the other way at the horrible stuff. There weren't quite enough of these people in 2016 to elect The Orange Man. But they knew the best way to get more of them next time: it was to manipulate the Unhappy People.


The Unhappy People were a perfect target. They sensed that things were going wrong in the country. They already felt like the system wasn't working for them. They hated and distrusted the Establishment. The got their news and information almost exclusively from their own Unhappy People Media (which the Extreme Orangists controlled) and were skeptical of any information that came from other sources.

There were just two problems. First, the Unhappy People weren't quite ready to abandon American principles and fully embrace the Extreme Orangist agenda just yet. And second, not all of them were motivated enough to go out and vote (even when it looked like The Orange Man might win).

The Extreme Orangists knew the best way to fix both of these problems: it was to get the Unhappy People to be angry and hopeless. Even more angry and hopeless than they already were. Since The Orange Man was going to lose the election anyway, the Extreme Orangists saw the perfect opportunity to do this: they'd keep telling the Unhappy People that the very system itself was rigged until enough of them really believed it. Knew it in their hearts. Felt it in their bones. Woke up every day of Hillary Clinton's administration, overflowing with rage and despair and feeling, with every fiber of their being, that their America was already lost.

Because if their America is already lost -- if the system is completely and irredeemably rigged against them -- what chance do the Unhappy People have? What hope is there other than to try something completely different, even if it flies in the face of the very values the Unhappy People once claimed to hold dear? Those values didn't work. The system itself has failed. Why not burn it down, either in the streets or, more likely, by electing The Orange Man 2.0 next time around (for the original Orange Man, having outlived his usefulness to the Extreme Orangists, will be long gone). The day will come, and this time, enough of the Unhappy People will finally be ready.


Most of the Unhappy People never realized any of this was going on, of course. But a few did. They remembered the Star Wars prequels and realized that while they thought they were trying to save the Galactic Republic from the Separatists, they were being tricked by the Emperor all along. Those who were fortunate enough never to have seen the prequels drew a little bit of smug satisfaction from that fact, but they too realized that while they thought they were fighting to save their country from the Establishment, they were actually being manipulated into working towards its destruction by people who were even worse.

Those that realized this felt like fools. They knew they had been played like a bunch of ninety-nine cent kazoos. They stood on the brink of oblivion, faces red with shame, and wondered is it too late to turn back? 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The nihilism of Trump's fraud allegations

[reposted from Facebook]

The other thing about Trump refusing to state that he will accept the results of the election is that it is an admission that he has abandoned all hope of actually winning.

It is such an obscene statement that it is going to contribute to getting out the vote for Clinton from people who otherwise wouldn't have come out. It also creates a disincentive for his supporters to come out and vote: if the system is rigged against him and he's bound to lose, why waste your time voting for him? Both of those things increase his likelihood of losing.

It's another reason why I think destabilizing the country, rather than becoming President or even making up excuses for his loss, has become his actual goal. If he was just trying to protect his ego, he could have spun his likely impending defeat in a way that actually might improve his chances of winning ("Crooked Hillary and the liberal media are trying to steal the country from us. If you want to stop them, get out and vote for me!")

It's really borderline nihilism. He no longer thinks he can win. He doesn't care about winning anymore. He doesn't care about his supporters (or that they desperately want him to win). He just wants to pour the gasoline, light the match and watch it all burn.

Hillary Clinton Must Be Elected President

It has been clear to me for a long time that Donald Trump is completely unfit to be President. Though I have known for an equally long time that I would not be voting for Mr. Trump, up until last night's debate, I had not decide how I would be voting. I am undecided no longer.

As a direct consequence of Trump's ongoing strategy of questioning the legitimacy of the election and his specific refusal last night to state that he would accept the results, I will be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton. I think it is vital that every freedom-loving American -- irrespective of their political views or affiliation -- do the same.

The conventional wisdom on Mr. Trump's casting doubt on the election's legitimacy is that he is so psychologically adverse to losing (and to being branded a loser) that he will grasp at any excuse to avoid that characterization. While this may be true, I believe it is insufficient to explain the preemptive attacks on the integrity of the electoral process. 

Trump's baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud began long before it became clear that he was on an irreversible path to losing. Moreover, the allegations of the election being 'stolen' are literally incoherent to a degree beyond even Mr. Trump's baseline level. In order for an election to be stolen from a candidate (due to voter fraud or any other means), that candidate has to be winning or at least competitive. But Mr. Trump is currently trailing Mrs. Clinton by 7 points in the average of national polls with less than three weeks until the election. He has only a 13% chance of victory. If he wins (legitimately or otherwise), it would represent him 'stealing' the election from Mrs. Clinton, but he (and his supporters) should expect him to lose based on the available data.

Under these conditions, if Mr. Trump's primary goal is to avoid the stain of loserism and he's willing to continue to play fast and loose with the facts, why go with this bizarre and unsubstantiated narrative about widespread voter fraud? The traditional (and much more plausible) Republican narrative of liberal media bias ('the polls are rigged', 'the press is out to get me', etc.) maps much better to the facts and would still resonate with a Trump base that is enamored of conspiracy theories.

I believe there is something both simpler and far more sinister going on than Mr. Trump protecting his ego. The danger of the fixed election narrative, as commentator after commentator have pointed out, is that it undermines people's faith in the electoral process. It plays into the narrative that the entire political system is rigged against his supporters. It will probably incite some of them to engage in voter suppression and intimidation tactics, if not outright political violence.

After watching Mr. Trump's performance last night, I don't believe these outcomes are unintended consequences of a thin-skinned misogynist trying to avoid looking like he lost to a girl. They are the intended outcomes of an authoritarian figure trying to undermine a country's longstanding traditions of representative government and peaceful transition of power so that it more closely resembles a system more to his liking.

By running a campaign that involved attacking the political establishment, praising foreign dictators, threatening to jail his political rival and advocating policies that fly in the face of American values and constitutional protections, Donald Trump was trying to transform America into a less free, more statist country through the ballot box. It is now clear that he will not be elected, so, consistent with his political philosophy, he has now switched to openly attempting to erode that system in a far more direct and egregious way than any politician in American history.

There is no longer any question that Donald Trump -- a man who his supporters believe is trying to save the American system of government from a political establishment that has sold out its people -- is actually trying to destroy it. And this is why he must be stopped.

Because he has chosen to pursue his agenda by arbitrarily asserting that he will lose the election due to fraud, it is vital that Trump be defeated in a manner that leaves no doubt that the outcome of the election was legitimate.

I believe this means voting for Hillary Clinton so that her margin of victory over Trump in the popular vote is as wide as it can be. Based on current polling, a Clinton landslide (greater than 10% popular vote victory) is an attainable goal. Such an historic result -- hundreds of thousands of times beyond the margin that any reasonable estimation of the effects that fraud could have on the outcome would support -- would be an emphatic repudiation of the anti-American agenda of Trump and his supporters.

Beyond this, I believe the seriousness of the Trump threat also requires a stern rebuke of the party that has collaborated with him. In my view, this means consistently voting for down-ballot Democratic candidates at the federal, state and local levels over their Republican opponents, irrespective of the relative merits of the individual candidates and irrespective of the Republican candidate's level of support for or endorsement of Trump. To be clear, that last point includes voting against Republican candidates who have specifically renounced Trump and those who have remained neutral towards him, in addition to those who have expressed support for him. The Republican party, its leadership and its base had every opportunity to stop or repudiate Mr. Trump's candidacy. Instead they embraced it. They must be punished for doing this so that it is clear to future members of all American political parties that supporting would-be dictators is a path to nothing but a crushing electoral defeat.

I do not advocate this approach lightly. I do so in full knowledge that, if successful, it would result in Hillary Clinton being elected President with not only a strong popular mandate but potential Democratic control of both houses of Congress. In such a scenario, the Democratic party would be emboldened to pursue the most Progressive parts of its agenda. I strongly disagree with large parts of this agenda and regard the more extreme ones as dangerous and inconsistent with freedom and American values. But, in general, such a scenario would represent a moderate acceleration of an already-in-progress trend towards a more socialist America with greater executive power, bigger government, less recognition of individual rights and continued ineffective foreign policy. But, frankly, this longstanding trend has been abetted by members and administrations of both parties. Its acceleration represents an unfortunate development, but it pales in comparison to how dramatically the trend towards a statist America would accelerate if an avowed proto-dictator who openly advocates undermining our constitutional system by any means possible were to come to power, or, worse, actually undermine that system without coming to power.

It is vital that such a man be stopped. In order to do so, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party in this election. I strongly advocate that you do the same.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tribalism and Trump Support

A common question among those who are shocked and dismayed by Donald Trump's candidacy is 'How can his supporters continue to support him?' The question is often expressed with increasing alarm and incredulity after some new and more troubling example of Trump being Trump comes to light.

I think a big part of understanding the answer to that question is understanding the concept of tribalism and how essential it is to the nature of Trumpism.

Tribalism is the basis of all the most primitive forms of collectivism such as racism and sexism (though it is broader and more fundamental than any of its specific forms). On the most basic level, it involves elevating allegiance to the group with which one identifies above all else.

Politically, we see this in the various Trumpian stances that attempt to single out and marginalize various groups who aren't on the 'approved' list: deporting illegal immigrants, objectifying women, banning Muslims from entering the country and infringing upon the rights of those who are already here, etc.

But there's a cognitive element to tribalism too: it consists of substituting group allegiance for one's actual thought and judgement.

Trump's supporters view themselves primarily as members of some group of which Trump himself is the standard bearer. How exactly that group is defined differs from supporter to supporter. It might be something like 'people who have gotten a raw deal at the hands of the establishment' or 'real Americans.' But however you define the group, its existence provides a handy cognitive shortcut: on any given issue or topic, you and the other Trumpies are right, and everyone else is wrong.

This substitution of group allegiance for rational, objective, principled thought explains a wide range of Trump supporter behavior -- including behavior that seems weirdly contradictory or hypocritical, for example

  • Thinking that 'locker room talk' that objectifies women and even bragging about one's ability to sexually assault women with impunity is fine, yet having a problem if someone talked that way about your wife or daughter;
  • Having a major problem with the serial infidelities of the spouse of your political opponent (and her alleged enabling thereof) while simultaneously supporting a candidate who is an open, unapologetic, serial philanderer;
  • Being indifferent to Donald Trump's many documented lies and frauds while detesting Hillary Clinton for being 'deceitful';
  • Embracing any conspiracy theory that tends to support your group's official line without any regard for standards of proof or evidence while simultaneously demanding evidence from your opponents ('show us your birth certificate!') that you are, in fact, determined to dismiss or ignore ('it's fake!');
  • Expressing dismay at President Obama for overstepping his authority and dangerously increasing executive power while simultaneously supporting a man with obvious authoritarian views and tendencies who openly admires actual dictators;
  • Heaping scorn upon Republicans who, whether for principled or pragmatic reasons, rescind their support for Trump while simultaneously giving Trump himself a free pass on the actions that caused them to regard continued support as untenable;
  • Claiming to be a champion of American values while simultaneously advocating measures that would undermine them.
In all these cases, the sin isn't the actual thing. The actual thing is fine as long as a member of your tribe does it. The sin is not being a member of the tribe. The thing isn't right or wrong. Nothing is actually right or wrong. "Right" and "wrong" are useful rhetorical labels to apply to people and things to show your tribal allegiance.

The tribal mentality also explains the common (maybe the only) retort of Trump supporters when you point out their candidate's faults: the attempt at moral equivalence. 'So what if Donald used nasty language? Hillary tried to intimidate the women her husband had affairs with." 

Do you see what's going on here? Its more than just childish tit-for-tat and playing fast and loose with the facts.

As long as we can pair off one of Trump's alleged failings with one of Hillary's, then they are equivalently bad. And if we can frame them as equivalently bad, then there's no objective basis for picking one over the other. No need to worry about pesky facts or arguments or the (sometimes legitimately tricky task) of wading through it all. We can now take the cognitive shortcut and treat it like a matter of personal preference, which is to say tribal loyalty. It's like rooting for the Yankees over the Red Sox.

It's why Trump supporters (even the tacit ones) don't seem to understand that people could have serious, profound concerns about a Trump presidency that, in their view, disqualify him from office. The thought of someone being disqualified on principle literally doesn't compute for them. They would actually have to believe there are such things as principles we could use to identify disqualifying behavior first. They would have to believe there are standards by which we could judge whether some particular behavior was disqualifying. They would have to believe in the value of evidence that would prove (or disprove) the existence of the disqualifying behavior.

But there are no principles. There are no standards. There is no value to evidence. There is only the tribe.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Good on 'ya, Democrats

[I originally posted this on Facebook but I liked it so here it is for prosperity:]

I think the Democrats -- with whom I have many, many issues -- did an excellent job of articulating the essence of Trumpism in fundamental terms and framing the election as a referendum on it (which it is). That is almost unprecedented in contemporary politics and deserves high praise.

This was particularly true of POTUS' speech and the (sadly too few) good parts of HRC's acceptance speech. Way better stuff than anything the media has done in covering or analyzing Trumpism, where I find them to be at best superficial and at worst enabling of Trump.

I've been thinking about this and railing against Trumpism for a year, yet things they said genuinely helped me crystallize my own thinking. That's saying something. Specifically:

1. Great job (again, esp. by POTUS) referring to 'Trumpism' as a thing: a belief system shared by a group of people. It isn't just Trump coopting the Republican party and his supporters being bamboozled: this is an ideology embraced by his ardent supporters because they believe it.

2. Not only articulating what the core intellectual principles of Trumpism are -- nativist tribalism, protectionism and economic nationalism -- but also making it clear that those principles are unAmerican. Being a Trump supporter *means* you embrace those things. The enthusiastic ones embrace them proudly and the reluctant ones do so tacitly, but *that* is what it means to support or vote for Trump.

3. Recognizing that the nature of those beliefs *requires* totalitarianism. The Trumpies admire Trump's authoritarian tendencies because on some level they understand that bringing their fundamentally unAmerican ideals to this country requires us to abandon American principles -- individual rights, freedom of religion, acceptance of people with different ideas -- and replace them with a strong man who tells us what to do, because those things can't happen in a country where our form of Constitutional government functions. To paraphrase POTUS, these people want to be ruled.

4. They articulated much of this in simple, understandable terms (unlike what I just did), weaving in concrete examples, idealogical content and a sense of contrasting tone/worldview.

If the Democrats can keep this up and the election results in a rejection of the very essence of Trumpism, they will have done this country a great service.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The lesson of 2016: America is ready for a dictator

The politicians are watching, folks. Not Trump and Clinton and Bernie (though they are, too). I mean the guys and gals who will be running for Congress two years from now. And President four years from now. And beyond.

They're watching and they're learning the lessons that the electorate is teaching them during this election cycle, same as they always do. They're learning because when we support the candidates we do, we're continually sending the message "yes, please give us more of that." More candidates like that. More of that approach.

But this time around, I fear we've reached the tipping point, because the lessons we're teaching them sure aren't good. They're not good for constitutional government. They don't say good things about us as a people. They don't bode well for the future.

It may take the media and politicians a while to catch on, but here's what I think they'll figure out once they do, because this, is apparently, who we are and what we want more of:

You don't need to present policies or a vision --  It used to be that a Presidential candidate had to have a platform. It used to be that they at least had to pay lip service to the issues. They had to present a reason why you should vote for them. Not anymore. Trump paints a picture of a weak and damaged country that he can somehow "make great again," but offers nothing that stands up to even the most modest scrutiny in terms of how to do that. Hillary offers no compelling reason why she should be President other than A) She really wants to be and B) She isn't Trump. Both candidates' argument for why they should be elected amounts to "Vote for me because I want to be President and this is how I act," -- and, shockingly, that's going to be enough to get one of them elected.

We don't care if what you say is true -- We are so apathetic that we don't even make an attempt to check what the candidates are saying against reality. It doesn't matter if there is any data to support an assertion. It doesn't matter if you support an ideology that has failed historically and is failing spectacularly elsewhere in the world as we speak. We're not even going to look -- even in an age where it takes just a few seconds to verify information using Google. It used to be that you had to be at least a little concerned with the truth. Now, to succeed as a politician, you can get away with spouting utter BS: making statements that you know to be false while being indifferent to that fact because you know your base is equally indifferent.

It's all about tone -- A reality show performer locked up the Republican race long ago because a plurality of that party's voters respond to his pseudo-self confident "tough talk," in spite of his beliefs and policy positions (to the extent he has them) being outliers from the traditional Republican platform (e.g. limited government, Christian values, etc.). And Hillary has still failed to secure her party's nomination because of the widespread (and true) belief that she is a shifty, robotic opportunist who will say and do anything to become President. Sanders' slogan is so (I think unintentionally) telling: "Feel the Bern." The message is "Support Bernie because it feels right." We're evaluating the candidates based on how they strike us.

... and the tone we responded to is anger -- Bernie exploits popular anger against perceived Wall Street excesses and alleged responsibility for the Financial Crisis. The picture on the homepage of Bernie's supporters' website is portrait of righteous indignation. Trump galvanizes his supporters with nationalist, xenophobic rhetoric. And because the truth is unimportant (see above), this is what it's about: whipping people up into a frenzy and playing nakedly to anger, fear and resentment. This validates those emotions and, for many people,  a candidate's "I acknowledge and share in your anger" is enough reason to support them.

We don't value freedom -- As catalogued elsewhere (including by me), Trump's policies are in conflict with a boatload of fundamental American principles, including those related to free speech, freedom of religion and personal liberty -- yet he's the candidate drawing supporters from what used to be the libertarian-leaning political party. Sanders and his supporters are the intellectual force behind the Democratic Party and they unapologetically advocate a doctrine based on the subordination or abolition of property rights and fundamental economic freedoms. On both sides of the aisle, we are not only indifferent to freedom: we're actively looking for folks who will throw it out the window if it means solving a problem, real or imagined, that we've been lead to believe is important.

Right now, someone in Washington is in the process of putting all of this together. I don't think it's terribly hard to do: it's the glaring message we, the voters, are actually sending (as opposed to whatever message the more conscientious among us think they're sending). Maybe one of the current crop of candidates already has it figured out.

When that person realizes that a plurality of Americans 1) really respond to angry rhetoric, 2) don't care if that rhetoric is true or even coherent and 3) don't hold freedom as a significant value -- they're going to take the surprising yet logical next step and conclude that the American public is ready to embrace an actual dictator.

Soberingly, all the checks and balances in the world (or in the Constitution) aren't going to prevent that dictator from coming to power when he does step forward. The effectiveness of our system of government -- as well as the nature of the candidates for elected office within it -- are consequences of the dominant intellectual climate among the American people, not the causes of it. And right now, that climate isn't looking too good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It's closer than you think

It's pretty apparent that the media doesn't know how to cover the 2016 Presidential Election, so here's a little public service announcement: it's closer than you think.

I think I've made my own no-fan-of-Trump views clear, but that aside, I am dumbfounded that the mainstream media (who supposedly are anti-Trump) continue to laugh off his candidacy despite his continually proving them wrong. I don't think this is intentional or the result of some bias on their part: I think it's that they literally have no idea how to make sense of the Trump phenomenon because it is so unprecedented.

I'm not saying Trump is going to win. I am saying, though, that there are completely plausible, realistic scenarios in which he does. From the beginning of his candidacy, in fact, I've been saying that he was the only one in the Republican field who had a shot of beating Hillary due to his ability to mobilize non-traditional Republican voters (sorry John Kasich).

Don't believe me? Try playing around with 538's tool and see how easy it is to flip the map based on the assumption that Trump mobilizes non-college educated white voters who break his way.

Wanna see how close it is? Here's a plausible (as of this writing) path to Trump victory:
  • He holds all the red states that Romney took in 2012. I think this is quite plausible. The only competitive red state in 2012 was North Carolina, where Obama lost by just 3% of the popular vote. In every other red state, Romney won by at least 8% (GA) and 10% or more everywhere else.
  • He flips Florida, Ohio and Virginia (or, less plausibly, two of those plus PA), which all went to Obama narrowly in 2012. I think this is possible if Trump focuses on mobilizing his base in those states since the latest polling shows a dead heat in OH, PA and FL. All four of those states were decided by 5% or less of the popular vote in 2012.
  • He also flips at least one of CO and NV. Both of these were decided by 6% or less of the popular vote in 2012, but it’s interesting given the Hispanic population in both states, who I understand are not Trump's biggest fans.
Per the above, let’s say Trump takes FL, OH, VA and CO — the 4 states from the above scenario that were closest in 2012. If this happens, he wins with 275 electoral votes to Clinton’s 263 (270 needed to win), and it’s All Hail President Trump:

Click the map to create your own at

Not saying it’s going to happen, just saying it could…