Circular Firing Squads

I don’t live in a complete filter bubble — I am privileged enough to have other people’s political opinions not cause me immediate, direct, harm, and so I have friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, across all political divides (though I try as best I can to persuade them round to my way of thinking, because those views *do* hurt other people — and I have been successful more often than you might imagine, or I wouldn’t be able to justify such friendships even to myself).

But I do predominantly tend to be friendly with people who would, to use an over-simplistic model, share the bottom-left quadrant of the political compass with me. People who support LGBT+ rights (and who would mostly add a few more letters to that acronym), who think black lives matter, who want greater economic justice. (Truth be told, even most of my right-wing-voting friends pay at least lip service to those values, though I don’t yet understand how they reconcile that with their voting).

So I’ve seen a lot of explanations mooted for Trump’s “victory” on Tuesday (if you can call getting two million fewer votes, even after your opponents’ voters have been systematically disenfranchised, a victory):

  • It’s because Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate helped into position by her cronies in the DNC. Bernie would have won it.
  • It’s because of all those Bernie bros who couldn’t get over themselves and vote for a woman when they lost.
  • It’s because of all those Jill Stein voters who put ideological purity over winning
  • It’s because of all those Johnson voters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary
  • It’s because people are lazy and didn’t bother to vote
  • It’s because of the media convincing people Hillary was corrupt.
  • It’s because of the media convincing people Hillary was more popular, so they didn’t need to vote.
  • It’s because liberal elitists don’t listen to ordinary people
  • It’s because of trans people
  • All of these, except the trans one which is just batshit crazy and a good example of how bigotry isn’t confined to the right, may have an element of truth in them, and may contain important lessons for the future. But there’s one thing they have in common — they’re all blaming *people who didn’t vote for Trump*.

    At the same time, I’m seeing (usually from self-described “moderates” and “centrists”) a lot of people saying “well, we need to understand the very real concerns of Trump voters”.

    Now, I am no political genius with a finger on the pulse of the public, particularly the American public, and I don’t claim infallibility here, but I *think* this is a bit the wrong way round.

    I think — and correct me if I’m wrong — that to the extent there is someone to blame for the US having elected a fascist strongman demagogue to a position where he could, if he wanted, actually destroy the whole world, that blame doesn’t primarily lie with the people who *didn’t* vote for him and didn’t want it to happen.

    It may be a simplistic analysis, but I think *if you’re going to blame people*, starting with the bad man and the bad things he says and does, and the bad people who voted for him, is a good place to start.

    In particular, blaming the people who brought in voting restrictions designed specifically to keep people of colour and other marginalised people from voting, using racist and anti-democratic tactics to depress Democratic turnout in swing states, seems like a good idea if you’re looking for someone to blame. But that’s just me.

    Personally, I don’t think blame is a good idea. I think *responsibility* is a good idea, but the only way it’s good is if it’s turned on oneself. “In what way am I responsible for this loss? What lessons can I learn to make sure this doesn’t happen again? What can I do to fix it now?”

    Blame is a way of evading responsibility, of saying “it’s not my fault!” — “Don’t blame me, I voted for blaming someone else instead”.

    And that’s OK for some people — if you’re a black person turned away from the polling station because you can’t produce the ID you’ve never been able to afford, then blaming the people who stopped you voting is entirely reasonable.

    But most of the people I’ve seen making these arguments are people with a reasonable amount of power themselves — people who could actually *do something about it*. Maybe not much, but something. Donating money or time, writing to elected representatives, volunteering to pay for ID for someone denied the vote because of racist restrictions. So rather than blaming others, they should look at what they can do themselves.

    And the idea that someone voting for a fascist has “legitimate problems that must be understood”, but that someone who doesn’t vote at all is “just lazy” or “doesn’t care”, or that someone voting for a third-party candidate is “a narcissist who doesn’t care about the real world”, is just extraordinarily wrong. If fascists are allowed the basic respect of being listened to, *surely* libertarians or Greens should be allowed the same respect?

    So listen to *them*. Find out what can be done to persuade *them* to vote for your preferred candidate next time.

    Believe me, I understand the appeal of being able to shout “you’re all a bunch of bastards and if everyone had just listened to me and done exactly what I said, everything would be OK instead of the complete disaster it is now” — that is, in essence, a summary of about three quarters of my blog posts, including this one.

    (The other quarter say “the Beach Boys are good”, “the Monkees are good”, “Doctor Who used to be good but isn’t any more” and “I like Batman”, in case anyone was wondering. Now you’ll never have to read my archives again.)

    But indulging yourself in the narcissism of small differences, to point out how much better you are than people you mostly agree with, might be a fun hobby, but it’s not a good way to get them on your side.

    Please don’t confuse it with being productive, and don’t allow it to get in the way of doing something useful.

    (And then right after typing all this I see that Jack Graham has managed to say pretty much all of this better than I could. I disagree with him at the end about his critique of liberalism, but where I disagree is that “the dominant ideology of the mainstream political and journalistic establishment today” and “the underpinning of the entire electoral/representational system in most Western democracies” are anything I’d call liberalism, not that those things are terrible — in much the same way that he would argue (and I would agree) that Stalinism was an evil perversion of Marxism. The rest of it’s spot on though.)

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    8 Responses to Circular Firing Squads

    1. Mike Taylor says:

      In particular, blaming the people who brought in voting restrictions designed specifically to keep people of colour and other marginalised people from voting …

      It’s bizarre to me that this wasn’t a much bigger story before the election. I didn’t even hear about it until after the result was in.

    2. TAD says:

      I agree with you that it’s a little bit of all those things (except the trans excuse obviously). However, I think we also have to add in the economic dislocation and uncertainty that a lot of people are feeling right now. The loss of American manufacturing jobs overseas is an issue that’s been festering for at least 20 years, and sooner or later it was going to burst. Trump tapped into that, while Hillary basically ignored it. It’s a mistake to dismiss everyone who voted for Trump as a racist bigot. It’s not true, and it’s too simplistic. Perhaps it’s better to say that a lot of voters chose to overlook Trump’s negatives, because they felt that supporting him on this one big issue (jobs, trade, etc.) was more important. I’m not a Trump supporter or fan by any measure, but there’s no doubt that he tapped into that issue effectively.

      • David Brain says:

        Whilst this is true, the problem for me is that Clinton wasn’t ignoring it at all. Trump stood up and said e.g. “I’m going to rebuild the mining industry and give you your old jobs back” whereas Clinton said “I’m going to support new energy industries that will create new forms of jobs and which will have longer term positive effects on both communities and the planet.”
        If you are a coal miner who has lost their job then Trump’s argument is always going to be more attractive. Even though it’s complete nonsense, because the local coal is now pretty much exhausted and/or too expensive to extract.
        I’m not denying that Trump tapped into that resentment effectively. It’s just that his solution seems to be more of the “I’m going to wave a magic wand” type. Complex and intricate policy papers on structural rebuilding and the impact of resource loss do not a clickbait headline make.

        (Also, and I can’t stress this highly enough, the accusation is not that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist bigot. The accusation is exactly the opposite – that everyone who is a racist bigot voted for Trump. What is causing concern is that those people now think that their position has been vindicated and they will feel even more emboldened to express their racist bigotry without fear of reprisal.)

        • Mike Taylor says:

          Arguably the most depressing part of this, and of the Brexit vote, is the confirmation that the most effective way to win elections is now simply to lie, then pile lies on lies. “£350M a week for the NHS” because “coal-miners get their old jobs bad”. Same shtick, different country. But when the UK and US both fall for it, where is safe?

        • glyncoch says:

          The coal industry is interesting. Mines once they have been proved to be economically viable are long term industries, with stable communities building up around them and grandchildren following grandparents into the same job. The closure of the mine threatens communities and families. Its not just economic. In the UK , mine closures have been followed by the creation of new industries many miles away, or bribes to multinationals to set up sub sub branches, which make politicians look good until the next election, or whenever the tax concession runs out. The skilled local workforce, the transport infrastructure, and communities have all been allowed to wither. Macro economics wins, the press are happy and elections are won. In the meantime family structure break down, pollution due to commuting, and stress related illness increase. It’s no wonder that people suffering industrial decline vote for Trump or Brexit.

          • Mike Taylor says:

            Here’s my take on closing down mines, unguided by any knowledge of how this works in reality and based only on reasoning from first principles. If you know more about the realities, I’d appreciate your corrections.

            A mine gets opened because it’s an opportunity for profit: the mine owner calculates that the cost of excavating the coal (including wages) is less than what it can be sold for. So far so good.

            A community builds up around the mine: the miners, their families, and the local businesses that support them.

            Over time, the mine becomes worked out, so that it’s more difficult, and so more expensive, to get the coal out. The mine can no longer run at a profit. If it’s owned by a private individual or corporation, this is when it gets shut down, and bad luck on all the miners and their families.

            If the mine is owned by the state, things are different. Even neglecting humanitarian issues, there is a purely economic argument for keeping the mine open: if it closes, all the people who worked there will suddenly be out of work and claiming benefits. So from the state’s perspective it’s still sensible to run the mine at a loss.

            But the time presumably comes when extracting the coal is so difficult and expensive that it’s cheaper for the state to close it down, stop talking the losses, and start paying benefits. And this of course destroys the community, since even in the best case most people have to move away to find new work.

            So I think my conclusion is that the best way for the state to manage a mine that’s losing its profitability is to gradually downsize it — for example, by not recruiting new workers as the old ones retire. One hopes that in this way the community will gradually fade, and no single person is suddenly out of a job. Of course the community still dies in the end, unless some other form of productive work becomes available in the area, but I think that’s unavoidable.

            Does that sound right? Did I miss anything?

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