White women and Trump.

Photo from “9 Women on Why They’re (Still) Voting for Trump,” New York Magazine

53% of white women voted for Trump.

In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.

My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.

But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.

So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?


Maybe it was bigotry.

Predictably, some of my leftist friends think the missing puzzle pieces are racism and (internalized) sexism. I’ve seen repostings of LV Anderson’s piece at Slate (“White Women Sold Out the Sisterhood and the World by Voting for Trump”), which is filled with explanations like this:

What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.

While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.

But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.


Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.

How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.

It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!

But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.

Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.

But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.


CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:

Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.

On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.

Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.

If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.


Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.

There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.

2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.

So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.

Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver
Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver

2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.

Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.

Yeah, okay.
Yeah, okay.

Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.


Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made up stories of hate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).

I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actual bigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:

[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

Kirsten Powers explained the same idea in terms of misogyny:

After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.

I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.

Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.

2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.

Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.

Keep lecturing people about what they don’t care about while showing no understanding of what they do care about. That’s been so effective so far.

Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.

Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?

If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.


Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.

I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.

Article after article about the parts of the nation that went wholeheartedly for Trump (including many counties that had previously voted for Obama twice) describe recurring themes of economic and cultural despair, resentment at being derided by the rest of us, and the way economic and racial anxiety intertwine. (Here’s one or two more.)

Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.


Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.

A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.

So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.

The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.

3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.

Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S.  Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.

It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)

While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.

Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.

A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.

3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.

But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.

And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.

If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.

3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.

But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”

Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?

And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:

Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!

And repeat.

In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.


“You’re Racist!”: How (Not) to Change Someone’s Mind

Both before and after the election results, Trump’s supporters were lambasted as racist, misogynist bigots. But do these insults work? Will shaming change anyone’s mind? If not, how do you convince people to drop their prejudices? As Vox reports: “a frank, brief conversation.”

[A 2016] study, authored by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley, looked at how simple conversations can help combat anti-transgender attitudes. In the research, people canvassed the homes of more than 500 voters in South Florida. The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.

It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.

…In talking with researchers and looking at the studies on this, I found that it is possible to reduce people’s racial anxiety and prejudices. And the canvassing idea was regarded as very promising. But, researchers cautioned, the process of reducing people’s racism will take time and, crucially, empathy.

This is the direct opposite of the kind of culture the internet has fostered — typically focused on calling out racists and shaming them in public. This doesn’t work. And as much as it might seem like a lost cause to understand the perspectives of people who may qualify as racist, understanding where they come from is a needed step to being able to speak to them in a way that will help reduce the racial biases they hold.

Image result for you're racist gifIt turns out that favorite buzzwords and phrases like “racist,” “white privilege,” and “implicit bias” are often seen by these voters “as coded slurs. These terms don’t signal to them that they’re doing something wrong, but that their supposedly racist attitudes (which they would deny having at all) are a justification for lawmakers and other elites to ignore their problems…What’s more, accusations of racism can cause white Americans to become incredibly defensive — to the point that they might reinforce white supremacy. Robin DiAngelo, who studies race at Westfield State University, described this phenomenon as “white fragility” in a groundbreaking 2011 paper[…]The innate resistance and defensiveness to conversations about bigotry don’t mean that you should never talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, or other kinds of hate. But those conversations may have to be held more tactfully — positioning people into a more receptive position to hear what these problems are all about.”

The entire piece is worth reading.

What Happened?: Republicans on Trade

Image result for free trade

I’ve mentioned in passing the oddity of Democrats being more supportive of free trade than their supposedly capitalism-loving Republican opponents. A brand new poll by POLITICO and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health further confirms this shift. Some of the findings:

  • 47% of Republicans think free trade has hurt their communities, twice that of Democrats (24%). Only 18% of Republicans think free trade has helped, while nearly twice as many Democrats do (33%).
  • When broken down by country (Canada, EU, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, China) and by party, Republicans exceed both Democrats and Independents on every country in claiming that trade hurts. Over 60% of Republicans think trade with Mexico and China have hurt Americans. Democrats were surprisingly the lowest on every country.
  • “54% of Democrats believe that free trade has lost more U.S. jobs than it has created, compared to 66% of Independents and 85% of Republicans. Similarly, 38% of Democrats believe free trade has lowered U.S. wages, compared to 50% of Independents and 66% of Republicans. Only 8% of Republicans, 11% of Independents, and 19% of Democrats think free trade has led to higher wages for U.S. workers” (pg. 3).

There’s much more, including attitudes about the state of the economy and the Affordable Care Act. As one who grew up in a conservative household, I find this all rather worrying. As Trump’s senior policy adviser and economist Peter Navarro told POLITICO, “There’s been a schism for a long time between registered Republicans and the party leadership. That was the essence of the primary election. You had a group of insider politicians singing the same old globalization song. And one candidate saying the emperor has no clothes.” The problem, of course, is that the emperor is fullyclothed.

The Republican party has become a party of mercantilists.

Modern Tribalism: Mythical Ideologies for Mythical Ancestors

Bartolomeo di Giovanni recounts Jupiter ordering Mercury to rescue Io: an example of a cultural-creating myth.

In the past couple of years, I’ve read several books that deal with the origins of human society: Frans de Waal’s The Bonobo and the Atheist, Matt Ridley’s The Origins of VirtueFrancis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order, and Yuval Harari’s Sapiens are just a few examples.

One of the common themes in these books was that the leap from the band-level socities (usually capped at about 150 members) to tribal societies depended on the creation of mythological common ancestors. Tribal societies were successful because they could scale up in times of crisis. The bigger the crises, the more the individual groups would need to group together, so the farther back in time they would look to a common ancestor. A small crisis might entail a couple of tribes who were descended from a common, living grandfather. A medium crisis might require going back a few more generations to a long-dead (but possibly historical) great-great-grandfather. And a really large crisis might require going back even farther to mythical ancestors who may or may not have ever lived. The point was that–because they could always create an ancestor further back in time–tribal societies had truly immense ability to scale up (at least in the short term when faced with an external threat.)

Now, I’m very far from the first person to call modern American political discourse tribal. Basically everyone can see that our society is increasingly fracturing into diverse, ideologically pure and rigid social groups for whom politics is much more about creating and maintaining in-group solidarity than honest political differences.

If you’d like a recap, here’s a long but very awesome article about this: I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup. In the article, Scott Alexander posits three main tribes in American society: red (conservative), blue (liberal) and gray (techno-libertarian). These are the top-level tribes, but each one is composed of a dense connection of sub-tribes, each smaller and more specific than the level above. For example, the gun-rights crowd is a sub-group in the red-tribe, and the open carry movement is a sub-group of that group.

Now, if you’d asked me last week, I would not have made any serious connection between the development of tribal societies in human prehistory and the rise of tribal politics in the United States. For the most part, the reason people make this analogy is that “tribal” has pretty negative connotations (e.g. insularity, xenophobia, and irrationality) that pretty closely match the behavior we’re seeing in American political society. So, a convenient connection but also a pretty superficial one.

But now I’m starting to think that the connection is actually much deeper than that.

Take a look at this image (one that a Facebook friend posted recently):

Mythological Ideology

Now, it’s got all the hallmarks of really obnoxious political memes, right down to the sloppy grammar. I’m looking at you, random lonely quotation marks.

Lonely Quotation Marks

Now, according to this meme “the same people” were fighting against women’s rights in the 1920s, against equal rights for blacks in the 1950s and 1960s, against women’s rights again in the 1970s, and are now supporting Trump in the 2010s. So, who are these mysteriously long-lived people? Who are all those folks showing up in Trump rallies today that were waving anti-enfranchisement posters nearly 100 years ago? Obviously: nobody. Because humans don’t live that long.

Then what does “the same people” refer to? Perhaps there’s an ideology that’s around today that’s been around for 100 years, and so it’s not the individual human beings but the ideology that is the problem. This is also unlikely, however. Not only do ideologies change and mutate over time, but the reality is that (to pick a couple of issues), most of the women’s rights activists of the 1920s were extremely pro-life and would have been campaigning against abortion in the 1970s. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been pro-choice almost his whole life, only switched to pro-life recently, and didn’t even do a half-way decent job of being convincing about it. So–even if there were such a thing as ideological philosophies that were consistent over time frames of a century or more–there isn’t one that aligns with these issues.

So what’s going on?

In simple terms, Occupy Democrats is creating a mythological ideology in exactly the same way that ancient tribal societies created mythological ancestors. The idea of Romulus created a bond between Romans who might otherwise come from different families, neighborhoods, or tribes. The bond was real, even if the Romulus was not. In the same way, the blue tribe is inventing a narrative of centuries’ of struggle for equal rights that always had a “good side” for them to claim membership in. Of course that’s a comforting belief, but the most important function that it plays is to unify the various sub-groups within the blue tribe who otherwise might fall into internal squabbles.

So, the analogy to tribes goes much deeper than I first thought.

And of course, this isn’t something just the blue tribe gets up to. All tribes do it. They invent common ancestors or (in our ideological time) common ancestral ideologies. The red tribe has actually been at it far, far longer than the blue tribe, but they choose a different narrative. Instead of a battle over equal rights, the red tribe has a battle to preserve the ideals of the American Constitution, and so the Founding Fathers function as the mythological common ancestors and the Constitution as the mythological common ideology of the red tribe.

Now, if you’ve got any advice on how to get people to stop posting this kind of tribalistic nonsense, I’d love to hear it. I’m begging my friends not to do it anymore–because it makes me hate being on Facebook and is bad for the country–but the worst part is that the kind of people who post this sort of thing (on the left or the right) are precisely the kind of people who can’t conceive of any way in which they could be doing any harm. After all, they’re just telling it like it is, right?

Raising the Drawbridges

“Is Poland’s government right-wing or left-wing?” asks a recent article in The Economist.

Its leaders revere the Catholic church, vow to protect Poles from terrorism by not accepting any Muslim refugees and fulminate against “gender ideology” (by which they mean the notion that men can become women or marry other men).

Yet the ruling Law and Justice party also rails against banks and foreign-owned businesses, and wants to cut the retirement age despite a rapidly ageing population. It offers budget-busting handouts to parents who have more than one child. These will partly be paid for with a tax on big supermarkets, which it insists will somehow not raise the price of groceries.

This represents a new kind of political divide; one that is “less and less between left and right, and more and more between open and closed. Debates between tax-cutting conservatives and free-spending social democrats have not gone away. But issues that cross traditional party lines have grown more potent. Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change, or resist it?” As the British head of YouGov noted, the political ideologies are either “drawbridge up” or “drawbridge down.” The American context of all this is particularly depressing:

In America the traditional party of free trade and a strong global role for the armed forces has just nominated as its standard-bearer a man who talks of scrapping trade deals and dishonouring alliances. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” says Donald Trump. On trade, he is close to his supposed polar opposite, Bernie Sanders, the cranky leftist who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. And Mrs Clinton, though the most drawbridge-down major-party candidate left standing, has moved towards the Trump/Sanders position on trade by disavowing deals she once supported.

The two main forces driving the “drawbridge up” view “are economic dislocation and demographic change.” In turns out that “many mid- and less-skilled workers in rich countries feel hard-pressed. Among voters who backed Brexit, the share who think life is worse now than 30 years ago was 16 percentage points greater that the share who think it is better; Remainers disagreed by a margin of 46 points. A whopping 69% of Americans think their country is on the wrong track, according to RealClearPolitics; only 23% think it is on the right one.” It’s also true that

Rich countries today are the least fertile societies ever to have existed. In 33 of the 35 OECD nations, too few babies are born to maintain a stable population. As the native-born age, and their numbers shrink, immigrants from poorer places move in to pick strawberries, write software and empty bedpans. Large-scale immigration has brought cultural change that some natives welcome—ethnic food, vibrant city centres—but which others find unsettling. They are especially likely to object if the character of their community changes very rapidly.

This does not make them racist. As Jonathan Haidt points out in the American Interest, a quarterly review, patriots “think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving”. Some think their country is superior to all others, but most love it for the same reason that people love their spouse: “because she or he is yours”. He argues that immigration tends not to provoke social discord if it is modest in scale, or if immigrants assimilate quickly.

There is an optimistic side to all this:

Although the drawbridge-uppers have all the momentum, time is not on their side. Young voters, who tend to be better educated than their elders, have more open attitudes. A poll in Britain found that 73% of voters aged 18-24 wanted to remain in the EU; only 40% of those over 65 did. Millennials nearly everywhere are more open than their parents on everything from trade and immigration to personal and moral behaviour. Bobby Duffy of Ipsos MORI, a pollster, predicts that their attitudes will live on as they grow older.

As young people flock to cities to find jobs, they are growing up used to heterogeneity. If the Brexit vote were held in ten years’ time the Remainers would easily win. And a candidate like Mr Trump would struggle in, say, 2024.

But in the meantime, the drawbridge-raisers can do great harm. The consensus that trade makes the world richer; the tolerance that lets millions move in search of opportunities; the ideal that people of different hues and faiths can get along—all are under threat. A world of national fortresses will be poorer and gloomier.

For me, “rape culture” isn’t political. It’s personal.

Understand your conversations aren’t happening in a vacuum; silent victims are listening to you.

Sometimes I want to talk to people about “rape culture.” I’m putting “rape culture” in quotes because the people I most want to talk to about this often recoil at the phrase. If there was another shorthand phrase I knew to describe this situation, I’d use it, but I don’t know of any.

For clarification, when I say “rape culture” I do not mean a culture that is totally chill with violently forcing people to have sex. I mean a culture that minimizes the seriousness of sexual harassment and assault in myriad ways, most of them not purposeful but still very impactful. The cumulative effect is that far too many women have not only been sexually assaulted but—and for me this is a crucial point—they feel unable to do anything about it or even tell anyone.

(Before I continue, please note that in this post I talk exclusively about male rapists and female victims because I am talking about my personal experiences. However it’s important to understand that men are also assaulted and they also struggle to talk about it.)

I feel very strongly about this issue. I probably feel more strongly about this issue than any other social or political topic, by a lot. And that’s because, for me, this is very personal.

When I talk about “rape culture,” I’m not trying to have a political conversation or a policy debate. I’m not trying to establish whether liberals are on witch hunts or conservatives hate women or feminists hate men or whatever else. I don’t care how you feel about your ideological opposition. If I’m trying to talk to you about “rape culture,” this is what I’m trying to say:

I’ve been assaulted. It traumatized me for a long time, and it was even worse than it needed to be because I didn’t think I could tell anybody. When I eventually did tell someone, someone I trusted and loved, he told me he was disappointed in me. I felt humiliated and ashamed, and I really wished I hadn’t told him. I didn’t tell anyone else for a very long time. And I suffered for it.

And many women I love have been assaulted. It’s not my place to share their stories, but the bottom line is this: of all the women I’m closest to, more of them have been assaulted than haven’t. Many of them didn’t talk about it with anyone for a long time. And they’ve suffered for it too.

If I had just walked up to you and told you that, would your first response be “How do you know your loved ones aren’t lying to you? How do I know you’re not lying to me? Women lie sometimes. We should be talking about that.”

The women I know who don’t go public with their stories fear they won’t be believed, fear they’ll be blamed, or fear there will be reprisals against them. And I can’t reassure them that wouldn’t happen, because, from what I’ve seen, that is usually what happens. Even in the more obviously criminal situations, I couldn’t get them to tell the police. Often they won’t even tell their social circles. The men who do these things just go on with their lives, in many cases going on to assault more women who also won’t say anything. My heart breaks for those future women, who I can’t save. It breaks for my friends, who got no justice or relief.

Before this post, I’ve only told a handful of people that this has happened to me. It’s not something I want to think about, and it’s not something I want to be defined by. But I’ve decided to write about it because I’m tired of having this conversation as if we’re discussing “them”—other women, not present, who have gone through this and what it may or not be like for them and how they may or may not react to the way we discuss this. We’re not talking about “them,” we’re talking about me. We’re talking about my family and friends. And, in all likelihood, we’re talking about your family and friends too. For countless people, this is not an abstract discussion; this is our lives.

We’re not talking about a group of anonymous women. We’re talking about my friends and family. We’re talking about me.

The more vocal I am about how seriously I take this, the more women end up telling me their stories. They trust me to believe them, and they also trust me not to tell anyone. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, because I want to tell everyone. I want people to understand how common this is.

In one of my friend’s cases, I knew the guy. I fantasized about walking up to him and punching him in the face. But she didn’t want me to say anything to anyone. So when I saw the guy, I had to just act like nothing had happened. Everyone acts like nothing has happened. I wonder if he even thought about it again. She was intimidated about leaving her house, she would cry when she got home, she would make extra sure her door was locked—and he doesn’t even have to think about it again.

When I think about how many women I know—personally—who have not only been preyed on, but then shamed or intimidated into silence, I feel overwhelmed.  I’m overwhelmed with sorrow and I’m overwhelmed with rage. I feel rage at men who take whatever they want with no real concern about repercussions, and I feel rage to know they’re right not to worry. I feel rage at a society that’s quick to find reasons not to take my friends’ stories seriously, not to face how common this is. I feel rage at myself that I can’t do anything besides listen and grieve.

And you know what else? If you’re the person who can’t have even one conversation about this without saying “what if she’s lying?” – I feel rage at you.

You think because you’re not physically attacking anyone, because you’re “just asking questions,” that you’re not a part of this—that you’re innocent. You are not innocent. Every time you talk about this publicly or in groups, odds are good that someone who’s been through it is listening. She’s hearing your suspicion and condemnation, and she’s deciding she’s much better off never telling anyone. If no one knows, no one can call her a liar, man-hater, idiot, or slut. No one can use one of the most painful parts of her life to hurt her all over again. But she’s also a lot less likely to get the help she needs. And the guy who attacked her is free to go attack someone else.

And you. You who think we don’t talk enough about false accusations, who think we don’t consider how scary it is for men to hook up with women they don’t know, who think a man assaults an unconscious woman hidden behind a dumpster because of a “hook-up mentality”–you’re a part of this. Where do you think “culture” comes from? Each time you talk about sexual assault, you’re contributing to a culture of some type. You might be contributing to a culture of support, compassion, a desire to understand. But if you’re contributing to a culture of suspicion and blame, that’s on you. She hears you, and she’s shutting up, and that is on you. So I feel rage at you too.

When I talk about “rape culture” I’m not advocating for a political party or policy or position. I’m not calling for a ban on any ideas or any topics of conversations. Talk about false accusations, talk about drunken regret, talk about whatever you want. Just understand your conversations aren’t happening in a vacuum; silent victims are listening to you.

So when I talk about “rape culture,” that’ s what I’m trying to make clear. I want you to recognize that none of us are observing this from the outside; we’re all involved. Everyone who talks about this—and everyone who refuses to talk about it—is a part of this. We are all a part of this. And all I really want is for you to think about which part you’re playing.

The Dog Whistle Dilemma

dog whistle 800x400

Political polarization is bad enough, but sometimes partisan arguments are worse than merely polarizing. One example of this is the response to the controversial topic of political correctness and so-called “social justice warriors.”

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the term “social justice warriors” because—as a term that was initially a pejorative and is still primarily used that way—it carries a lot of baggage. But I do think that concerns about political correctness are legitimate, and I documented a lot of thinkers (primarily from the American left) who have agreed in recent months in Difficult Run’s most widely read article of 2015: When Social Justice Isn’t About Justice. This view—that political correctness, social justice activism, microagressions, tolerance, etc—have gone a little too far seems to be an emerging consensus. But there are still holdouts.

Not surprisingly, the holdouts come from within the social justice movement itself. One prominent, sympathetic voice is John Scalzi. He’s a best-selling, award-winning science fiction author who famously signed a multi-million-dollar publishing deal with Tor last year. He’s a prominent, influential voice on social justice issues, and according to him—and thousands who agree—there is no conceivable, legitimate concern to be had on this topic. For example, back in 2014, he wrote that:

“Political Correctness” is a catchphrase which today means one of two things. The first is, “I have done no substantial thinking on this topic in at least twenty years and therefore anything I say past this point cannot be treated with any seriousness.” The second is “It is more important for me to continue my ingrained bigotry than it is for you not to be denigrated or offended by my bigotry, because I am lazy and do not wish to be bothered.” If in fact you do not intend to convey either of these two things, you should not use, nor sign on to a document which uses, the phrase “political correctness.”

In November 2015, at precisely the time that opinion across much of the spectrum of American politics was starting to really take political correctness seriously as a threat, he wrote:

I’m always embarrassed for the people who use these phrases [“political correctness” and “social justice warriors”] thinking they’re cutting, when in fact what they signal to the rest of the world is that the utterer is dog-whistling to a low-wattage, bigoted rabble in lieu of making an actual argument.

You can immediately see the polarization and absolutism of Scalzi’s statements. If we take Scalzi’s argument at face value then we must write off folks like Andrew Sullivan, John McWhorter, Jeannie Suk, Jonathan Chait, Laura Kipnis, Asam Ahmad, Damon Linker, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt as ignorant bigots. That’s a pretty diverse list of gay and straight, male and female, white and black thinkers (almost none of whom are conservative or Republican), but in one fell swoop Scalzi says you can ignore anything they say. Which is the whole point: you can make the world a much simpler place by inventing reasons to completely ignore your opponents. This is what political polarization is all about. We’ve seen this before.

But when we look at the specifics of Scalzi’s argument, we see another problem. The key concept in Scalzi’s argument is the concept of dog whistling. A dog whistle is “a type of whistle that emits sound in the ultrasonic range, which people cannot hear but some other animals can, including dogs and domestic cats, and is used in their training.” So, in politics, the idea of dog whistling is that someone disguises racism behind a veneer of apparently neutrality. For example, they will talk about “thugs” (when discussing issues of race and crime, perhaps) as a stand in for just using the n-word. This accusation is true. It is a real thing that really happens.

The problem is that Scalzi isn’t leveling the accusation against a particular thing said by a particular person in a particular context. He is saying that anyone who says anything in any context about political correctness or social justice warriors is engaging in dog whistling.

Intended or not, the inevitable consequence of this move is that it subjectifies arguments. Making an argument about a person’s motivations or private beliefs is always tricky, but in most cases we can build a case by using publicly available, objective facts like their words, their behavior, the consequences of their actions, and so forth. But that’s not possible when we make categorical statements about the motivations and private beliefs of a wide range of people without any recourse to external facts. The only way to enact the total dog whistle accusation as Scalzi does is to abandon objectivity.

The case for abolition relied on objective claims like all people deserve human rights and human rights are incompatible with slavery as an institution. The 20 century civil rights movement also relied on objective claims such as segregation is incompatible with genuine racial equality. But the all-encompassing dog whistle accusation eschews recourse to any publicly available, objectively valid facts and so eschews objectivity itself.

Why does this matter? It matters because once an argument becomes subjective, it no longer makes sense to talk about who is more correct. Instead, arguments inevitably devolve into contests to see who is more powerful. When objective truth is no longer a recourse, all that remains is appeal to power.

This makes the dog whistle accusation an ultimately self-defeating tool from the standpoint of genuine concern for social justice, because once the argument becomes a question of power, it is a foregone conclusion that it can no longer constitute a genuine challenge powers in high places. You cannot speak subjective truth to power because subjective truth is power.

The practical reality is that the ultimate consumers of social justice activism are nice, college-educated, open-minded, prosperous, white Americans who are desperate to find the magic words to say to absolve themselves of any perceived guilt from profiting off of historical exploitation or collaborating in ongoing, systemic oppression. Social justice activism, unmoored from sternly objectivist claims, cannot resist the universal solvent of American consumerism and is already far on its way to becoming just another luxury good. Social justice arguments rooted in subjectivism are no harder for elites to absorb and appropriate than any other cultural artifact, and when that happens the tactics, rhetoric, and infrastructure of social justice are deployed to serve the interests of those elites rather than to challenge them. This is true even when social justice ends up being deployed against minorities. Weapons, even rhetorical ones, don’t care who they are aimed at.

Consider Conor Friedersdorf’s recent Atlantic piece: Left Outside the Social-Justice Movement’s Small Tent. The story describes Mahad Olad’s journey into and then estrangement from social justice activism. Why? He had the temerity to question trigger warnings and attempts to shut down conservative speakers. The result? “I was accused of being outrageously insensitive and apparently made three activist cohorts have traumatic breakdowns,” (for questioning trigger warnings) and “I was accused of being a ‘respectable negro,’ ‘uncle tom,’ ‘local coon’ and defending university officials to continue to ‘systemically oppress minorities,” (for questioning silencing of conservative speakers).

This is just one example of social justice turning against minorities, but there are plenty more. There are articles like That awkward moment when I realized my white “liberal” friends were racists and The Unchecked Racism Of The Left And The Platinum Rule and The Disturbing Story Of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At A Major Progressive PR Firm and What Happens When a Prominent Male Feminist Is Accused of Rape?.

As long as the dog whistle accusation is used as a blanket condemnation of all who have the temerity to question social justice activism and political correctness, social justice will be subjectified and therefore vulnerable to subversion by the privileged. On the other hand, if the dog whistle accusation is only employed when there’s some kind of objective evidence for it, some bigots will get away with dog whistling because there won’t be enough convincing, objective evidence. This is the dog whistle dilemma, and it is intractable.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that our society is fully of intractable problems. The entire criminal justice system is a giant apparatus set up to confront exactly this kind of intractable problem. We balance the principle of presumed innocence and Miranda rights (to protect the innocent) against warrants and imprisonment (to punish the guilty) knowing full well we’re balancing incompatible interests. With fewer legal protections for the accused, we punish more of the guilt, but also more of the innocent. With more legal protections, we protect the innocent but also let the guilt get away. That’s not to say that we’re complacent about the tradeoff, and it’s certainly not to argue that we have the balance correct today. It’s simply to illustrate that the idea of an irreconcilable tradeoff between competing and incompatible values is not new.

The fatal flaw in the contemporary social justice movement is myopia. A criminal justice system that only cared about punishing the guilty would, in short order, discard all civil liberties in the pursuit of that objective, resulting in a nightmare.

No one wants to live in a society where sometimes murderers get away on a technicality. No one wants to live in that kind of society, that is, until we stop to really consider the alternative. A world where courts and prosecutors do not have to abide by the rule of law is even worse.

The same applies here. A world where some people can get away with racism as long as they cloak it in a thin veneer of plausible deniability is not anybody’s idea of a utopia. But a solution like Scalzi’s is even worse, because it’s not only a world riven by polarization and discord, but also a world where social justice itself becomes subjectified and then perverted to serve the interests of entrenched elites.

Political Ignorance Abounds

What provokes such a claim?

  • 30% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats support bombing Agrabah. You know, Aladdin’s hometown.
  • 44% of Democrats were in favor of allowing refugees from Jasmine’s kingdom to settle in the U.S., while 27% were opposed and 28% were indifferent.
  • According to a 2007 survey, 35% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans support the “truther” theory of 9/11 (i.e. 9/11 was an inside job).
  • Only 29% of Republicans believe President Obama was born in the U.S. (the rest said either he wasn’t or they “aren’t sure”).
  • 32% of Democrats and 18 % of Republicans believe “the Jews” deserve substantial blame for the 2008 financial crisis.

GMU law professor Ilya Somin recent Washington Post article uses these numbers to explore how ignorance abounds among political partisans on both sides. Check it out.

Trump and Fear

749 - Anti-Mormon Political Cartoon
Religious discrimination. Mormons have been there, done that, and got the political cartoons to prove it.

Let’s talk about Donald Trump.

Believe me, I don’t like it any more than you do. I find Donald Trump’s success in the GOP primaries exasperating and depressing. I haven’t written about it very much because I don’t like to think about it very much. I changed my mind when he announced that he thinks we should ban all Muslims from entering the country. The Hill reported:

Trump, in a formal statement from his campaign, urged a “total and complete shutdown” of all federal processes allowing followers of Islam into the country until elected leaders can “figure out what is going on.”

This was very, very far from the first ignorant/crazy/fear-mongering thing that Trump has had to say during this campaign, and I am sure that it will also be far from the last. Up until this point I didn’t see much point in writing about them. If I wrote a blog post every time Trump said something execrable,  I”d never write about anything else.

But that one was just so egregiously bad that–much as I dislike bandwagons and outrage porn–I made up my mind to go on the record with exactly what I thought of his proposal.

I am a Mormon. My people understand what it is like to be targeted because of our religion. Some of my ancestors survived the massacre at Haun’s Mill, our prophet was murdered by a mob, and in 1838 Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an executive order which read, in part, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.”

So, as a Mormon, I’m sensitive to issues of religious persecution. We’ve been there. We didn’t like it very much, and we don’t think anyone should have to go through it. That’s more than just a matter of bad historical experience, however. For Mormons, religious pluralism and freedom of conscience are matters of doctrine. The 11th of our Thirteen Articles of Faith states:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

After I had already started work on this blog post, I was incredibly happy and proud to see that my Church, which doesn’t often weigh in explicitly on political matters, had found Donald Trump’s statement worthy of formal, public repudiation. In a short, pointed press release the Church quoted Joseph Smith:

If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a “Mormon,” I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.

They also found an ordnance from Nauvoo that specifically mentioned Islam in the context of religious freedom:

Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo, that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans [Muslims], and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city …

Additionally, I’ve been very proud of Utah Governor Herbert for being the only Republican governor in the nation who has refused to bar Syrian refugees from entering his state. I thought I couldn’t be more proud of Utah then when Bill Clinton came third in 1992, but they’ve topped it.

So that is what I think of Donald Trump’s suggested policy on banning Muslims: don’t. And that pretty much sums up most of my responses to his policy proposals. Since I’m writing about Trump now–and since I hope to do that as infrequently as possible–I might as well include some related notions.

1. Is Trump Going to Win?

Short answer: probably not.

Trump’s apparent dominance of the GOP race is very misleading, according to Nate Silver. He made his view clear in November with: Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls. His main point was that primary polls have very little predictive power (which makes them quite different from general election polls), in part because so many voters are undecided until the last minute. Once you include the undecideds, for example, the poll numbers look more like this:

754 - Trump Hope

I had some fun with that 5% number by contrasting it with a report from Public Policy Polling about American opinions on various conspiracy theories. In ascending order, here are the conspiracy theories that have at least as much (or much more!) support among Americans than Donald Trump currently does among GOP voters:

  • 5% believe that contrails are “actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons”
  • 5% believe Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1968
  • 6% of Americans believe Bin Laden is still alive
  • 7% believe the moon landings were faked
  • 9% believe that fluoride is added not for dental health but for “more sinister reasons”
  • 14% believe in Bigfoot.
  • 15% believe that TV broadcast signals contain mind-controlling technology
  • 20% believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism
  • 21% believe the US government covered up a UFO crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico

In case you’re curious, basically all conspiracy theories have more support among Americans than Donald Trump does among Republicans. In fact, there was only one conspiracy theory that had less support than Trump. That was one the one about “shape-shifting reptilian people” who “control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies.” It came in at 4%. And that one isn’t even a real conspiracy theory! It’s just a 1980s TV miniseries. The primary difference is that, for example, Bigfoot believers don’t attend boisterous rallies and wave signs and get massive, wall-to-wall coverage.

So, writing back in November, Silver said flatly that although Trump’s chances are more than 0, they are “(considerably) less than 20 percent.” Harry Enten (also writing at Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site), took up the issue again on Dec 4: Donald Trump Won’t Win Just Because More Voters Are Paying Attention. Enten was rebutting a theory that–because more voters are paying attention to this primary season–the polls might be more predictive than usual. His response? “The hypothesis is possible, but there’s no evidence to support it.” The FiveThirtyEight gang weighed in again on Dec 8 in a group chat: What If Ted Cruz Wins Iowa? Although the talk wasn’t specifically about Trump (obviously, from the title), they did mention some interesting data points. The conversation starter was this:

A Monmouth survey came out yesterday showing Ted Cruz leading in Iowa — the first poll to show Cruz atop the GOP heap there. And overall, Cruz has crept into second place in the RealClearPolitics Iowa aggregate.

Nate Silver himself pointed out that, although it’s still possible for Trump to pull out a win in Iowa, his chances of bringing home the nomination are slim.

We’ve been saying for months that Trump could win Iowa or another early state. What we’ve said is that he’s quite unlikely to win the nomination. And he’d still probably be an underdog conditional on winning Iowa, although that depends on a lot of things.

Silver also conceded, however, that if Trump pulls off a win in Iowa, “that’s an epistemological game changer.”

So, I doubt Trump wins in Iowa. If he does, I doubt he wins overall in the nominations. There’s no way he wins in New Hampshire, for example. If he does win the race, I still very much doubt he has a majority, and that means we have a contested convention. Instead of just corronating the nominee, which is what most DNC and GOP conventions are about, the GOP convention would actually be a political fight to the death to see who wins the nomination, and I doubt Trump survives that. Even if he passes all these “I doubt it” moments, the reality is that the Republican establishment will not accept him as the nominee, period. If he somehow walks away with the nod, then the Republican Party will run Mitt Romney (or someone else) rather than allow Trump to run uncontested. Make no mistake: Hillary Clinton wins in that scenario so it’s all symbolic, but the GOP will not accept Trump ever. Not after his remarks about banning Muslims from entering the US. That was the final straw for the establishment GOP.

2. What Does Trump Mean? How Did We Get Here?

There are basically two options that matter to me here. Either Trump’s fear-mongering is a genuine reflection of the GOP party, or there is some other explanation for his rise.

Clearly, I’d like to believe the latter. The fact that Trump is only polling at 5% (once undecideds are accounted for) combined with the fact that you can basically find 5% of Americans to poll in favor of any given wacko conspiracy theory makes this plausible. I would also add that a lot of Republicans view Trump as a way to lash out after decades of being pilloried as bigots. There is a very large degree of self-righteousness in left-wing condemnation of the right before and during Trump’s rise. Let me give you one example of this. Here’s a Facebook status from an individual who attended the same high school that I did:

750 - Allies

In this case, he was responding to some particular incident in Virginia (I don’t know which) that seems pretty analogous to Trump’s statements. So, I agree with his stance against religious bigotry.

But look at that last, highlighted sentence. Somehow in the space of just 4 paragraphs he manages to make an attack on his Muslim neighbors about him. The mind boggles. And yet, on the other hand, this is what an awful lot of the criticism of the GOP looks like to me (and to other conservatives) going back for as long as we can remember. It’s ostensibly about standing up for minorities, but somehow in the end it ends up as a self-righteous ego-trip for the upper-middle class more often than not.

In short, there’s a mixture of immature backlash from the conservative base and also a kind of “boy who cried wolf” dynamic. After being called bigots no matter what they do for 20 years, Republicans seem to have become desensitized to the point where some (at least 5%) are supporting an actual bigot.

But there is also the second, much darker and more depressing possibility. Trump might really represent where a significant portion of the GOP base is located right now. That’s what this poll from Bloomberg Politics seems to indicate:

748 - Muslim Immigration Poll

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans support Trump’s proposed ban. That is way, way more than the 5% who support Trump directly. This is a potential sign that fear might be much more deeply entrenched in the Republican base than I would have believed possible.

I hope that this poll is anomalous. It is, after all, a single poll taken fairly recently after a terrorist attack in a highly toxic political environment about a temporary ban. I’m not defending the folks who answered in favor. I think they were wrong, and I couldn’t be more clear about that. But I’m expressing hope that this is not truly reflective of where the GOP base is at. That this poll reflects symbolic belief and/or a short-term reaction.

More polls will come out in the coming months, and we’ll also have the GOP primary to continue to keep an eye on. We will learn more. If it is an anomaly, then I have hope that the GOP voters will resoundingly reject Trump in the end. He might peel off enough support to spoil the election, but if that’s what it takes to lead this specific fringe out of the GOP tent then it might not be a bad thing in the end. On the other hand, if it is not an anomaly, if it reflects the long-term view of a vast majority of likely Republican primary voters, then I am very disappointed indeed. I’m with Paul Ryan: “This is not conservatism.”


Divided Americans Live in Parallel Universes

Here’s something I wrote on Facebook on Nov 20:

I used to be very frustrated when people I knew and respected who had very well-informed, thoughtful opinions on controversial political issues refused to speak up about them.

Now I get it.

And here are two pretty clear examples of where my sense of frustration comes from. These are two Facebook posts from friends that appeared literally one after another in my Facebook feed. Other than obscuring names, I haven’t changed them at all.

Exhibit A

769 - Hell in a Handbasket Exhibit A

Exhibit B

768 - Hell in a Handbasket Exhibit B

So, let’s talk about this.

757 - TruthFirst observation: 100PERCENTFEDUP.COM and ADDICTINGINFO.ORG. Really, people? Really? These are the sites that you want to post to your FB feed? Look, I understand that no media outlet is purely objective. Everyone has bias. Everyone has an angle. But the reality is that big-name outlets like the New York Times or NPR or the Wall Street Journal depend, at least in part, on their reputations. And that sets boundaries on their crazy. This is even true of outlets that have an openly declared partisan affiliation, like The Nation or National Review. They have a viewpoint, but they also rely on being taken seriously, even by their opponents. Do you think that RAGINGPOLITICALCLICKBAITY-CLICKBAIT.INFO, which has no reputation to protect, is going to exhibit any of that caution or restraint?

The mainstream media certainly roots for one team more than the other, but when CBS majorly screws up Dan Rather gets fired and they make a movie about it. When FOAMINGMOUTHPOLITICS-AND-ADREVENUE.NET gets something totally wrong nobody notices and nobody cares. (And, more often than not, people keep linking to it anyway.)

Second observation: let’s just assume for the sake of argument that both the headlines are accurate summaries of the relevant events. Let’s say they are, in simplistic terms, true. Does that mean that the views which the articles are clearly designed to substantiate are reasonable? No. No, it does not. This is what you could call (quite politely) cherry-picking. The most important aspect of cherry-picking is that you don’t have to lie or fabricate to be wrong. Sometimes, every single thing you say can be true and your conclusion can still be so utterly detached from rationality, kindness, and common sense that it has passed “wrong” without stopping on the freeway to Crazyville to accept the keys to the city from Mayor Crazy McCrazyPants.

The point of posting articles like those illustrated above is purely to validate a pre-existing opinion that boils down to simply this: my team is angelic, your team is demonic. These articles come from mutually exclusive parallel realities where the truth is obvious, extreme, and absolute.

The problem with these kinds of articles is not that they are false in the sense in which saying 2+2=5 is false. They are false in the sense in which saying, “Today a stranger stabbed my son with a metal rod” gives a false impression if you’re describing your son getting his vaccination from a pediatrician. What’s lacking is context, perspective, synthesis, and analysis. We might have a couple of facts that are true in the strictest technical sense, but are they complete? Do we have the whole story? Do we understand what it means? Does it actually lead to the implied conclusion once other factors are taking into account?

We’re addicted to outrage. We’re high on the heady feeling of occupying the moral high ground. But that high is really just oxygen deprivation. The world is more and more complex and the way we interact with it is stupider than ever.

The saddest part, for me, is the extent to which people are willing to be mean to each other over these kinds of things. The fact is that the stakes are so incredibly low in a Facebook debate, even when the issue itself is so incredibly important. We confuse the importance of a news story with the importance of our little petty squabbles about it. The refugee crisis is a big deal, with implications that could shape our world for decades or even centuries to come. But your argument with your cousin’s co-worker about that refugee crisis just isn’t a big deal. It’s not worth being rude or unkind.

Now you could say: who cares if some sheltered, Western Facebook denizens get their feelings hurt? What does that matter compared to the plight of refugees fleeing for their lives or the possibility that innocent men and women will be slaughtered by terrorists? But here’s the thing: we cannot hope, as a society, to possibly rise to the challenge of those kinds of high-stakes, big picture questions if we lack the capacity to have even the barest measure of self-control in our conversations about them. One thing we should be able to agree on is this: even if we can’t agree on the right answers to these problems, we should be able to approach to them with maturity and empathy and rationality.

So what can we do?

Read more, and especially from diverse and established sources. Wait longer to write. As I prepare to post this, news is still breaking about a shooting in San Bernadino, California. No one knows anything, except that 1/3rd of my Facebook feed knows that this is caused by lax gun laws and 1/3rd knows that we’re under attack from ISIS I’ve been guilty myself of rushing to post the first and snappiest retort to a developing news story. It’s a bad idea. Resist the urge.

And lastly: cultivate relationships of trust, respect, and even warmth with your friends (real and online). There is truth in the wisdom the united we stand and divided we fall. There is very little that people of good intention working together cannot make better, and very little that people divided by animosity and suspicion cannot make worse.

UPDATE: I forgot to include a link to the best article about this that I’ve read so far: Damon Linker’s The moral stupidity of the refugee debate.