What Did You Expect?

As I write this, still more people in and around the Trump administration are jumping ship, finally acknowledging that there is no proof of corruption or fraud in the presidential election. Bill Barr is the latest, stating publicly that the US Department of Justice found no evidence of widespread fraud (although his actual words hedge a little: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election”). 

Yet, hours after Barr’s announcement, Donald Trump is still tweeting about fraud and has not yet conceded defeat:

The hearings he refers to are in response to charges already thrown out of court, mostly dealing with procedural matters such as the distance between poll observers and vote tabulators. Most seem to address improvements to procedures for the next election rather than overturning results in this election, but the tweet certainly keeps the allegations of fraud alive. Trump also probably knows that most people who read his tweets will not tune in to the hearings, or even read about them in detail, so his tweets are what, in large part, form their impressions.

In the meantime, while Barr and others are admitting, somewhat grudgingly, that there is no evidence of fraud, some in the Trump camp are doubling down, like Joe diGenova, part of the Trump legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani, who suggested that Chris Krebs, the former US election security chief, should be shot for reporting that the election was the most secure in history. Not to be outdone, eight hours ago, Giuliani tweeted this:

Trump supporters, following the lead of the president and the people on his team who are still alleging that he won the election, tweet and post and comment with varying degrees of anger about the stolen election. This is all quite worrisome because anger levels are so high that I don’t see a nice, easy transition, no matter how much good will Joe Biden tries to convey.

In order to get out of this mess, we need to figure out how we got here, and that involves more than just Trump or conservatives. Democrats and liberals/progressives in general need to think about how this became so mean-spirited. And I’ll say from where I sit, there is fault on both sides. Yes, Donald Trump is an overbearing bully, as evidenced by his lurking behind Hillary Clinton during the 2016 debates. But he’s an up-front sort of bully. In 2016, a lot of people who were disillusioned by the obfuscations and broken promises that characterized normal politics saw his gruff style as “straight talking.” Just recently, I had a conversation with a Trump loyalist, who said, “At least with Trump, you know what you’re getting.” Now I don’t particularly agree with that characterization, because there were at least as many back-room deals during the Trump presidency as before it. For one small example, Trump kept his promise not to take his $400,000-a-year salary, instead donating it to a variety of US departments like the Park Service. But by encouraging (or forcing) use of Trump properties by the  Air Force,  lobbyists and power brokers in Washington, and, most recently, Secret Service agents at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Florida home which is also a high-end resort, he’s made a lot more than $400,000 a year.

But people were looking for an antidote to the inside-the-Beltway crowd and Trump seemed like he could give it to them. So did Bernie Sanders. I was just rereading a 2015 email from a libertarian/conservative friend, who said during primary season, “I like what Trump and Bernie are doing.” It surprised me in that election how many people liked both Trump and Sanders, despite their party platforms being so different from one another. Yet the Democratic hierarchy, embodied by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, decided it was better to game the system and anoint Hillary Clinton. Now I prefer Clinton’s more centrist approach to some of Bernie Sanders’s ideas, but I think the DNC made a disastrous mistake in not letting the people decide. And it wasn’t just the hierarchy. A lot of Democrats seem to subscribe to the view that while they themselves are intelligent and informed, the rest of the electorate, even Democrats, are not and need to be gamed. A friend of mine who is Jewish, explained her support for Clinton over Sanders, even though she agreed more with Sanders’s platform, by saying that she didn’t “think the country is ready for a Jewish president.” My view then, before the nomination, and now is that Sanders sparked far more passion in people, particularly young people, and may very well have won in 2016. Clinton was the “focus group” candidate, the person chosen because the Democrats thought Sanders was too far left or too ethnic for voters. And the DNC, which also needs to do some serious self-reflection, only got lucky in 2020 because Donald Trump was so egregious, especially in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. If COVID-19 had not come along, I am convinced that Trump, the same Trump who encouraged racists and conspiracy theorists, thought it was OK to separate children from their parents without keeping records so that the families could be reunited, refused to apologize after the  Central Park 5 were exonerated, and has continuously taken to Twitter to announce policy decisions and hirings and firings (before the relevant parties have been notified), would have won. Over 74 million people voted for Trump in 2020, over 12 million more than voted for him in 2016. If I were running things at the DNC, I’d be asking, What did we get wrong? After all the scandals and investigations and impeachment and chaos, and even after over 200,000 people had died, 12 million people who either didn’t vote in 2016 or who had voted for another candidate decided to vote for a second term for President Trump.

Here are a few things to consider. First, there’s the #notmypresident crowd, who were never willing to give President Trump a chance. Some clever wags, on learning that Drumpf was the Trump family’s original German name, thought referring to him as Drumpf rather than Trump showed an appropriate level of disrespect. That seems not only childish, but as someone with some German names in my ancestry, I’d like to know why it’s OK to consider a German name an insult. All of this was done, of course, in response to campaign rhetoric and fear of some of the policies Trump espoused, but it was all just personally insulting, not thought-out discussions of policy.

The British jumped in, objecting to then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s invitation to a state visit for President Trump. Then there was the Trump baby balloon, which flew over Parliament Square to protest President Trump making an official visit:

Many American liberals reacted gleefully to the balloon, and it even made an appearance in Los Angeles. All of this was done with a fair amount of condescension, the polarizing idea that the people voting for Clinton were all more intelligent than anyone who voted for Trump. If you’re going to make that claim, you’d better be darned sure your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed, but from what I’ve seen, liberals are just as likely as conservatives to retweet or repost incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information. Remember the Facebook campaign to boycott a list of fast-food and chain restaurants like Wendy’s for their alleged support of Trump? I first became aware of this campaign when my cousin posted it, so I looked into it and found out it was largely untrue. By reposting without checking it out, you are hurting people’s livelihood. It’s not just the big corporations, it’s the people who own the franchise in your area. Is it any wonder that a conservative who voted for Donald Trump might believe that liberals report “fake news”? A friend of mine constantly reposts things that are false. A lot of times, these are fairly benign, things like misattributed quotes, but she has also reposted quite a few misconceptions about Trump and his team. When I (once again) send her a link that explains why her post is incorrect, she replies, “I didn’t look it up, but I liked the message.”

Certainly, in the pandemic, there has been plenty of misinformation on both sides. I share liberals’ frustration that President Trump has completely mishandled the crisis, and I have made that point clear. But it doesn’t help to say that he told people to drink bleach, for example, when a look at the video proves that’s not what he said, and it wasn’t his intent:

There is enough silliness in this video, of course, that you could find plenty to criticize in his “spitballing” approach to a press conference, but once you cross the line and claim he said something he didn’t, and go on to imply that Trump supporters are all so stupid they’ll be going out to buy bleach to drink en masse, you lose the people you are supposedly trying to convince. You lose a few others as well. My brother, for example, has hated Donald Trump since the 1980s. As a government bond trader in New York, he got to see a lot of Trump’s shady deals and braggadocio first-hand. In 2016, he did not vote for him because he didn’t think he was fit to be president. By 2020, he was so appalled at what he saw as the constant, unrelenting personal attacks on Trump and Trump supporters that he cast his vote for Trump. (Trump’s post-election performance has returned him to his original view of the man.) Given that 12 million increase in the number of people who voted for Trump, I doubt my brother is the only person with this reaction. If the media were a bit more even-handed, if liberals had been better losers in 2016, Donald Trump’s assertions that he was more hounded than any previous president would not have resonated with so many people.

All of this reminds me of my reaction to some British stereotyping of Americans. I am an American expat living in London, and I love London and the United Kingdom. I do, however, react when British people make (generally condescending) judgments about Americans and the United States in general. I see a lot of that among Facebook friends who are British expats living in the US. “There (sic) education system isn’t as good as ours,” they may say, and even though I think there is a lot of room for improvement in US education, especially in the value for money, since we have the most expensive education system in the world, I am also aware of the assessment results of the biggest international comparison, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), so I know that the UK ranked just under the US in reading, and just above the US in mathematics and science. But even if they’d been far above the US in everything, I’d have been insulted. I might not say anything, but in my head, I’d be picking apart their basic homophone error and taking umbrage that someone who could make an error like that deigned to criticize the educational system of my country. Over time, the criticism of American customs has worn on me to the point that instead of trying to fit in (when in Rome), I sometimes blatantly retain my Americanism, eating (horrors) pizza with my hands, or saying toMAYto (if you’re going to criticize my way of speaking anyway…).

I know it seems simplistic to equate my annoyance at these mild insults and stereotypes with Trump supporters’ reaction to the barrage of insult and condescension, but I think it’s apt. There is a lot of hypocrisy on the liberal side as well, as if it doesn’t matter, as my friend says, because they like the message. No one on the left has acknowledged, for example, that Nancy Pelosi might not have known everything President Trump knew about COVID-19 when she gave her now-infamous press conference urging people to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown, an always-crowded area of the city with small stores and bad ventilation. Yes, she was reacting to President Trump’s constant banging on about China and the Chinese, but despite Trump’s exaggerated claims, no one can argue that she showed good sense urging people out into crowds at the start of the pandemic. Yes, it was before we knew a lot of what we now know, but then we have to apply the same forgiving standards to Donald Trump’s early actions. And look at the number of people who twisted themselves into knots condemning even outdoor Trump rallies during a pandemic but allowing a special moral exemption for protests. Andrew Cuomo, at least, was right to question the prudence of holding big gatherings with a lot of shouting during a pandemic. All of this, and the many state and local officials who have been found breaking their own rules, has damaged the serious efforts to curtail the disease and has justified the skepticism of people already opposed to lockdowns and masks.

One final example I have not seen anyone on the left comment on is George Conway. Imagine, in this #metoo age, if, say, Doug Emhoff constantly publicly criticized the policies of Joe Biden and Emhoff’s wife, Kamala Harris. Yet no one finds Conway’s constant, snarky tweets a bit offensive? I’m not saying he has to agree with Kellyanne Conway. I like the Lincoln Project and think they did quite a service to the American people by putting ethics ahead of politics. I think Conway could have done everything he did without the tweets. Obviously, his lesson that Kellyanne was not to be respected got through to their fifteen-year-old daughter, whose anti-Kellyanne TikToks should be painful for any parent to watch. But liberals stay silent because they agree with his point of view.

Obviously, very few people on the left are taking Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” mantra seriously. It’s more like, “If they’re going low, we’ll go lower because we’re cleverer and will make people laugh.” Why does all this matter? Because there are consequences. What is your end game? Do you want people to know how brilliant you are? Or do you want to persuade people to your position? Right now, you are massaging your ego at the expense of your ideals. You say “Drumpf” and your friends chuckle—and people on the other side probably unfriend you. Maybe if you tried to agree where you can—Yes, it probably was a good idea to ban flights from China—and then present your case—but right now we should focus more on epidemiology and tracking and less on blaming China—you might actually convince some people. You at least won’t be alienating some people who were more or less on your side at the beginning.

And you also need to start holding the media to account. The US paper I generally see first is the Washington Post, and I would say it’s a good source. But it’s not bias-free. It has buried some stories and presented others in ways that convince its generally left-leaning audience. The New York Times has done that, as well, and these two are pretty much the best of the best. Even though the UK’s The Guardian is a much more openly left-wing paper than either the Times or the Post, I have seen many more complete stories critical of the US left in The Guardian than in the mainstream US press. Maybe it’s distance.

Democrats should be worried that they did not manage to win the Senate (unless Georgia goes blue in the run-off) and lost seats in the House. I’ve heard people using those results to show the absurdity of the charges of widespread voter fraud—“If we rigged the election, why didn’t we win the Senate?” This, of course, is true, but I haven’t heard too many people asking, “If Republicans like Mitch O’Connell were so distasteful to so many Americans, why didn’t the Democrats win the Senate?” or “If Nancy Pelosi has been so successful as a House leader, why did Democrats shrink their margin by 9?” Donald Trump lost the presidential election because a lot of people disapproved of his chaos. It was not a resounding victory for Democrats. An even more important question may be Why are blue-collar workers abandoning the Democratic party?  But we need better—and less condescending—answers than Maybe they’re not as well informed. Maybe they’re more susceptible to Republican lies. In 2022, 20 Republican senators and 13 Democratic senators will be up for re-election. There’s a chance for Democrats to gain control of the Senate. But they won’t if they keep up their self-congratulating refusal to see problems in their own party.

2 thoughts on “What Did You Expect?

  1. This is mainly of problem that has grown over the 40 or so years – increasing partisanship – if it’s not us it’s certainly not you – a country divided is reflected in its politics. The question of course of how you unwind/reset/change the current situation. You are right – both democrats and republicans are equally to blame – with the republicans ahead. BTW – in exchange for foregoing $400,000 annual salary – according to the GOA Trump spending on 4 golf outings to Mar-a-Logo Florida between February 3 – March 5, 2017 costs a grand total of $13,568,000 – about $3.5M per trip – and he has made how many trips since his presidency started?

    Like

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