The politics of demonization

Politics has always had an ugly side. Although we often feel like we are living through the worst of it, it has clearly been really awful at other times also. CNN had a great piece during the Trump-Clinton election showing some of the awful things candidates said about each other. The current climate includes some of this, and plenty of name calling (our President excels in this artform), but what bothers me the most isn’t the attacks between those individuals, but the blanket demonization of people who vote a certain way or another. Both sides get blame for this, but circumstances seem to be having an impact on republicans (at this moment) more than democrats. I’m not saying that things couldn’t be reversed, and democrats would be the ones to talk about here, but right now, in current politics, the republicans are worthy of some attention. Specifically, I’m talking about what’s happening in Alabama and the continued support of the GOP candidate for Senate. For the party leaders, and many of their voters, democrats are so awful, and so evil, and so wrong for the country, that they would prefer to side with Moore, in spite of all the dirt that’s been unearthed about him, than let a democrat win the seat.

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Disrupter in Chief

I think this is going to be another long, winding road. My thoughts are coming together in waves, and not all that organized. I may delete this opening before posting…or may just leave it here so I can watch the winding road and maybe enjoy the ride. I have a Facebook friend who I do not know in real life, and I don’t think I’ve ever met in real life. He became a Facebook friend because he maintains a pretty sizable following of Trump loyalists, and after going back and forth a few times, he asked me to join the fun. I don’t participate in the banter all that much since the start, mostly because it’s not my style (the typical response from the Trump loyalists is a meme about Hillary being ugly or something like that), and I get bored with the lack of real discussion. The folks over there seem more about winning, when I’m not there to compete. But this group has given me a window into Trump loyalists that I might not otherwise have, and I’ve made some generalizations. I know generalizations are often unwise, and I’m sure there are individuals who support Trump and do not fit this mold. Indeed, I’m not sure at all that these loyalists are representative of Trump supporters at all, so in truth I see this more as a focus group than a survey, but I’ve still seen some interesting things. Let’s start the ride.

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“It’s all about trust”

My wife has some strong opinions about things, and some of them she raises over and over again. One (of the many) with which I agree is that trust plays a fundamental role in how we feel about our leaders. We trust some leaders, and we don’t trust others. If we trust a leader, we assume that some action is legitimately justified. If we don’t trust a leader, that same action can be nefarious or a sign of incompetence. I’ll come back to something more contemporary in a minute, but let’s start with Obama and Bush.

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Putting on a show

I don’t know why, but I’m still trying to view the Trump administration through rational eyes. Perhaps there are several versions of rational. There really shouldn’t be, but maybe what I think is rational isn’t actually rational. I am saddened by what I see as missed opportunities (see here and here), but I’m starting to accept the fact that it’s never going to happen. I’m starting to accept the fact that we all have things that motivate us, and I think what motivates Trump has more to do with celebrity than anything else. That’s not inconsistent with doing good things for the country, but I’m not convinced that it’s what drives him. I can imagine that he can convince himself that it’s driving him, but I think deep down the things that he embraces are things that feed his celebrity status. I should be clear that I’m not saying that there’s no concern for others in that. I think he enjoys entertaining people. I think he likes it when they’re excited to see him. I think he thrives on that. There’s a level of admirable selflessness in that. Like the comic who stands on stage making fun of himself to make you laugh. On the other hand, it leads to some pretty strange moments when the President of the United States acts that way.

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It’s the economy, stupid!

“The economy, stupid!” The phrase made famous by James Carville, campaign strategist for Bill Clinton. Amazingly effective, and at a time when the US was in a recession. The past election cycle used the sentiment in some ways. The Trump campaign and his inauguration speech painted a very dystopian view of America. There was talk about our crumbling factories and our crime-infested cities. Couple that with prevailing views that our economy is doing poorly (something I touched on before, when I wrote about the disconnect between the way the public perceived us to be in a recession, when were actually weren’t in a recession), and it was almost a “the economy, stupid” election.

This all depended on how we saw the world, and likely which media outlets we viewed (something else I wrote about before).

But let’s look at some numbers, and think about what could come next. To do this, I’m going to steal some text from something I posted on Facebook this morning.

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Changing how we elect our presidents

Elections like this, and like the election in 2000, when the popular vote winner is not the same as the electoral vote winner, make people stop and think about the system we have. I have had quite a few discussions about this over the past month, and I am moved by the arguments in favor of the electoral college. Some say it’s antiquated, and that it was a system designed to give more power to states with high slave populations, but without giving slaves the right to vote. True or not, I accept the premise of why the electoral college is important today: it gives a voice to the small states, and helps make sure they are heard. This has been spun as a benefit to republicans, but the evidence supporting that isn’t very strong.

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On winning

Trump won the election. I do not question that (although I can’t say I would be sad to learn that we were mistaken, and Trump didn’t actually win, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen). That comes with an important logical conclusion: The campaign is over.

We all know there is a difference between campaigning and governing, and we all recognize that the current landscape means that campaigning gets mixed with governing. But the target of that campaign changes, at least should change, after the election. Hillary Clinton was not elected president, but it seems like Trump’s surrogates don’t seem to realize that. Kellyanne Conway, for instance, was interviewed by Chris Wallace not to long ago, and when asked a question about Trump, she instantly pivoted to negative comments about Clinton.

Not only is she still in campaign mode, but she’s as combative as ever.

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