What’s Happening to My Conservative Friends on Social Media?

I have noticed less and less cockiness from my conservative friends on social media.  Indeed, some have left the forum entirely.  Among many who have stayed, however, there is a sense of victimization – maybe persecution is a better word – in what I see online in the days since Donald Trump has been elected and taken office.

I am too timid to copy and paste examples even after covering names and images, but I hope my experience is common enough where you do not need my examples to understand the point.  Just log on and take a look.

Dave Matthews MemeRecently a friend posted a meme featuring a why-can’t-we-all-get-along quote from Dave Matthews.  The laments that followed in the comments would have been unthinkable 12 months ago.  One person blamed Barack Obama for creating the “Us vs. Them” conflict through a process of indoctrination using the schools, media, and something vaguely called “the social constructs” (cf. Richard Dawkins) that turn against people who want to think outside the box.

That is bewildering.  Even funny.

Another blamed the mainstream media for perpetuating the “Us vs. Them” tension.   He sums it up simply:  “Perpetuated by the mainstream media. Promoted by the mainstream media. Instigated and formulated by the MSM.”  Perhaps this person has a problem with the media doing its job and calling a spade a spade, however, this person also ended his post with an exclamation point: “Let’s call a spade a spade.”

Sadly, among the problems with meaningful discourse today, is the tenuous relationship people have with facts…or even alternative facts.  For some people, just not agreeing with a fact is enough to make it false.  Quite literally.

Let’s review a couple things.  First, who is president right now?  It isn’t Barack Obama.  It is Donald Trump.  If Obama is the reason why we cannot get along, is he also the reason why Carrier saved a few hundred jobs in Indiana?  Should we be sending Barack a thank you card for pushing the Dow over 20,000?  Come on, this sort of blame game is trite.  It misses the bigger point anyway.  If President Barack Obama were so good at indoctrinating people into seeing things his way, why did he have so much trouble promoting his political agenda?  Why did we have so many people giving Trump what Trump thinks is a historic victory?!

And the mainstream media canard.  Hahaha!  Oh, good lord, it is precisely the act of calling a spade a spade that rankles a thin-skinned Donald Trump and cows his supporters.  They are offended by facts.

I find it quaint that conservatives try to co-opt the bullied underdog.  We see it happening with indignation among conservative leaders who whine about “obstruction” when the right made obstruction its raison d’etre for eight freaking years!

So cry me a river.  Not buying it.  The difference doesn’t necessarily boil down about opinions of who is right and who is wrong, but it does most certainly stand on who has been more faithful to facts, reason, and integrity in recent years.  On that ground, conservatives – however befuddled, fooled, or sheepish they may be now – have no place to claim.  Besides, I am not convinced one can be the victim of his own misdeeds.  Tragic heroes the right is not.

Growing Tired of the Angry White Voter Excuse…

Yeah ButI am growing tired of the Angry White Voter excuse.  The one that says, “Hey, these people have been overlooked and left behind” and offers that as an explanation for why Republicans have been gaining ground for more than a generation right up to putting a dangerously unqualified and unfit man in the Oval Office.  I never much bought into it anyway.

First — and most importantly — to say that the Angry White Voter has been overlooked and forgotten seems to forget the fact that these voters have been incrementally moving from progressive values to conservative ideology and putting people contrary to their interests in public office from the local to national level since Reagan began to win over his “Reagan Democrats” over thirty freaking years ago!  It is these elected officials, representing the will of an increasingly conservative working class, that has been leaving those so-called angry white voters behind.

Well, WTF!  If you vote for people who pursue policy that runs counter to your interests, guess what…you might get left behind.  And even exploited.  Indeed, there is something like a Stockholm Syndrom going on with almost any Republican voter today who isn’t in the upper reaches of America’s socioeconomic ladder.  Perhaps there is no better proof of this than the adoration of a debased idol like Donald J. Trump.  He stands for absolutely nothing in common with the overlooked working class and poor in this country.  Nothing.  Worse, he barely embraces even the most basic tenets of American democracy and its history and its values, literally calling into doubt even the basic structures of our elections and courts.  Respect for law is a matter of convenience for him.

Things have gotten so outrageous, we forget that the American right hasn’t presented meaningful policy or legislation of any kind in years.  That doesn’t look to change anytime soon, as to today’s Republican leaders press on with campaign sloganeering about cuts and repeals without any plan, purpose, or priority.

Contrary to being left behind, if indeed we can trace Trump’s victory to Angry White Voters, then Angry White Voters own this one.  It is not they who should be angry, it is the rest of us of who be as this country lurches to the right leaving decency and progress in the destruction it has wrought.

Ultimately the real culprit is an unsophisticated voter, one that does not understand the issues and his relationship to them.  To create an apologetic that only gives their anger legitimacy misses this key part.  Angry White Voters will only get angrier and angrier if they keep turning against their interests in what is left of our democracy.

And I am sorry if anyone’s feelings are hurt or otherwise offended.  But you don’t placate a child who has just smashed his dinner plate because he doesn’t like the food you served him.  Right?  You expect him to grow up.  Appeasing the child is not the way to help him grow up.

Just getting a little pissed off…

Briefly, a Comment on David Brooks, “A Return to National Greatness”

David Brooks gets a lot right in his New York Times essay, “A Return to National Greatness“, explaining how the United States is losing its way in the world.  However, he does so by picking and choosing myths, saying some dominate others and this depends on where you stand in the first place.  This creates problems for his argument.

For example, he says the American identity “has been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism.”  I’m not so sure this hits it.  First, tell me what “shapeless multiculturalism” is supposed to be.  Is it Globalization or serving hummus at your kids’ schools?  How would you put a “shape” on multiculturalism, anyway?  And why?

The first part of Brooks’s comment is more true.  We either don’t teach history, civics, and the rest to our students anymore or they are not learning it.  There are some of us who think this matters.  Today we have a president who some suspect doesn’t know who Frederick Douglass was.  I would say that is a failure of both history and multiculturalism and it is significant.

Brooks then coddles some myths of his own — that the left eschews patriotism and intellectuals cannot “imagine providence” — which I think sort of puts David Brooks in camp with some of the people he criticizes.  I’ll concede this, however, it is hard to be otherwise and so perhaps Brooks should not be blamed.

Still, putting aside his personal nostrums, I think David Brooks is largely correct about the power of national myths.  I would take another approach to it, however.  I think the problem is as much about our current fickleness with these myths as it is their power.  Not so long ago Americans were fighting to embrace multiculturalism, for example, whereas today it is presented as evidence of our decline by some, including Brooks in his essay.

Instead, it is that lost “basic solidarity” that Brooks laments that is the real problem.  It might be time to think more about what made us a stronger nation — dare I say albeit an imperfect one without being condemned as an intellectual who cannot imagine providence? — than focus on what is making us weaker.  Both go hand in hand, but as Brooks points out, the myths with credence today are stories of fear and threat.  To go jumping from myth to myth hardly seems smart when those are some of your choices.

Revolution of the Proletariat

le-bourgeois-gentilhommeKarl Marx was no idiot.  Indeed, on many points he is pretty sharp.  But he — or maybe we — just cannot get the revolution thing right and it has tarnished his reputation in history.

Now, here again, I think we have a page of Marxist theory, that being a revolution of the proletariat, unfolding in practice, but again it isn’t quite what Karl Marx had in mind.

There have been so-called “Marxist revolutions” in the past, quite a few, in fact; but they have been mostly bastardized reconfigurations of Marxist theory put into awkward political practice.  Trotsky, Lenin, Castro, and Mao probably being the best known to educated Americans along with that pesky “pink tide” in Central America.

But have we had a Marxist revolution here in the United States, at least the revolution part of it?  Let me suggest that we have.  The problem is it is so terribly flawed we don’t recognize it as such and it doesn’t serve any Marxist objectives whatsoever.  (Big problems.)  However, we have had a revolution, none the less.

Seemingly out of nowhere, we are told, angry white workers rose up to reclaim their country.  They had had enough and were damned pissed off about it.  We’re also told that these “white workers” were also women and minorities, bound together by a general anxiety and anger about being left behind.  No one is paying attention to them and their standard of living has been paying a high price for this neglect.

Pyramid of Capitalist System PosterIn classic Marxist form, the material conditions of workers — lower wages, neglect, declining prosperity — spurred them to act…at the voting booth.  They recognize the injustice of the system and more or less spontaneously joined forces to enact change.

Next, the revolution brought together people from across gender and racial identities, a promise of academic Marxism anyway, to reclaim their dignity as citizens and workers.

Unfortunately, at least if you are a Marxist, the angry workers — the proletariat — did not rise up to overthrow the bourgeoisie, they rose up to give the bourgeoisie more power!  They misjudged their oppression and turned against the state, giving strength — and more state power — to the chains that bind them.  Ironically, too, we are told these are largely the rural working class that gave the revolution to the hard right and they gave it to the people they claim to be their enemy, the urban elites.

We all make mistakes.

Workers do rise up.  From Spartacus and the slave revolts of Rome through the modern era revolution has been the concern of the ruling class and philosophers before and after Marx have written about it.  But it is the ideological suppression of revolution — political and otherwise — that seemingly cannot be broken.  The hegemony of power, whereby the oppressed participate in their own oppression, that remains strong and is becoming stronger.  And in the United States, workers call this freedom.

President-elect Trump, Take a Look at this Deal!

About a year ago the United States along with half a dozen allies completed a deal with Iran that restricted that country’s nuclear programs. Part of that deal eased sanctions on Iran’s ability to trade, including trade with the United States. Donald Trump calls this the “worse deal ever.” Then we see this. Boeing signs a $16.6 billion dollar deal with Iran.

Restrictions remain on Iran’s ability to export to the United States — I still don’t think you can buy Iranian pistachios or rugs, for example — and it looks like this sale will have to pass through Congress; however, a multi-billion dollar order for an American manufacturer looks pretty good, it’s maybe even a little better than a deal to pay off Carrier and save a couple hundred jobs there, don’t you think?

The Obama administration made this case in support for negotiating with Iran, but President Obama isn’t likely to get much credit for any jobs this might save or create…if it passes the Congressional tests, which, given the myopic priorities of today’s Republican Party, isn’t a sure thing, regardless of its value.

If You Are Criticizing Hillary Clinton’s Campaign, Remember This…

There is one obvious answer to complaints that Hillary Clinton ran a flawed campaign.  Everyone, including her opponent, thought she was winning.  Sure, it is clear now that she wasn’t; however, why would she have spent more time in Wisconsin, for example, if all signs pointed to a victory there and opportunities elsewhere?  Indeed, her campaign was designed around leveraging her forthcoming victory.  Four weeks ago, Democrats complained that money was not going less to Clinton and more to tight Congressional races.

The problem in 2016 was something more fundamental, more basic…and that is a basic misunderstanding of who votes and why.  And that is a big one, no doubt!  It also might be one of the few truly bi-partisan issues in American politics today.  In this round, the conservatives got it right, however not by design, but simply by the dumb luck of Donald Trump.  It is the triumph of fate over strategy.  Regardless of how we got here, this was an election that will reset the landmarks for future campaigns.

So we could say Clinton was the victim of bad political science and baffling polls and I actually think that is fair.  Of course Hillary Clinton and her supporters wish it were different, but it isn’t.  To attack her campaign now for winning until she didn’t forgets that she and her supporters were all in this together believing the election was won.

It is unlikely either side will misjudge the American electorate as badly next time.  Beyond that, Democrats must learn that they need more than strong liberals to win both state and national elections.

Mark Lilla’s Great Points About Identity Politics. However…

Take a look at Mark Lilla‘s smart critique of identity politics and liberalism in this Sunday’s New York Times.  I tend to agree — strongly agree — with every point of his criticism; however, I am unsure of the tenor of the essay and the conclusions he draws.  Perhaps you can help me.

Dan Gluibizzi, New York Times, November 20, 2016

Dan Gluibizzi, New York Times, November 20, 2016

Lilla is absolutely correct that the depth and reach of identity politics — which is primarily, but not exclusively, the purview of the intellectual left in the United States — has perhaps gone a little too far and found itself in the realm of the ridiculous.  Popular culture has adopted it into a comedic niche in television programs like “Parks and Recreation” and “Portlandia.”  It is a schtick that practically writes itself.

But you don’t want the pendulum to swing too far!  The triumph of diverse identity indeed is something to be celebrated.  However, I think it needs a better context or outlet perhaps.  This is where I think Mark Lilla’s essay comes a little short.

When he says, for example, that American politics succeeds when it is about “commonality” and a “shared destiny” and says that ongoing legitimacy on the part of Republicans is due to their success at doing exactly this.  And, again, I tend to agree.  What troubles me, however, is how this is not in a way a sense of identity politics.  How is not a revolt against a so-called liberal practice of identity politics not in itself a sort of identity politics?

Republicans have long been better than Democrats — and liberals and progressives generally — at selling a message.  Make no mistake about that!  Although I would argue it is such because Republicans keep their message simple in large part by presuming that everyone IS in this together and identifies as one even as they draw divisive lines between we and them.  They master the Other.

If you agree with that, then I think we are in a clumsy space at best, because you don’t want to cede the Other to make peace to win Pyrrhic political victories.  This is where I think the pendulum would swing too far away from the positives of identity politics back to a more singular dominant discourse which, in all likelihood, would be a white, straight, and ersatz middle-class narrative.

To make this simple, why isn’t the Trump’s victory with disenchanted white voters, for example, not itself a feat of identity politics in a practical sense?  It is a win for a struggling narrative that once was dominant, after all.  I think the real answer is one of execution than kind.  The Trump narrative — despite its lack of credibility — spoke simply to an identity that was large enough to win!

In the end, it was a victory of a broad appeal attached to a simple active message.  It literally appealed to a group and said to those who identified with it that we will do this — take back our country, make us great again — for you.  And in the case with Trump, it was literally sealed with “Believe me.”

I see no reason why the left should not be able to achieve the same.  In fact, the left should be capable of doing this and more and do so with more than “believe me” as justification.  History favors progress.  Indeed, I think Bernie Sanders was proving that.  So I’m not entirely sure that identity politics is dead.  I agree with Mark Lilla that it is a bit overdone, perhaps, but maybe diversity — and the opportunities it presents — just needs to be contained within a different unifying message.

What do you think?