Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Clinton and Trump

Yes, I have not posted in a long time. I've been busier. I am also feeling more and more the repetitiveness of political/social drama and public discourse. Not only do I feel like I would be rehashing previous discussions, but it also drains the gas from my engine.

2016 is terrible, but as I am someone so clearly cynical about the inherent nature of political systems, the election is another area where my reactions would be easily predicted. There has been no dearth of fallacies, myths,and inaccuracies coming from all sides. It is infuriating. For some reason I decided it was time to weigh in on a few misconceptions.

Demagogues are responsible for bigotry. The best way to address bigotry is to discredit demagogues and defeat them at the polls by any means necessary.

This mode of thinking relies on a superhero view of the world where evil is something that exists in and of itself as a sine qua non of the order of the world. It is a characteristic of particular individuals who cannot be understood or changed, who are not rational beings, and are thus less than human. At the same time, this "evil" is treated like an infectious disease - it is contagious, it spreads, and it is capable of being incubated and exacerbated by malignant individuals - the demagogues. Bigotry follows this same pattern. Racists exist because... racists exist. They are, perhaps, a reflection of primordial human tendencies that some or most people have overcome. But the analysis is not as important as the public theater of denouncing them.

A sociological/anthropological analysis of racism stands in stark contrast to this moral-psychological view, with its understanding of society and systems and insistence on seeing all people. even the worst people, as nevertheless people - human beings with feelings and motives that can be at the very least understood. As I have mentioned before, the concept of race was developed as a means of channeling the anger of the white underclass in a direction that was not threatening to the dominating elites, as well as providing a moral justification for the oppression and/or extermination of non-white (black and native) populations. It has continued to serve this function. While neither race nor class is reducible to the other, they are at the same time very much interlinked. 

(Side note:  there is a parallel between the two analyses of bigotry and interpretations of terrorism. Some people see terrorists as irrational, not understandable, less-than-human, and terrorism as an aspect of the world that just is.  Their proposed solution to terrorism often involves a lot of violence. Others see terrorism as a phenomenon rooted in the domination of global capitalism and Western colonialism (this applies to domestic terrorism as well). They took seriously foreign terrorists' anger about the nature of U.S. involvement in other parts of the world and generally propose a radically different foreign policy as an important means of preventing terrorism. And they do this without justifying terrorism.)

If racism was birthed and maintained through economic exploitation and class conflict, then racism cannot significantly be addressed without altering the conditions of the political/economic system that sustains it. To that end, disregarding all of the concerns of that segment of the population to which racism is commonly considered endemic, is counter-productive to the goal of eradicating racism. I say "commonly considered" in part because I think there is a good case to be made that the elites perpetuate a subtle, yet vicious, form of racism that may be more damaging than that of certain blue collar whites. However, I think that particular issue is beyond the scope of this post.

This principle is applicable not just to Trumpism, but also, for example, to Brexit. If the people championing or indirectly supporting nationalism and bigotry are simultaneously aroused by feelings of anger related to economic opportunities and inequalities, eroding community bonds, and political disenfranchisement, then responding to these people by promoting policy that maintains or exacerbates these economic conditions (e.g. the type of policy represented by Clinton, the EU, and the British establishment), by explicitly demeaning and devaluing these people (calling them uneducated, ignorant, naive, incapable of acting in their own best interest), and by affirming their sense of helplessness in a political system that does not represent them (citing Trump or Brexit as a case that democracy is dangerous, advocating means of overriding the popular vote, telling third party voters that their vote only counts in relation to (for or against) one of the two main party candidates), one is actively promoting the conditions in which nationalism/racism/bigotry thrive.

The most constructive things a person can do are any actions that promote systemic change and a more open and representative political process. By this measure, voting for Hillary Clinton is not constructive.

Feeling that one can refrain from voting for Clinton is a form of privilege, as it indicates that one does not personally fear the consequences of a Trump presidency.

There is nothing I dislike more than social justice concepts such as "privilege" being used for base political ends. As a general rule, I am also incredibly frustrated by people who complain that "political correctness" is used to silence people who think differently. I have already written about what a disingenuous argument that is. In this case, however, this particular invocation of "privilege" is used to silence people who genuinely care about inequality (the argument is certainly not directed at conservatives) and this fact makes it all the more frustrating.

Recently I witnessed a female friend completely disregard the thoughts of a male who had just outlined the basis for his support of Jill Stein with the assertion that, as a man, he did not have to fear the consequences of a Trump presidency, and she thereby invalidated his choice to support Stein. I responded to her by pointing out that she had the privilege of not having to worry about the consequences of Clinton's foreign policy on the safety of either herself or her friends and family. I noted that I have heard Muslims and people with Middle Eastern and Latin American background/connections express such a personal fear. She ignored this point.

This could turn into a much longer discussion, but I will try to remain brief. Of course, it is important to take into account the experiences, observations, and social/historical perspectives of different people, most especially those who have not traditionally had a voice. But, being open and taking this into account, one must still formulate a set of principles and determine one's own positions based on those principles. Someone can validly assert that your arguments are based on fallacies, historical and sociological inaccuracies, a lack of evidence, and a disregard for others' experiences. A person can also validly link your personal position in society with such weaknesses in your arguments. But that is different than someone ignoring your arguments entirely and asserting that your position is flawed solely by virtue of the fact that you are X demographic category and happen to disagree on an issue with someone of Y demographic category.  

At any rate, there is a lot of variation within any group. Women, for example, have widely differing experiences and perspectives, and you could pick any argument and find some woman to agree with you and some woman to disagree with you. The key, as I already said, is the set of facts, evidence, and reasoning a person's principles and positions are based on.  A person can be well-versed in feminism, gender studies, queer theory, cultural studies, post-colonialism, African American studies, etc. and still reach the conclusion that a vote for a third party or a non-vote is less dangerous for society as a whole, including oppressed sub-groups, than a vote for Clinton. That is not "the privilege to not be afraid" - that is just someone with a similar set of concerns reaching a different conclusion.

Donald Trump is going to destroy society and that fear is more important than anything else.

Clearly it is not possible to say with any certainty what the results of a Donald Trump presidency will be. Personally, I think he is too incompetent to be the next Hitler or Stalin (also, institutional/structural conditions are completely different from Weimar Germany so those comparisons are problematic for other reasons) and based on all available evidence, including the heavy weight of institutional inertia in the U.S. political system, I imagine things would be fairly status quo under Trump. 

People will remind me of the danger that he stirs up racists.  I think those people like to forget that the radical right wing has been stirred up for a while. If anything, enthusiasm for Trump among those elements will wane once he is firmly part of the establishment, and the radical right will continue on. Once again, it will be more productive to reflect on the ways in which establishment discourse on terrorism, immigration, crime, drugs, and so forth, along with policies that create a white underclass, have done their share to stir up the radical right.

Most importantly, it is necessary to reject a politics based on fear. Some of the most terrible decisions are made when people act based on fear. (This even holds beyond humans, as fear is one of the primary causes of aggressive behavior outside of a predator-prey relationship.) That is why politicians always try to stoke people's fears to increase support for wars.  The fact that the agenda of news media has become so completely profit-driven, and that fear draws ratings, has only contributed to an environment in which fear plays an important role, and this environment just so happens to make people and situations much easier for politicians to manipulate.

If we give in to fear, we surely allow ourselves to be manipulated. Instead, we must remain rational, analyze problems at a systemic level, and be brave enough to pursue the actions and changes that we know are necessary.