Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thanksgiving casualty: post election observations

Watching the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump has been instructive.  As Clinton supporters and those who didn't bother to vote react, whether in the streets of our larger cities, campuses, or in the virtual public but privately owned public square known as social media, and the lazy corporate press covers it with over the top headlines, it seems increasingly clear to me that the discourse, that is the written or spoken words used to debate the topics, are also part of the increasing divide in our country.  I suspect that social media will only worsen it with its short and headline like communication style.  Indeed one of my favorite critics reminds me about stuff I post that "it's a lot to read, ....cuz."

In the last week I've watched a lot of liberals turn into bigots, that is, persons who are intolerant toward those holding different opinions.  Bigotry has been something that liberals have stood good against for a long time.  Yet, now, liberals are calling those who voted for Trump, or for a third party, racists, sexists, misogynists, and of low intelligence, among others.  And the bigotry produces a discourse full of prejudice and stereotypes.  (You could see similar kinds of things aimed at Obama voters from conservatives in 08 and 12.).  

I am not sure of the original source but I see this idea working its way into more thoughtful observations about the most essential difference between Trump voters and Clinton voters.  This was not a campaign waged on policies but on the fitness of the respective candidates to serve as president.  Clinton ran not against conservative or populist policies but Trump’s character and called him racist, sexist, crass, crude, a con man, etc.  And he called Clinton “crooked Hillary,” a “nasty woman” and threatened her with prison.  Perhaps the fundamental difference is that Trump supporters took Trump seriously and ignored what he said while Clinton supporters didn't take Trump seriously but took his utterances seriously.

Some of this is American politics.  There are no safe spaces or trigger warnings in politics.  But there is political correctness and it’s rampant on both sides of the divide.  Political correctness is commonly understood as the avoidance of words, phrases, or even ideas that might be offensive to some groups of people, especially people who have a history of being marginalized in society.   It's a laudable effort but when it squelches speech and those who dare or even inadvertently cross the line, are silenced not with arguments but with epithets, it plants the seeds for its own undermining.  Eventually the epithets weaken in their supposed moral superiority and lose their effectiveness, hence,   liberals' incredulity that anyone could support a racist, sexist, crude Trump.  This is not to say the claims are wrong, but they are dealt with by an attempt to label someone. And those labels have lost much of its sting because too few bother to talk or explain what the labels mean any more. 

Conservatives have their own political correctness.  Beware the socialist, communist, or “un-American” label if you even suggest a tax increase, or that America is not the greatest nation and endowed by God to be exceptional.  Don't question tax cuts for the job creators or even consider talking to the opposition.   Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, are ”communism.”  Add abortion to this mix as well.   Liberal political correctness is about marginalized people, conservative political correctness is about ideas that run counter to the interests of the wealthy.     

The extremists on both sides wield the cleaver of what is politically correct as a means of maintaining power.  In wielding it, there is no conversation, no debate any more.  Only ideological purity.  

If white, not- college educated, voters believe they are not doing as well economically and are discriminated against because of civil rights laws, why is that dismissed?  They are largely wrong but calling them racists is wasting an opportunity to recruit them to a better solution to their issues.  Name-calling turns them away from considering those ideas.  It also makes liberals look intolerant, which is what liberals claim not to be. The current liberal policy seems to be to make college more affordable for the not-college educated.  This shows a major misunderstanding  of the rich occupational cultures that make up much of working class reality and identity.  Trump merely  said, “I'll bring those jobs back”  and while he probably can’t they understand his response as "he gets it" and Clinton doesn’t.  Trump won, Clinton lost.
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