Oh, America, How Do I Love Thee?

It’s good to remember that one of the hallmarks of American character, going right back to the very beginning, has been that we tend to be uncooperative when we see fit. We enjoy a strong rule of law, but that’s never been one of the markers of our identity as Americans. Throwing tea into the harbor, running underground railroads and putting up speakeasies is more our style.

So, in that grand tradition, and because you deserve a laugh, allow me to share with you the response of the American people to Mike Pence’s attempt to get people to come to Trump’s inauguration. I’ve linked to it, but given the tenor of the comments, I expect it will be taken down at some point. So if the link doesn’t work, enjoy some screen shots of loyal Americans being assholes for the cause.

First we have the “things I’d rather do” category of comments:

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Then there’s the cracks about the Russians:

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The political sniping:

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And it appears that many people have other engagements on that day:

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Many people plan will be available for future events, however:

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And then there’s the matter of your everlasting soul to consider:

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America. Home of the free and the land of the smartass.

 

 

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Marmot for President!

I think it’s really important for us to remember that Trump does not and never has had the support of the American people. He lost the popular vote by millions of votes. He currently has something like a 37% approval rating. Which is unheard of for an incoming president. Even President G.W. Bush had a 62% approval rating after losing the popular vote. So it may not change the facts on the ground, but we can take comfort in knowing that we’re not actually totally surrounded by complete idiots.

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Is This the End Times Delusion?

I’m pretty sure Christian enthusiasm for Trump, where it exists, is the end times delusion the fundies have been trying to warn us was coming. For those of you who aren’t in the know, it’s a common teaching in some Christians circles that in the end times, there will be a delusion sent by God which causes people to call good evil and evil good. The term delusion comes from 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 which saysFor this reason, God will send them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie, in order that judgment will come upon all who have disbelieved the truth and delighted in wickedness.…” This verse is often connected with Romans 1:28 which says, “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

Of course, probably since the afternoon after Paul wrote his words about powerful delusions and depraved minds, people have been claiming that this or that event is evidence that the end times delusion is happening. Depending on where they fall on the crazy train, they may claim that anything from the acceptance of homosexuality to the alien cover-up is evidence of that the end times delusion.

Anyways, I’m calling it now: the fundies were right. Turns out that in the end times, there really is a great delusion where good is call evil and evil is called good. Too bad they never were much good at being able to tell which was which. I’m sure God will help them figure it out. Soon, I hope.

BTW, if you’re interested in an alternative and actually, you know, SANE examination of the so-called “end times”, you can go check out my writing on the subject here.

Let’s Talk About Name Calling: Special Snowflake Edition

Snowflake EdgeOne of the favorite rhetorical strategies of the radical right is name calling. Like, they have a whole set of names that they’ve created in order to wage rhetorical war against the rest of us: Libraturd, Feminazi, Thug, Cuck, Special Snowflake, Hysterical, Unhinged, etc, etc, etc. It’s apparently one of their favorite things.

The left may not be much more respectful towards the far right, but making up names to call people isn’t particularly their thing. Nor should it be. There’s a time and a place for everything and some well placed, creative name calling towards someone in a dominant position can be a legitimate part of fighting back from a position of weakness. But I think it’s a good thing that liberals don’t have a nasty name for conservatives that acts as the equivalent to “libraturd”. And I’m certainly not going to suggest that anyone come up with one. But, as I pointed out earlier today, if we want to start defending ourselves against the radical right, turning their own tactics against them is as good a way as any for the average person to start.

As with most radical right rhetoric the name calling they engage in is, more often than not, projection. Which means that they are very vulnerable to having their own language turned against them. So once someone has demonstrated that they are simply being belligerent and have no real interest in engaging in actual dialogue I’ll use any expression of outrage or protest as an excuse to call them a special snowflake. Radical right aren’t used to being on the receiving end of that and typically don’t like it.

If they object to being called a special snowflake, I’ll follow up by asking if they’re triggered and need a safe space. When they accuse you of being a jerk, you can simply respond that you thought that they didn’t go for that politically correct bullshit, but if they’re going to come unhinged and start policing your tone, you can just end the conversation there. Then end it. Walk away, block, ignore, continue calling them special snowflakes or move on to some other favorite radical right term until they get pissed off and disgusted enough to leave.

Now, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t start treating any old conservative like this. If someone is able and willing to engage in actual discourse and you have time, it’s probably best to attempt discourse. But at the point that you realize someone is using discourse and language as a weapon of domination, this kind of tactic can be a good way of pushing back and disengaging before you stress yourself out or waste any more time.

Remember: discourse with someone who is only interested in establishing their dominance is pointless. You are not obligated to play your assigned role in their little game. And don’t worry that you’re going to hurt the person you’re talking to. They aren’t actually listening to a damn thing you say anyways. Besides they are (presumably) grown adults who need to develop the ability to absorb a blow without melting down (something that the people who they typically accuse of being “special snowflakes” do all the time with grace, btw). This is their game and turn about’s fair play after all. If they don’t like the way that works for them, they are always welcome to reform their ways and begin engaging with people in legitimate discourse which seeks to understand rather than dominate.

Now, a couple of cautions for anyone who wants to try turning the language of the radical right back on them. First, these people have come up with some really nasty insults. They’re not just rude, but are often racist, sexist and punching down. We are better than that and should avoid using language which is, in and of itself, insulting or demeaning to people who are vulnerable to abuse or oppression. You’ll notice that I use the libraturd to exemplify the rude, immature name calling that the right engages in. There are many variations on the term, including the popular “libratard”. Which I will not use because it’s built on the word retard which is an insult to people with learning  and developmental issues. I also refrain from using insults that refer to an immutable trait of the person such as race, sexual orientation, weight or attractiveness. My goal is to shock them with my poor behavior and demonstrate an unwillingness to play my part in their game, not actually wound. Just because we’re engaged in a fight doesn’t mean that we’re free to throw our values out the window. Be judicious.

Also, do feel free to throw the abusive language of the radical right in their face. Refer to yourself as a libraturd before they have the chance. Put a face to the abusive language that they throw around unthinkingly. I will often mention the fact that people in the Steve Bannon branch of the radical right refer to my children as mongrels. Point out when they are ridiculing the weak and the vulnerable with their language. Don’t be afraid to be provocative. A lot of these people will play nice in public, but all you have to do is scratch their ego and all kinds of nastiness comes pouring out. That shit needs to be brought out into the open where everyone can see it and they can’t deny it.

Again, the point of all of this from our perspective isn’t to “win” or dominate. It’s to make it so the rhetorical game doesn’t work for them anymore. To make what has heretofore been a strength and an effective tactic into a weakness that blows up in their faces instead. My personal goal is to make every radical right winger who encounters me curse the jackass who came up with the phrase “special snowflake” and regret handing me this nasty language to use against them. I want to make it an albatross around their neck that must be reckoned with before we move forward (hopefully together). They aren’t going to stop with the name calling because we ask or because they have an attack of conscience. But if they decide that such behavior no longer works for them and is relentlessly turned against them they may well decide to discipline themselves to behave better.

Let’s Get This Thing Started

In any conflict, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on with the other side. But between social media and the extreme unpleasantness of dealing with the radical right, a lot of people are in a bubble where they aren’t hearing the conversations taking place among those who are on “the other side”. While I totally understand the impulse to cocoon and support it when necessary for peace of mind and mental health reasons, I do try to stay in contact with people who are on the other side of this conflict we’ve got going on between the radical right and the rest of us. Mostly so I can keep up with what they are saying and what rhetorical tools they are passing around.

Understanding the rhetoric coming from the other side is important. We are in a position in this country where a radicalized right wing minority of people who reject American values now wield enormous power and have taken over our government. One of the reasons they have been able to do this is they have mastered the art of rhetoric and manipulation in ways that decent people have a hard time responding to.

The problem, it seems to me, is that we all tend to have an unconscious assumption that other people are basically like us. So normal people assume that if we are discussing matters of politics, the person we’re talking with is concerned with facts, reason, morality, right and wrong and the like. We assume that it is normative to be seeking what is right, good, true and beneficial and that our ideas about what is right, good, true and beneficial will be supported by and adjust to reflect facts, logic and reality. Then we’re confused that we can’t get through to the radical right.

What most of us have failed to understand is that for people on the radical right, everything is based on power. The radical right is still dealing with the world through the lens of “us vs them”*. As such, for the radical right, principles, facts, reason and the like have their place, but are subordinate to the need to obtain power. For the “us vs them” mind, you either dominate or are dominated. The thinking is that as important as any particular principle involved may be, without power, those principles are just ideas and not lived reality. So obtaining power is the first, necessary precursor to securing a world in which matters of principle, morality and logic even matter. In this perspective, it is right and moral to do ensure that your people – your “us” – dominate instead of being dominated. That is how the good is secured and given room to be exercised.

To make matters worse, the radical right, like everyone else, is working from the assumption that everyone is like them. They assume that we are all attempting to gain power and dominate. Which is really, I believe, what has made conversation so impossible. We speak from the bottom of our hearts and all they hear is someone trying to establish the high ground for themselves. We point to things like research or the work of intellectuals and all they see is us attempting to leverage power against them. We’re trying to get through to someone and all they see is us trying to establish dominance over them. It makes engaging on the substance next to impossible and often incredibly painful for the person who is genuinely trying to share their heart, their concerns and their knowledge as a way of creating mutual understanding.

Obviously, I believe that we are better than simply playing games of dominance. I think that the “us vs them” mentality writ large is incredibly destructive and ultimately immoral. But let’s face it, right this moment, this is the radical right’s world. Despite holding ideas and pushing policies which by and large the majority of Americans do not support the radical right has been able to dictate our public discourse and is now in control of our government. So, while I believe that the “us vs them” mentality is inferior and destructive, that’s the game we’re playing now. And we’re going to have to learn to engage in their game, using their rules, before things get any further out of control.

Although it goes against our instincts and ideas about how things should work, once we understand this it becomes clear that engaging in their game using their rules puts us at a distinct advantage. The radical right is accustomed to their opponents taking the high road and refusing to stoop to their level, so these people aren’t used to being on the receiving end of the sort of garbage they heap out on everyone around them. They can dish it, but they can’t take it. They think that they are incredibly good at this game, and they are. But they’ve also been working without much opposition. They aren’t used to playing defense or matching wits with someone who is as good at the game as they are.

Further, the radical right is markedly dishonest. The world does not work the way they claim it does and reality does not back them up. It doesn’t matter much to them because they’ve been able to use their power games to create a pretty durable illusion of reality. Those of us who oppose them, however, don’t have to rely on illusions. We can be entirely honest while playing the power game and reality will back us up. We may need to stoop to their level in term of style – being rude, manipulative and unbending. But we do not need to stoop to their level in terms of actual issues of right and wrong, truth and lies and the like.

The thing is that the “us vs them” mentality has its basis in reality. Sometimes there are very real conflicts in which we find ourselves needing to stand in opposition to a hostile “they”. This is the situation we find ourselves in here with regards to the radical right. There are those who would criticize me for defaulting to the language and paradigm of “us vs them” while criticizing the radical right for their “us vs them” approach. However what I am proposing is that we play their game, according to the rules that they have established with the end goal of making it not work for them. Right now, the power game is working for them. But once we turn the power game against them, engaging according to our rules – the ones where reality, facts, logic, morality and the like determine our course – will become much more appealing. Because while they’re on top right this very moment, the power game isn’t actually one they can win once those of us who oppose them engage fully in it.

I’m going to be writing this afternoon about effective ways of turning some of the bullying language which the radical right has popularized against them. I’ll also be addressing various accusations that they use to marginalize, dismiss and dominate over the voices of decency going forward. And I’ll be looking at the narratives they use and explaining how to undermine and discredit them. If you have a particular tactic, narrative or issue that you’d like to see me address, you can leave a comment, send me a message on facebook or use the contact form under the About tab above to send an email and I will get to it as I am able.

* If you are interested in the topic, I published a deeper examination of the issue of “us vs them” mentality and it’s alternative – what I call “just us” – at A New Day Dawning last fall. The essay’s called The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: Us vs Them Or Just Us.

 

This Makes No Sense to Me

There is this bizarre phenomena that I run into now and again where someone will respond to criticism of modern racism by pointing out that in the early to mid 20th century, the Democratic party, particularly in the south, was unabashedly racist and for a while even aligned itself with the Klan. Like I’ll bring up the fact that Trump was enthusiastically supported by white supremacists and someone will say, “the Democrats are the real racists. They were the ones who passed all the Jim Crow laws.” To which I respond . . . whaaaaaaa????

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history, it is quite true that the Democrats were, in the past, active proponents of racism and segregation. That all changed after the passage of the civil rights and voting rights acts in the 60s, of course. By the late 70s, Republican Ronald Reagan was campaigning using rhetoric about states rights and racist tropes about “young bucks” and “welfare queens” while Democrat Jimmy Carter was campaigning in African American churches. In the 1980 election, the people who used to vote for the racist Democratic party of the mid 20th century now voted Republican.

So what in the world do people who insist on responding to criticism of current racism by pointing to the Democrat’s history of racism think they are doing? What point do they think they are making? How exactly do they think I’m supposed to respond? I am deeply confused when people do this.

Do they imagine that I will be so shocked to hear that Democrats used to embrace racism that I will refuse to have anything to do with them and run into the arms of the party currently supported by racists in order to maintain my purity? Am I supposed to go easy on today’s racists because in the past they would have been Democrats?

I mean, back in the day, the Democrats were a big proponent of maintaining an agrarian society and distrusted paper money. The Republicans used to believe in a strong federal government and opposed states rights. Should we be trying to hold the parties to their original standards? Should I bring that history up when a Republican advocates for more control for states and a weaker federal government? If in 50 years, the Republicans are staunchly secular and the Democrats are highly religious, would it matter that in the past the parties were reversed? Does the label of Democrat and Republican have magic juju bound to it that transcends whatever the party is about in real time?

Can someone help me out here? I’ve tried asking these questions of the people who do this and, strangely, none of them have been able to come up with an answer that makes sense. And yet they keep doing it. I’m just trying to understand the logic here. Which, now that I think of it, is probably a mistake on my part. Sometimes the answer really is “because they’re morons.” It happens.

Quick Tips for Evaluating a New Story

Since clearly a lot of people are struggling to differentiate between reliable news and bullshit, let’s talk about something called a primary source. You can think of a primary source as original documentation. So if I’m studying Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with Mary Todd, letters between them would be a primary source. A book written about their relationship which quotes those letters would be considered a secondary source. The further removed from the original documentation your information source is, the less reliable it is considered to be. (And for my friends in academia who are sputtering right now, yes this is an incredibly reductionist, simplistic explanation. Wipe up your spittle.)

The same basic idea can be applied to the information we get from the news. The closer to the actual event the report is, the more accurate it will be. For example, if you want to get a feel for what’s happening at a protest, unedited video from a facebook live feed is more trustworthy than edited video presented in a cable news story. It’s also more reliable than official police reports. If you want to know what white supremacists are saying about Donald Trump, going to their websites and reading their endorsements and statements is more reliable than reading a story which describes what they are saying. An unedited interview is better than an edited interview (although probably more boring) and an edited interview is better than a report of the interview. Reading an official statement is better than reading the story about the statement. So on and so forth.

A good news story will provide links to this sort of primary source material. Be suspicious of any news story which provides links to other stories about the material rather than to the material itself. Also pay attention to when quoted material contains elipses (” . . . “). This means that there are words which got left out and you should find the original statements before trusting what you are reading. When you do get to the source material, be sure to pay attention to how it was edited by your news source and if the source material has been accurately represented. If you take the time to do these things, that will let you know how trustworthy the information you are getting is regardless of whether the news source itself is biased one way or the other. Biased news sources are perfectly capable of reporting accurate information because facts do remains facts, regardless of the filter they are passed through.

This whole thing where people refuse to accept facts because they are being reported by what they think is a biased news source is ridiculous and making us all dumber. Stop it. You look like an idiot when you do it. And don’t watch cable news. Ever. For any reason. Not even a little. Not even with the sound turned down. Not even when you’re on the treadmill at the gym. Cable news is terrible and exists to serve the devil.

Trump’s Responsibility to Avoid the Appearance of All Kinds of Evil

16143192_1277634628970695_4412907211557642267_nA few years back, I looked out the window and saw my then 6 year old daughter riding her bike in the driveway while my tweenaged son ran after her, swinging a baseball bat at the back tire of her bike. My daughter was laughing while my son wore an angry scowl on his face as he just missed the back tire of her bike. Since this isn’t actually the sort of behavior we encourage in the Trotter household, I immediately called to my son to stop and come explain himself to me.

He came over and assured me that they were just playing and he was being very careful not to actually hit his sister or her bike. He explained the he had worked out the timing of his swings so that he could make his fake baseball bat attack look realistic without running the risk of actually hitting her. Being a tweenager, the possibility of error or accident hardly existed in his mind, of course. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing to worry about because he was actually being very careful as he staged his faux “I’m going to beat my sister with a baseball bat attack”.

Rather than focusing on the safety issue, I pointed out something rather obvious to him: if he is deliberately creating the false impression that he is trying to beat his sister with a baseball bat, how does he suppose anyone who sees him will react? Will they say, “hey, look at that kid with amazing timing and gross motor skills playing harmlessly with that little girl”? Or will they say, “oh my gosh, it looks like that kid’s trying to kill that little girl with a baseball bat!”

I could see a little light bulb going off in his head. I pointed out that his father, who has PTSD from growing up in a violent home where people actually had been hit with baseball bats from time to time, would have had an automatic, unthinking and extreme reaction to the sight of his son swinging at baseball bat at his sister. Which was unlikely to turn out well for any of us. More lightbulbs.

I pointed out to him that being safe is important, of course, but it’s not the only issue for him to concern himself with. He needed to be aware of how he appeared to people who may not even know him. You can’t expect people to see someone engaged in behavior which has every appearance of being dangerous, aggressive and violent and not react as if that person was dangerous, aggressive and violent. In fact, it would be irresponsible for someone who witnessed an adolescent kid swinging a baseball bat at a 6 year old to assume the best about the situation or wait to evaluate what’s going on before responding. It was his responsibility, I explained, not just to be safe, but also not to engage in behaviors which will cause alarm and panic in people who witness them.

Obviously this issue hadn’t been on his radar, but as I explained it to him, he caught on because even a tweenager can understand this pretty simple basic idea. Don’t create the impression that you are dangerous or people will respond to you as if you are dangerous and when they do, it will be your error, not theirs.

Unfortunately, it seems that many Trump supporters are no more aware of this concept than my son was prior to our conversation. They believe that the onus is on Trump’s critics to give him a chance and view those of us who are responding to Trump as if he is dangerous as paranoid and overreacting. They think it’s ridiculous that we won’t just wait and see what happens before jumping to the conclusion that Trump is dangerous. They are certain that Trump isn’t dangerous so, like my son who knew that he wasn’t actually going to hit my daughter or her bike with a baseball bat, it seems not to have occurred to them that this isn’t the only thing that matters about the situation.

There’s a reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil. People aren’t required to wait for definitive proof to respond to the appearance of evil. If you aren’t dangerous and evil, it shouldn’t be that hard to take some responsibility for not creating the impression that you are dangerous and evil. Unfortunately, Trump seems to be going out of his way to create the appearance of all kinds of evil while his supporters act incredulous that anyone would think the man is actually dangerous.

But of course, in the real world, if you’re not racist, you don’t choose the leader of a flagrantly racist white nationalist movement to be your closest adviser and you don’t appoint a man known for his racism and opposition to civil rights to run the department charged with enforcing civil rights. If you’re not a tyrant in the making, you don’t continually threaten to sue and shut down the press when their reporting doesn’t please you. If you’re not a wealthy leach looking to enrich himself, you don’t refuse to release your tax records or take appropriate measures to eliminate conflicts of interest. If you are ethical, you don’t refuse to cooperate with the ethics oversight or threaten the person in charge of ethics oversight with investigation if he criticizes you. If you’re not a conman you don’t deny saying things you literally just said and lie continually.

I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, but I think you get the point. Even if Trump really and truly is a good guy who wants to do right by the country, the fact remains that at every step of the way, Trump has been behaving exactly the way a dangerous, racist, unethical, despot rising to power behaves. It is not the responsibility of the public to withhold judgment when they witness something which appears dangerous. It is the responsibility of Trump to avoid creating the impression that he is dangerous. And it is both wrong and ridiculous for Trump supporters to continue to insist otherwise. Just because they are fools doesn’t mean the rest of us are obliged to follow suit.

Why Discussion and Reasoning Have Failed

Want to know why communicating with people on the other side has become so difficult? Well, everyone focuses on the outrageous things Rush Limbaugh says, but if you listen to his show, you can see that underneath all the nonsense, what he’s doing is teaching people the dirty tricks of rhetoric and debate. He’s been showing his listeners how to trip people up with manufactured double binds, sentences crafted to allow you to believe something other than what is being communicated, gaslighting, diversion, red flags and other tactics which are used to turn communication into a weapon for dominance.

Which leads us to the core conflict that many people seem to have missed. The issue is that Trump supporters and the radical right are playing a power game, pure and simple. The rest of us are out here talking about issues, right and wrong, what’s best for the country, etc and can’t figure out why things like facts, morality and reality don’t mean anything to these people. Well, that’s because they are concerned with dominance, period, amen, end of story. Their dominance has been threatened by the rest of us and they want it back. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

Obviously, this is a big problem that we’re going to be working to change for a while, but in the meantime I for one am done playing this game where I try to reason with people whose only real concern is maintaining the dominant position. Aren’t you tired of playing the game? What’s going on in the world is not a game. We aren’t moving chess pieces on a board to determine who gets to be dominant. It’s bullshit.

If you’re tired too, just stop playing. Stop explaining every freaking thing you say, answering every objection and taking the bait for every diversionary red flag. Refuse to engage unless they are willing to do in a genuine way and not just with an eye towards domination. Because ultimately, this is how we beat their stupid, pathetic, childish game: you stop playing it with them.