A Post Mortem of Sorts

I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I mean, I did vote for Hillary Clinton, of course, but I didn’t vote for her. I voted against Trump. Clinton seemed the best choice to put the last nail in his coffin.

That didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, and now a lot of us are filled with despair. Not only is the most openly xenophobic, most willfully ignorant (sorry, GWB!), most cavalierly criminal (sorry, Dick!), most gleefully rapey (sorry, Bill!), least experienced (sorry, Barak!) major politician in my lifetime headed for the White House, but the fact that his only claim to fame, other than failing at business projects, is being a reality TV star  suggests that our future will be something Frank Miller or J.G. Ballard would have written as parody in the eighties, a coming celebrarchy of People magazine’s cover staples granted political power solely because they are already famous. (Sorry, Ronnie!)

All of this is bad enough, but, as social media has told me again and again, we have now proved that half the country is just a bunch of bigots. Only bigots vote for Trump. Half the country voted for Trump. Q.E.D! Here is a comparatively thoughtful example of the genre, if you need one, but more often what I see is something like, “If you [are] vote[ing/d] for Donald Trump you are straight-up racist! [, sexist, and homophobic!] Unfriend me now and I’m not kidding!”

I think as a general rule any time we conclude something like everyone who disagrees with me about one thing is cartoonishly evil, we should have second thoughts. Saying to Trump voters, “Look what you’ve done!” is clearly fair. They did it, they elected him into office. But to say, “The reason you did this is because you are racist,” is our favorite kind of online behavior. It is an assertion of authority. “I’m in charge of deciding your motives! I’m in charge of deciding what this debate is about.”

(Does it signal our demographic too? Oh, hecks yes!)

We tend not to consider the possibility that just as I voted for Clinton in order to vote against Trump, many people voted for Trump in order to vote against Clinton.

I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out how Trump signals as other, by which I mean as other to my demographic; I’ve really left out the way Clinton signals as other to other demographics. Although nominally from a “flyover state,” she lacks, unlike her husband, a regional accent. When she had to choose a fake state to pretend to be from to become senator, she chose New York. Even though she is a genuine Midwesterner (from Chicago), she signals Wellesley and Yale and coastal elite.

Bill Clinton once said his daddy never had to whip him twice for the same mistake. What  a folksy man! Can you imagine Hillary Clinton trying to pull that off? “Never have I been chastised a second time by my human father.”

Remember, always, that the easiest way to change the world is to change a definition. You can create more endangered species by calling subspecies and breeds species, just as theoretically you can create fewer endangered species by deciding an endangered species is just a regional variety. To change the number of planets you can build a disintegration machine or you can rezone Pluto, and one is much easier to do.

If you want to make more racists, or fewer racists, you can do it with costly advertising campaigns or you can just change the definition of the word racist. If you define a racist as “among other things, anyone who votes for or enables  a racist politician” then half the country is racist (assuming Donald Trump fits the other parts of our definition). Insofar as we have an incentive to demonize our opponents, we have an incentive to define words to make them racists.

But look at it this way: Granted, our demographic has been taught in many ways that racism is worse than murder—a movie celebrating murderers is more likely to be accepted by our peers than one celebrating racists, and jokes about murder are more socially acceptable than jokes about race. But deep down I think we have to agree that actually murder is worse than racism. I suspect many people will balk at that statement so I offer the following demonstration as evidence: If you found out that one of your neighbors was a murderer, wouldn’t you get nervous?; if you found out that half the country had committed murder, wouldn’t you be in even more of a panic than you are now? No civilization has endured if half its population has committed murder (although the definition of murder is fluid enough that civilizations can thrive even with a majority committing what some people call murder). Racism is bad, but murder is worse.

Now, many Trump supporters (at least of the ones I know) believe Hillary Clinton has literally committed murder. I don’t know why they think this; there seems to be no evidence for it; but if they chose a racist over a murderer, that doesn’t make them racists!

As I’ve said before, social issues are a red herring; I don’t mean that they’re not important, I mean that we have incorrectly weighed them as the most important aspects of any political platform. I was happy when Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, but his stance had little influence on the eventual legal recognition of gay marriage. Some people might say that his repeated executions of American citizens without trial might be more important than his support or lack of support for a Supreme Court decision he has little influence over. (Don’t worry; the American citizens Obama executed without trial have all been bad. Surely all future presidents will take this precedent to heart and only execute bad Americans without trial.)

Social issues are convenient for us, if, that is, we want to signal. Let’s say you want higher tariffs and I want lower tariffs, and we disagree about this political issue. Will we have a falling out? Will I decree that you are a “literal monster” who is “worse than Hitler”? Or will I leave our disagreements aside and have a cup of tea with you?

Social issues, though, are he differences we can’t overlook. These are not disagreements, these are unforgivable disagreements. Purging your acquaintances of all dissenters is a much stronger signal than merely raising counterarguments. This is where the party ends!

What is amazing to me is not how many people run the facebook purge but rather how many people talk about how virtuous they are for doing so. It’s great theater! And we get to say that “anyone who votes for Trump is literally saying I shouldn’t exist!” or what have you. As we always do, we invent facts about our opponents.

One amusing example of how incoherent our beliefs about the demographics our opponents hate can be: This article quotes approvingly an old man saying: “The damn Republicans don’t want Latinos and old people to vote.” It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that everyone else online has asserted that Republicans want only old people to vote.

And so we go on asserting that We don’t need to work with a Trump presidency because They did not work with an Obama presidency, forgetting that they had come into to a political situation where we had refused to work with (or acknowledge the legitimacy of) a Bush presidency. “They started it!” is all we can claim, like ten-year olds; unsure of who actually started it, but certain in our righteousness we must be the aggrieved parties.

(“‘I have done that,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done that’—says my pride, and remains adamant. At last—memory yields.” –Nietzsche.)

Obviously I’m worried that Trump will destroy us all; I’m also worried/certain that if he doesn’t do it, we’ll take care of the job ourselves.

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5 comments

  1. I think you’ll find that a racist is anyone who isn’t a Progressive. Having gone to our first Thanksgiving of the year, I have plenty to say on this topic, but unfortunately right now I have to go keep the world safe for capitalism. More later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who are the bad people? OTHER PEOPLE are the bad people.

      What a surprising development!

      Like

  2. Several things:

    – I don’t think Trump is the most criminal politician of your lifetime. Needless to say unlike numerous former mayors or state senators, he has never actually been incarcerated. Even if you are only looking at politicians that have been elected president, his list of crimes is pretty sparse: a bunch of sexual assault claims and shady/possibly fraudulent advertising for Trump university. Please let me know if I’m missing something, but I think that’s it. The Clintons certainly have a longer list. Please limit your critique of him to has actual flaws; you should find more than enough to choose from.

    -As you mention, the definition of murder is rather fluid. Nevermind Vince Foster, Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, a job which I’m reasonably sure has as a prerequisite a willingness to make decisions that will end the lives of others. Now I know most people seem to think killings done with the sanction of the state somehow ‘don’t count,’ but they are still killings. Perhaps they were justified, perhaps not, but surely they carry more moral weight than most of the controversies that supposedly disqualify various politicians. And Trump, as someone who has never held office, at least does not have blood on his hands for a few more months. I find it somewhat funny when people complain that someone is morally unfit to lead the government’s campaigns of murder and imprisonment. Being immoral isn’t a disqualifier, it’s a prerequisite.

    -This is what happens when everybody decides to tell everybody else how to live. Maybe 8 months ago it seemed like a good idea to issue an executive order saying everyone in America needs to pretend that boys are girls. It didn’t seem to me like that was something that was going to do much to improve any transgendered person’s life (if someone is dressed as the opposite gender and can reasonably pass, I don’t think anyone is demanding to inspect their genitals when they go to the bathroom). It did, however, seem like a really good way to stick it people who weren’t on board with transgenderism. Likewise with harrassing any wedding cake decorator or photographer that didn’t want to work with gay weddings instead of just hiring someone who did want to do it. Somehow, the left’s strategy of calling anyone that didn’t agree with it a racist has failed to win people over and now the ‘racists’ are angry and its payback time.

    -It’s incredible to me how much of the shock I’ve heard is not that Trump won, but just being appalled that any Republican won. Apparently, all these people never thought a republican could ever win the whitehouse again and just thought politics would just consist of them stomping on the face of rednecks forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I phrased it unclearly, but what I’d written was Trump was the most criminal “major politician in my lifetime headed for the White House.” I meant among president elects. Clearly he’s not the most criminal politician, major or otherwise, but I do think that no one has trundled off to the US presidency with so many lawsuits pending against him, for example. Trump has pretty much admitted to being a career sexual assaulter, and while I understand he may have been exaggerating, I did go to college with someone who was sexually assaulted by Trump (and who had been telling the story before he was the nominee, and before the other allegations surfaced). So I’m assuming it’s widespread. It is, of course, possible that others went into office with worse records, and it might depend on how complicit Hillary Clinton was in her husband’s crimes, but Trump looks like a front runner to me.

      Murder I defined once before as “killing that is not permitted by the custom of society.” By these lights, even Obama’s robo-assassinations are not murder; soldiers are not murderers, nor are hangmen; duelists were not and then they were, and we can argue about when it switched over and whether Burr and Jackson are murderers; but HRC’s political life probably did not include murder. (Bill Clinton, of course, is the most clearly murderous president of my lifetime, although he wasn’t guilty until after he became president.)

      I agree with you on the rest. If a “normal” Republican had been elected I would not be panicking (nor would I have written about him so often, which would make me feel complicit if I had higher hit numbers). If a Democrat reality TV star had gotten elected I’d be fretting, too.

      (Incidentally, did you know that Wendell Wilkie had never held office when he ran for president?)

      Like

      1. I did mis-parse your sentence about him being the most criminal president-elect, but I still disagree with it. When Bill Clinton was elected, he, like Trump, had a long line of credible sexual assault accusations and he also had the Whitewater scandal. It very well could be I’m missing something of Trump’s or that you rate his various civil suits relative to Clinton’s criminal investigations differently than I do, but I think the most one could say is that Trump is tied with Clinton for criminality.

        You are right that murder is killing which society isn’t okay with, but of course one could take the same line with anything. Sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact which society does not permit. Donald Trump groped women, but society has not punished him for it and in fact has elected him as its leader, ergo, the groping was permitted and Donald Trump is not a sexual assailant. My main point is mainly these things say more about society’s taboos than about the candidates. People get outraged when Trump says something outrageous about Muslims, but seem to pay no mind to the fact that Hillary Clinton has surely killed more Muslims. It seems like that should count for something.

        I did not know that about Wilkie.

        Liked by 1 person

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