March 22, 2017

A Reflection on these Interesting Times we Live In.

“May you live in interesting times” is said to be an English translation of an apocryphal Chinese curse.

Those reeling at the surreality of the present can certainly see why.

But as much as I am inclined to rail against the horror we have wrought—the folly of electing a stunningly unstable, erratic, incompetent, uninformed, uncurious, narcissistic, socially pathological, amoral, and hateful megalomaniac to the presidency of the United States of America—I am also aware that we are not the first to live out a Greek tragedy of our own making, of our own hubris, of our own folly.

I also know that there are both urgencies to be confronted and lessons to be learned from this one we have written for ourselves.

There are numerous competing narratives of reality regarding what happened, such as:

Trump is our savior.

Bernie would have been our savior if only the evil Democratic Party hadn’t prevented him from fulfilling his destiny.

Misogyny prevailed in the opposition to Hillary.

Sifting through them requires making some distinctions—between what we know and what is mere conjecture, between what was done in good faith to achieve rational outcomes and what was indefensible and could only contribute to irrational outcome.

In short, we must distinguish between what reason and evidence suggest and what ideological narratives insist upon.

Here is something we all should know and should have known prior to the general election and after the primaries: It had come down to a binary choice between Clinton and Trump.

Any action or inaction at that point contributed to one or the other winning the presidency.

However, some people justified certain actions (such as voting for a third party candidate) that contributed to Trump’s victory, claiming that these might also have contributed to other positive outcomes, and, if so, the value might outweigh the cost of a Trump presidency.

After all, isn’t the undermining of our two-party plutocracy of value?

Yes, perhaps—if that something had actually been accomplished—but, alas, it was not. Anyone able to get past their own ideological narrative and look at reality with any degree of clarity would have been able to tell you that.

So, the first question is: How could a developed nation in the 21st century elect an aspiring fascist dictator like Trump to the presidency? What went wrong?

What went wrong is that zealotries from across the ideological spectrum overwhelmed reason and pragmatism and led too many people to behave in too irrational a manner. This created centrifugal forces that ripped open a hole in our system of governance through which this malignant buffoon could waltz into power.

Those who loved Bernie could not settle for a mere moderate Democrat whose policy positions and personal behaviors were not pure enough for them. The strategically-leaked hacks into private emails revealing the messy reality of politics was sufficient to impel them to implicitly favor the by-far-less desirable of general election candidates (Trump) over the by-far-more desirable one (Clinton)—because that’s how purism works: Selectively show the world’s normal impurities (such as Clinton’s email “scandal”) and you can persuade the easily duped to support a monster whose impurities haven’t been as clearly revealed.

The evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the “evil Hillary” narrative is primarily a fabrication of right-wing propaganda echoed and amplified by left-wing ideological purists, cultivated for decades and reissued by a half-billion dollar Crossroads America (Karl Rove’s superpac) propaganda campaign targeting the gullible zealots on the left as much as the already on-board zealots on the right.

But, be that as it may, Hillary—even if she were as evil as her detractors insist—would be infinitely better than the dangerously unhinged Trump.

This is what we knew about Trump prior to the election:

Every living former president, from both parties, implicitly or explicitly denounced Trump.

Every living former major party nominee for the presidency, save one, denounced Trump.

The former directors of both the CIA and the NSA denounced Trump, calling him a threat to both national security and global stability.

Every major economist, every major historian, every major foreign policy expert, every major anti-terrorism expert, everyone with any relevant expertise at all, all emphatically denounced Trump.

The nation’s most renowned historians formed a Facebook page to which they posted video testimonials of how dangerous and unsuited to the office Trump is. The world renowned Economist magazine ranked a Trump presidency as tied for second among potential global economic catastrophes currently facing the world.

Every major newspaper except for two (one in Florida and one in Las Vegas), conservative or liberal, refused to endorse Trump. Most chose to endorse Clinton instead; for many, it was the first time they had endorsed a Democrat in their publication’s history. In these cases, they stated that they were doing so primarily because of how unstable, hateful, and potentially brutal Trump is.

Venerable magazines that had never endorsed any candidate in a century or two of existence, or had endorsed one only three times in a century and a half, endorsed Clinton.

The most renowned conservative pundits—George Will, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, even Glenn Beck—even denounced Trump, and, of course, every single liberal pundit did as well.

There was widespread recognition, among people from every relevant field and with any relevant expertise, of how unfit Trump is for the presidency—how ignorant he is, how incompetent he is, how unstable he is, how much of a fraud he is (in business as well as politics), how narcissistic he is, how sociopathic he is, how hateful he is, how vicious he is, how racist he is, how misogynistic he is.

Trump’s only claim to competency is as a business success, and that’s a false claim. He has underperformed index funds—a measure of the movement of the market itself—by a factor of three or four since 1988, and has barely outperformed the market since first embarking on his business career. And that minor success was achieved through fraud, abuse of bankruptcy laws to stiff subcontractors, and a variety of other underhanded tactics.

His courting of white supremacists at home and of foreign despots abroad, his endless racist and misogynistic comments, his mind-boggling ignorance and incompetence, and the degree to which he simply lies constantly are all well-documented and easy to see.

He doesn’t, as his followers insist, “tell it like it is.” Rather, more so than any other candidate in the history of rigorous fact-checking, he tells it like it isn’t, undermining the very notion of relatively credible or reliable information so that followers can accept his utterly incredible and unreliable noise as fact.

He is a farce and a phony, and his followers have set new records for gullibility as impressive as his new records for dishonesty.

He is not only incompetent; he’s not only a fraud; he’s not only a racist, nativist, misogynistic, dishonest, high-end parasite—he’s also a dangerous, narcissistic megalomaniac.

He has promised to target children in drone strikes. He has promised to use torture without restraint. Both of these acts are officially designated, in international law, as crimes against humanity.

He has promised to disregard several Constitutional provisions such as the Free Exercise Clause, the Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of Press, the Due Process clause, and Equal Protection Clause.

He has promised to implement a near-exact replica of one of the Nazi Party’s most infamous policies.

He has quoted Mussolini. According to his first wife, he kept a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” on his bed stand. He has admiringly and enviously spoken of the brutality of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin.

In a military security briefing, he asked three times why, if we have nuclear weapons, we don’t use them. He has said that he wouldn’t care if there were nuclear war in East Asia. He has said that he favors nuclear proliferation.

There was already existing evidence of collusion with Russia.

And that was before the election.

Since then, we have only seen that our worst fears, based on all of the above information, have been exceeded by his actual behavior in the office of the presidency.

He has alienated allies and escalated dangerous situations with nuclear armed enemies.

He has made reckless and baseless accusations against the former president, and has continued his infantile Twitter-storm of temper tantrums.

He has sent innocent people, including children, who have fled from brutality and chaos back to a near certain death, all on the basis of an empirically refuted, utterly false narrative that they pose a danger to us.

He has made American foreign and domestic policy the play-thing of people whose entire orientation is predatory, using their positions for profit in obvious and explicit ways.

He has refused to reveal his tax returns (after promising to do so eventually), has refused to place his assets in a blind trust, has refused to engage in any of the normal procedures for reducing his ability to exploit his position for personal profit.

He has made America great again in the same way that a long, rumbling fart makes the air fresh again, but with far more dangerous and dire consequences.

Hillary Clinton’s sins pale in comparison.

She gave paid speeches to Wall Street brokers.

She helps to head a successful and helpful charity to which she incentivizes contributions by offering donors access to her (without any indication of any quid pro quo)—a very normal practice for famous charity organizers.

She was Secretary of State when four embassy personnel in a civil-war-torn country were killed, the smallest such tragedy under any President’s or Secretary of State’s watch in at least half a century.

She is, within the bounds of rational analysis, more hawkish than many on the left are, and she is a woman who has a less than warm-and-fuzzy public persona (though many journalists, including some conservatives, have reported that her private persona is very kind and generous).

She, unlike Trump, has led a life of public service.

She, unlike Trump, has championed many noble and worthy causes.

She, unlike Trump, has not engaged in a variety of racist and misogynistic campaigns and utterances. She, unlike Trump, is a mentally and emotionally stable, responsible, focused, and competent professional.

In other words, there is no comparison.

Now, the purists on the left who contributed to this outcome insist that they are innocent—that it was the Democratic Party’s fault for not electing Bernie as their nominee. It’s possible that Bernie would have won, though by no means certain.

Moreover, no one favoring Hillary did so with any purpose other than to win the general election; if it was a poor choice, it was a poor choice made in good faith. And, judging by historical reality and an understanding of our national center of gravity ideologically, it was prospectively a rational choice, since one would not have thought it likely that America could elect a 74-year-old Jewish socialist with no executive experience beyond the municipal level and no legislative achievements in his long career beyond passing amendments to other people’s bills.

The fact that we have stepped through the looking glass (or fallen down the rabbit hole) and are now attending the Mad Hatter’s tea party over which Trump presides doesn’t change the fact that it was prospectively rational to consider Bernie to be a non-viable general election candidate.

This is still a right-leaning country, and while we turned out to be capable of electing a fascist dictator, it still seems unlikely we could have elected a candidate at the other ideological extreme.

But it’s beside the point. Those who favored Bernie were convinced he was the best choice, and those who favored Hillary were convinced that she was the best choice. And she lost—in part due to those who favored Bernie actively behaving in ways which increased the probability that she would in fact lose, and did so enough to push the actual outcome over the edge.

While those of us who supported Hillary did so in good faith and would have gladly supported Bernie had he won the primary, many of those who supported Bernie did not share that pragmatic and functional perspective. They essentially campaigned against the Democratic Party nominee after the primaries were over, echoing and amplifying the anti-Hillary narrative, encouraging one another to vote third party, and increasing the degree of malaise that kept others from voting at all.

Given that the election was decided by razor-thin margins in several swing states—margins smaller than the popular vote in some of those states—and that Hillary lost the electoral vote while winning the popular vote by the largest margin of anyone who has ever lost a presidential election, it’s fair to say with a reasonable degree of certainty that this behavior by leftist purists was a decisive factor in the outcome.

And it’s fair to say that they chose to act this way in spite of the fact that it could have no other consequence than to elect Trump.

Those who now crow that they were right that we should have nominated Bernie are really only crowing that their own self-fulfilling prophesy, which they actively helped to bring about and which is highly destructive to both this nation and this world, actually did come about—which is not really something to brag about.

A large number of Bernie supporters—including some who voted for Hillary—helped get Trump elected by echoing and amplifying (largely false) right-wing, anti-Clinton talking points.

That is what ideological purism got us.

If it had not been for that stubbornness on the left, we would have a moderate Democrat in the presidency right now rather than an insane megalomaniac. That is a statistical fact.

And it was a completely foreseeable (and widely foreseen) statistical fact. Hillary’s loss was not a function of merely miscalculating a complex reality, but rather a function of people on both sides of the aisle actively undermining the Democratic candidate in the general election.

What’s the point in rehashing this now?

Simply this: Ideological purism and zealotry are not serving us well, and will not suddenly begin to do so. It creates a positive feedback loop, increasing the zealotry and purism at both extremes, tearing this country apart, and leaving openings for unstable megalomaniacs to exploit.

We need to stop seeking our respective ideological utopias, and start living in the real world.

If we don’t, that real world is going to continue to spiral away from the ideals of liberty and unalienable rights and toward the ideological vision the “purists” unwittingly champion.



Author: Steve Harvey

Image: Pixabay

Editor: Callie Rushton

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