On Facebook and Politics

One of the reasons I started blogging here was in an effort to stop posting on Facebook about politics. A great many of my friends, as well as my partner, do not necessarily care for my political views, or at least my particularly combative style of arguing about politics. And I am intentionally a political pugilist. I don’t particularly care for civility, because I learned a long time ago that a great many people don’t either. Appeals to civility in politics, at least from my perspective, does not acknowledge political realities. Granted, political reality is subjective, and varies from person to person.

The other day, a guy who is a close friend and colleague of a friend who is a social and political activist, and whom I respect very much and think of very highly – sorry about that sentence, I need an editor, crap…okay, look, this guy, a friend of a friend, told me that appeals to “political reality” never mean what they’re supposed to mean. And on the one hand, he is correct. On the other hand, his point was that anyone who thinks Sanders is unrealistic is just cynical, which is why Sanders is the only legitimate candidate for the the Democratic nomination, a position which I find repugnant. The contest between Clinton and Sanders has really gotten under my skin – and I have discovered I have a reflexive wrath with respect to criticism of Hillary Clinton.

I really want Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency. And it makes me really angry that so many on the left have been so eager to throw her under the bus. You win political campaigns with solidarity, and the left should be united behind Clinton, not because she’s a perfect candidate – she’s not even close to a perfect candidate, but I’m pretty sure she’d be the first person to admit that – but because the reactionary right is presently at a high water mark in the twilight of the Obama administration. American conservatism has been taken into overdrive these last eight years. And it was already pretty far to the right of where it was when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. When Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1995, it was a sea change in the Republican Party. It wasn’t just the politicians that changed – the 1990s saw the rise of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and other right wing blowhards. They’ve had a long term effect on conservative voters – an effect which is basically lost on everyone to the left of them, which includes most the Republican establishment.

And all of that has deep historical roots in the think tanks that emerged in the 1970s – The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and so on – which has provided much of the intellectual framework that dominates the political right today. But most of the folks on the left don’t know and don’t really care. They think that today’s conservatives are just “right wing nuts” undeserving of serious consideration. Which is a huge mistake.

Paul Ryan is proof of that. Any serious policy wonk (who is not working for a conservative think tank – there are lots of serious right wing policy wonks who adore Paul Ryan) knows full well that Ryan’s policy proposals would send the United States, and potentially the rest of the world, into an economic tailspin. And most of those policy wonks are pro-Hillary, so all the progressives are bent out of shape about it.

David Ruccio, Robert Reich, the good folks at UMass Amherst,  and many more economists who fall into the socialist, communist, and/or heterodox categories, all seem excited about Sanders, and about his rejection of “establishment economics.” Not surprising, but personally I have the feeling that it’s a case of wanting “your guy” in the White House, because you think then your people will start getting all the good grant money and the high profile jobs and influence and so on. Which is to say, it’s more tribal than it is reasonable. On the other hand, I suppose my support of Hillary is also, in some way, basically tribal, too. She’s the true blue Yankee in this race, and I’m a damn Yankee. My parents aren’t – my mother grew up in Berkeley, and is a dyed in the wool Left Coaster, and my dad is a classic Midlander, tolerant to a fault, but distrustful of institutions – but I grew up in the aggressively conformist, ultra-egalitarian Shaker Heights. I tried hard to escape the influences of my hometown through my early adulthood, but in more recent years (in part, I think, through my experiences living in Chicago, which, despite everything, seems to retain the character imparted to it by the Connecticut immigrants who drained the swamp on the shores of Lake Michigan to build what is perhaps Yankeedom’s greatest metropolis) I have come to embrace the views imparted upon me by my Yankee education.

Also, it would seem Colin Woodard’s book, “American Nations,” has had a lasting effect on how I think about politics and culture in the United States. It clarified a great deal for me, and I use the ideas in it all the time.

At any rate, another big influence on my political development came in a series of embarrassing Facebook arguments with my friend’s mother, step-father, and occasionally my friend and a few other folks. My friend’s mother and step-father are fairly serious libertarians, a position I mistook as purely cynical, a calculated way of minimizing tax liability in order to maximize personal consumption. Over time I became convinced that their positions were entirely genuine. And let me be very clear: when my friends on the left talk about crazy people on the right, these are the people they are talking about. There are millions of people like them, too, and they vote. They vote for people like Paul Ryan, because they like the policies he proposes. They want to defund public welfare programs, because they think that is in the best interest of society. And they take those positions really seriously. They aren’t crazy, either. They have a different perspective, and from their perspective, they’re totally right.

It was through arguing with them, and arguing hard, that I came to understand the radical subjectivity of truth, which amounts to what I like to call my “Second Rule: Believe Everything.” Trumps supporters aren’t crazy. We should take their support seriously. We should believe them. Sanders supporters aren’t crazy either. And while I don’t agree with many of the things they say, it’s not because I don’t take them seriously. I do. I take them very seriously, which is why I get so upset about their support. Because the harder they fight Hillary, the more unlikely it becomes that they will support her in November, and that could really sink the party. At that point, the Republicans would have Congress and the White House. Even if Trump was President, that wouldn’t matter, because Paul Ryan would be running the show. He would set the agenda through spending priorities that he would set. Trump would angrily denounce his defunding of Social Security and Medicare, but he wouldn’t stop him. And people would be furious. But it would still happen. Stop and think about that (you non-existent people who are reading this). If you want to be angry, Trump is your President. If you want to insist the system is broken, Trump represents you. If you want to insist the system is corrupt, that democracy is broken, and that we are ruled by oligarchs, Trump is your belief personified. Sure, you can tweet #feelthebern all day every day for the next nine month, but when Trump is inaugurated next year, it will be your fault. You could have stopped and thought about strategy, and been pragmatic and gotten behind the Democrat with the best chance of resisting Paul Ryan’s plans for the country, but noooooo……

I don’t believe that writing all this will help anything. I don’t believe my thinking will help anything. I’m a voice crying in the wilderness, as far as I can tell. I write this because I’m trying not to make my partner crazy with my constant political obsessions. And who knows? Maybe I’m wrong about everything.

But you know what? I started following Paul Krugman back during George W Bush’s first term, because he was the only guy who seemed to understand clearly what was going on. And he’s been pretty lucid on everything since. And who is he supporting? Hillary Clinton. Why? Because she’s the one with the arguments he finds most persuasive. He cares about evidence based analysis, and careful argumentation. I mean, I put my lot in with the center-left wonks a long time ago, and I’m sticking with them. I can recognize the importance of civility in political discourse, but on the other hand, conservatives will show no mercy when they win the White House. There will be no civility towards the left from the folks who have spent the last 7 and 1/2 years feeling positively oppressed by the mere fact that a black man from Chicago won the Presidential election (twice!) and managed to get a few things done while he was at it. As far as I can tell, the broad majority of the left doesn’t see that. Yet.

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