Thursday
May042017

Subtle Subtext

“The implications are bizarre.”

That’s certainly true.

But what are we talking about? Perhaps the fact that the president of the United States doesn’t know basic facts about American history? Or that millions of Americans still believe climate change is a nefarious liberal plot? Or that Eric Thames in leading the league in homeruns?

No, we’re talking about a recent study that concluded racism motivated Trump voters more than just about any other factor.

This study has jolted those Americans — whether liberal or conservative — who insist that racism is dead, and that Trump won simply because of his brash tough talk or pro-business views or patriotic fervor or blah blah blah.

The immediate rebuttal to the study’s damning assertion is that Trump’s predecessor was a certain African American gentleman, whom you may remember fondly. So how could a nation of racists have elected Obama in the first place?

Well, here are some theories that explain that apparent contradiction:

First, the report implied that “a lot of racially bigoted people were willing to vote for Obama [but] flocked to Trump when he made ‘political incorrectness’ central to his pitch.” Basically, many former Obama voters aren’t overt racists, and may not even be aware that they harbor negative feelings about ethnic minorities. But once someone gave them psychological cover for their negative perceptions, they could justify pulling the lever for a guy who was endorsed by the KKK, without thinking that they were bad people. Yes, this is a spinoff of the old (and increasingly pathetic) defense of “I’m not racist. I’m just not PC.”

These voters who got mindfucked had their deeply buried prejudice activated when a candidate — say, an egomaniacal sociopath — reinforced their racism. There are various ways of doing this, mostly of the dog-whistle variety. But the gist is that “if you want a racist’s vote, you have to make an appeal directly to their racism. Without it, he or she just might vote for a racial minority.”

A second factor is moral licensing. This is a fancy term for a psychological self-defense mechanism where “any act and any thought that you consider to be ‘good’ can license a subsequent ‘bad’ behavior because we feel that we deserve a reward for being so righteous.” For example, if we voted for Obama, we may feel that this is proof that we are not prejudiced. It therefore gives us a moral license — a sort of free pass — to be bigoted in the near future.

Moral licensing is our psyche’s way of saying, “Look, you voted for the black guy. That gets you off the hook. Go ahead and put that Trump sign on your lawn.”

A third reason why some Obama voters switched to Trump is the discomfort many white Americans feel over the nation’s cultural changes. A decade ago, white people were just starting to feel their decline. But by 2016 — with the opioid crisis in full swing and a black guy calling the shots and more Latinos popping up on television — it was undeniable that the good old days were over for white people.

During the Obama era, push very quickly came to shove for white people, who saw their numbers dwindle and their power slip (albeit slightly). This was enough for many white Americans to declare that enough was enough. After all, it was one thing for ethnic minorities to make some progress, but it was another to see so many dark-hued people doing better than they were. Indeed, “the achievements of black Americans, those who have become CEOs, scholars, scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers and politicians—and now even president—have fueled the resurgence of intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiment.”

In other words, many white Americans sincerely didn’t believe that blacks and Latinos, by gaining just a modicum of cultural and political power, would actually do that much better. It was alarming, and it provoked them to call for taking their country back and making America great again and otherwise returning to a glorious past where ethnic minorities knew their place.

Finally, there is the fact that Obama’s election in the first place was — and this is disturbing to admit — a bit of a fluke. After all, in our nation’s history, no other ethnic minority has even gotten close to being a major-party nominee. And it must be acknowledged that Obama’s first campaign in 2008 came amidst an economic meltdown and the waning days of a Republican president widely regarded to be an incompetent frat boy. In other words, one reason that Obama won in the first place was because shit was so horrible that the country was willing to take a chance on a black man. Eight years later, with the worse over but vague dissatisfaction lingering over Obama’s “socialism,” it was much more acceptable to embrace white nationalism.

So there you have four pretty good reasons why many bigots voted for Obama but then switched to Trump. And these handful of closeted racists were enough to decide the election.

And how will they vote in 2020, when their savior, the Orange One, fails to improve their lives and make all the minorities go away?

That’s an excellent question.

 

Thursday
Apr272017

Don’t Say the R Word

By now, you’ve seen the research that implies Trump voters were more motivated by racism than… well, by anything else when it came to casting their ballots.

We can certainly debate the root causes of Trumpism, and it’s unlikely that historians will ever agree on one concrete reason for the election of man who sounds more like an intelligible dementia sufferer than a sitting president.

Think of all the variables — from the Comey letter to Russian hacking to misogyny to American’s perpetual hero worship of celebrity. All are plausible reasons why destitute people in small towns looked at a smug billionaire with no governing experience and thought, “Hey, why not?” 

But two factors seem most salient. The first is a love of authoritarianism, which many studies have pinpointed as the single most common trait of the Trump voter. People with this trait “have little tolerance for deviance. They’re highly obedient to strong leaders. They scapegoat outsiders and demand conformity to traditional norms.”

Other experts have subdivided this trait into populism, which “is a type of political rhetoric that casts a virtuous people against nefarious elites.” Populists also have a “deep mistrust of any group that claims expertise.”

However you want to define or dissect it, this all sounds like a hardcore Trump voter. Indeed, I still believe the authoritarian/populism vibe is the primary reason why we have the Orange Menace in the White House. It is also the main reason why his base continues to support him, despite the glaring lack of accomplishment in his first 100 days. They are, after all, “highly obedient to strong leaders” and don’t believe anything that experts (i.e., the mainstream media) tell them about their Great Leader’s failures.

But what about that racial thing?

Well, this recent study made the bold claim that “racial attitudes made a bigger difference in electing Trump than authoritarianism.” The study’s authors state that we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions.”

Of course, this goes against the common refrain that Trump voters are all salt-of-the-earth types under such economic stress that they tragically fell for a con man’s bluster.

Just don’t say bigotry had anything to do with it.

Conservatives embrace this idea because it allows them to believe there is no racism in their movement (and more important, no prejudice within themselves). It also helps them in their quest to dismiss progressives as a bunch of hypersensitive whiners who play the race card nonstop. 

And many liberals agree with this because they don’t want to appear to be a bunch of hypersensitive whiners who play the race card nonstop. Also, some liberals foolishly believe they can somehow win over extremists if they are just nice enough. Plus, liberals are often just wimps who don’t want to be, you know, all rude and shit by calling someone a racist.

However, a significant chunk of Trump’s supporters are indeed overt bigots. After all, those Nazis aren’t cheering for Elizabeth Warren. And our common sense tells us that many more Trump fans are, at the very least, a bit leery of ethnic minorities.

And as these studies show, the prevalence of bigotry within the Trump movement is not just anecdotal. We have statistics and everything.

“Wait a minute, you lying Latino,” says the fervent Trump supporter. “How could America have elected a black president if we’re so racist? Huh?”

I’m glad you asked. In my next post, I’ll discuss this apparent contradiction.

For now, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that there are some very good reasons.

Thursday
Apr202017

An Irrational Rationale

I don’t care how smart you are (or think you are). You no doubt commit logical fallacies with disturbing regularity.

You see, the human brain — despite its astonishing capabilities and amazing structure — is prone to weird glitches like extinction bursts and black-and-white thinking and confirmation bias and myriad other quirks that prevent any of us from being Vulcans. 

Among the strongest of these is good old-fashioned denial. You no doubt are well acquainted with this one.

For example, we routinely convince ourselves that our pants are too snug because we just washed them, and not because we’ve doubled down on the breakfast burritos. Or we’re positive that the hot waiter/waitress is checking us out. Or we just know that millions of people read our blog posts (ahem…).

On a political level, both liberals and conservatives are indulging in heavy denial, which is clearly a self-defense mechanism brought on by the horrors of the Trump Administration.

For liberals, this takes the form of hyperbolic articles predicting that Trump is going to be impeached — any day now… any hour now… the hell with it, any minute now. Just you watch!

Now while it is possible that this buffoon will finally commit so many nefarious offenses that he will get his ass fired, it is highly unlikely. House Republicans have made it clear that they will support this toxic narcissist no matter what, and as we all know, articles of impeachment have to start with the House — currently under Republican control. Short of a smoking gun regarding Russian collusion, impeachment is not going to happen.

Personally, I find it more likely that Trump will quit in frustration than get removed from office. But I’m realistic enough to admit that this is also improbable, and we are most likely stuck with this malignant clown for 45 more months.

Liberal denial gets even deeper when we look at the Not My President movement. Of course, progressives don’t mean this literally. They are well aware that Trump is officially president… well, most of them anyway.

But saying Trump is not my president is more than just a protest. It is a soothing comfort, a reminder that I didn’t vote for him and neither did my progressive friends. And it means that the man is, you know, not legitimate (whatever that means), and that America doesn’t have millions of racists, and that the way I choose to view the country is more somehow more honest than the unpleasant truth that we don’t get to have individual presidents and that we are subject to the whims of uneducated, hate-filled people who live in electorally relevant states. Nope, he’s not my president (la, la, la, la…)

However, for the most powerful, awe-inspiring display of denial on a national political level, it is difficult to top our old friends known as moderate Republicans.

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy, old-school and sane Republicans have been shouting that Trump is not really a conservative. They point to his shifting opinions and absence of core principles and the fact that he once hung out with the Clintons.

Before the election, they said Trump was a stooge whom Democrats had planted to create havoc in the primaries, and that Obama had forced conservatives to vote for a xenophobic lunatic (the poor Republicans had no choice!). And authentic members of the GOP proudly declared that they were members of #NeverTrump.

Of course, most of those NeverTrumpers have now meekly admitted that their definition of “never” is actually “a few months,” as they sheepishly fall into line behind their mighty leader. The GOP has thrown away whatever principles it had, even supporting ideas they once opposed, in the interest of party unity. And Trump is pursuing an aggressively right-wing agenda that appeals to the GOP base and the most reactionary members of Congress.

None of this screams, “secret Democrat.” Plus, there is the fact that — and here I will try to be delicate — he is the fucking standard bearer of the Republican Party and its most high-profile member.

So spare us the No True Scotsman fallacy. Trump is every bit a real Republican. In fact, he is exactly what the GOP wanted, 100 percent their creation, and fully their responsibility.

No amount of denial can change that.

Friday
Apr142017

Bursting

Because we’re all fond of metaphors, let’s conjure up an image of America as if it were a person.

In this scenario, we see that — like everyone — America has her virtues and her flaws, her good days and her bad days. Lately, America has nursed the nagging suspicion that she’s past her prime, but she’s not giving up just yet.

All she has to do is lose ten pounds, give up smoking, and… what was that last thing? Oh yeah, end widespread and systematic racism that disenfranchises millions of ethnic minorities.

But what happens when America — or any person — tries to change a bad habit?

Well, contrary to popular belief, negative behaviors usually don’t fade away. They put up a fight, and then they either die out forever or (more likely) come roaring back with a vengeance.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to give up devouring that daily tub of ice cream. You might go weeks without so much as a spoonful of Chunky Monkey. But then you allow yourself a taste of Cherry Garcia. Bam — your “diet ends in a catastrophic binge, and you look at the empty containers and ask, ‘What the hell. How did my smooth transition from comfort food to human dumpster happen?’”

That’s an extinction burst, which is “a predictable and common blast of defiance from the recesses of a brain denied familiar rewards.”

Basically, an extinction burst is your brain’s last-ditch effort to return you to your old ways. It happens, weirdly enough, when you are closest to your goal.

Your mind is saying, “Shit, this behavior might actually take root. Time to panic.” And you pig out, or smoke three packs one after another, or binge watch nine hours of porn, or indulge in whatever behavior you are trying to banish.

And you were so close… and doing so well… sigh. 

Well, you can see how this relates to our metaphor of America, the person.

For centuries, she had a really nasty habit of enslaving, oppressing, or outright murdering ethnic minorities.

Hey, we’ve all been there. Don’t judge.

In any case, sometime within the last few decades, America faced her problem head-on and resolved to do better. 

So she got rid of the most glaring nastiness — like Jim Crow — and said overt racism in public was no longer cool.

Then she buckled down and took some risks — like affirmative action — that paid off. Why, she even progressed so far that, recently, she elected that nice young man Barack Obama president (and he was black and everything!).

People were saying America had kicked the racism habit. She was looking good and feeling cocky. America shouted, “Check it out, bitches! This is what a bigot-free society looks like. Yeah!”

And then Donald Trump happened.

Look, America didn’t really like the guy. He was an obvious blowhard and bumbling narcissist. But the kind of racism he was peddling… well, it was hard to say no to it.

After all, he didn’t use the n-word. And the people he upset… hey, they were just overly sensitive and too PC, right? So maybe, America reasoned, Trump’s xenophobia wasn’t all that toxic. America could try just a little of his hatred, you know, to let off steam? And remember, America had just elected Barack Obama (who was black and everything!). So she just couldn’t be racist anymore. What’s the harm in a little experimentation with prejudice?

We all know what happened next: the extinction burst.

Soon, America had Nazis celebrating in her streets, and hate crimes surging, and unrepentant bigots grabbing positions of high authority. America had citizens proudly exclaiming their prejudice, and ethnic minorities living in fear, and a chief executive who accomplished absolutely nothing other than breaking up families.

Soon, America was staggering around, completely off the wagon. She slurred and yelled, “I’m not racist! You’re the racist!”

It’s truly sad. She was so close… and doing so well… sigh.

But maybe, just maybe, America can learn from her mistake. Perhaps she will rebound from her extinction burst, and she will accept that she cannot tolerate bigotry, or laugh off hatred, or let her guard down for a moment when it comes to racist megalomaniacs.

Maybe, in the near future, America will get her shit together and get with the program — wiser and better because of her shameful relapse.

We’re all rooting for you, America.

Thursday
Apr062017

In Accordance with Prophecy

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about self-loathing progressives. Yeah, I’ve really been letting them have it, to the point that one begins to wonder if I’ve turned on my fellow liberals and become, well, self-loathing about it…

Damn, this is not the kind of irony that I appreciate.

So please allow me to re-aim my cannons at the true villains of American politics: the hardcore right-wingers.

This xenophobic herd of nutjobs has basically taken over the modern Republican Party. And one reason they have been so successful is because of simple human frailty.

I’m talking about self-fulfilling prophecies. As we all know, this is “a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.”

There are various subsets and versions of self-fulfilling prophecies. But the one that interests me is how stereotypes mingle with this psychological condition to create some rather unpleasant behaviors.

You see, “psychologists have theorized that stereotypes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, that people internalize stereotype messages, living up — or down — to those expectations.”

We see this with ethnic minority teens who are treated like criminals, when they’ve done nothing wrong. Eventually, a few of them think, “If you’re gonna treat me like a thug, I’m gonna be one.”

Along those lines, we are not supposed to point out that some Trump voters have displayed bigoted behavior, because that just backfires and increases the odds that they will fully embrace racism (yeah, it’s a conundrum).

In essence, whether you call someone a racist or a rapist, enough repetition of the accusation ensures that they will become exactly that.

So how does this bizarre human quirk relate to politics?

Well, as I’ve pointed out, way too many liberals are indeed acting like the angsty wimps that conservatives insist they are.

And I have to admit that a few of my liberal friends openly despise the American flag — and not because of some principled stand against the nation’s flaws or its problematic history. They hate the flag because conservatives have called them America haters for so long that they’ve internalized the label.

But now we’re seeing the reverse.

Conservatives have been called, among other things, racist and misogynist sociopaths who delight in stomping on the poor and wrecking the environment, just for kicks.

And how have Republicans responded to these inflammatory charges?

They have given America a president who draws cheers from Nazis, boasts of his sexual assaults of women, and shows complete disdain for anyone who is not a millionaire. 

Well, if that is not embracing a self-fulfilling prophecy, I don’t know what is.

Yes, many commentators are asking why “today’s conservatives feel such antipathy, disregard and hostility toward the poor.”

It’s also fair to ask why the GOP is celebrating old men who openly parade their racism. Or we could ask why blatant sexism within the Republican Party is lauded rather than condemned.

What’s next?

Will Republicans attempt to destroy the environment for no discernable reason?

Will they rush to defend any white men accused of vile behavior, just because liberals have said they are a bunch of sexist, xenophobic bullies with authoritarian tendencies?

How could it get worse? Will the GOP double up and exhibit disdain for both the poor and the elderly at the same time?

Or perhaps they could devastate the environment while simultaneously hurting children?

No, all we needed to see was the GOP health plan, which primarily failed because it wasn’t vicious enough to the needy.

Maybe it’s all just a cry for help.

 

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