Tuesday, May 30, 2017

C'mon, People, Let's Get It Together

I am hearing a lot of generalities flying back and forth: "The left always ...", "The right always ...", "All Trump supporters are ...", "All Democrats are ...", and so on. This has to stop. It is this kind of blanket generalization that makes it impossible for people to talk to each other.

In my own experience, since I am liberal, I tend to see more of the anti-trump sentiment online ... only natural, considering the crowd I run with. However, there are some Facebook groups of which I am a member that have people from all sides involved. This is a very good thing, but it also leaves the door open to online shouting matches which are about as effective in changing opinion as a fly swatter is against a tornado.

Recently I posted an article in which I asked the question: is trump in mental decline? I was not attempting to paint him as an idiot. It was not partisan. It was barely political. Instead, it referenced an article in statnews.com that pointed to objective evidence of trump's mental faculties not being where they used to be, citing his use of language as evidence. It was not a hatchet job by any means, and I went to great pains to make it clear that these were observations only, and that these episodes could be within the range of the average mental decline that comes with aging as opposed to anything more serious, and that asking about trump's mental state is a valid question given these pointers and his position.

This article was arguably the one thing I have posted that has generated more engagement than any other. I received something in the neighborhood of 400 or so comments on this post. The responses fell into three broad categories:
  • Comments from liberals along the lines of "Lost his mind? He never had one to begin with!" or something similar. (about 275)
  • Comments from trump supporters saying that his use of language was completely intentional and designed to throw people off-balance, and isn't he a genius for doing that, and liberals are so full of hate they can't even see this. (about 125)
  • Thoughtful comments concerning the subject matter, intended to start a reasoned debate. (2)
Both of which completely missed the point of the article (I'd be willing to bet that very few of these commenters actually read the article to begin with and based their reactions off the headline), which is that trump is showing evidence of mental decline based on widely accepted and objective markers, and it raises a valid question: is this mental decline within the range of what would be considered normal for a 70 year old man who doesn't really take good care of himself and who happens to be president, or is it more concerning than that??

Now, this is not a bitch session to complain about how people aren't reading my stuff (well, maybe a little ... I do put thought into this material, and it would be nice to think that it is being consumed at some point). I am actually decrying the lack of political civility that we see online.

Both sides largely consist of very loud, angry, highly uninformed opinions based on whatever propaganda sites happen to be in that person's universe. From the right wing shriek factory I am constantly seeing items from Breitbart, RedState, The Daily Caller, and so on ... sites that are widely known to be nothing more than right wing propaganda sites and whose bread and butter seems to be that a) liberals are evil and intent on destroying everything that's good about America, b) trump is the greatest president ever and if you disagree with this then you are obviously a Mexican Muslim terrorist rapist who is in this country illegally, and c) Obama was the worst president every and should be hung for treason because ... well, I was never really able to suss out a straight answer on this one.

The latest flavor from the right is characterizing all liberals as being filled with hate. I can actually understand from whence this impression comes, given the amount of vitriol spewed against trump and his supporters by the left (more on this in a bit). But is also strikes me as having more than a little projection involved with it, as many right-wing groups -- the klan and other white supremacy groups, anti-immigrant groups, and so on -- tend to deal almost exclusively in hate speech and angry rhetoric, so it wold make sense that they view opposition through that lens. What is interesting is when someone on the left makes some kind of kumbaya-can't-we-all-just-join-hands comment, and is immediately inundated by angry comments from the right accusing this person of fomenting hatred.

That's not to say liberals are blameless here. They aren't. Far from it. The left has a shriek factory of its own, sites like OccupyDemocrats and the Palmer Report that are pure leftist propaganda. According to these sites, a) trump is pure evil who is actively seeking to destroy the United States, b) trump supporters are all backward yokels with missing teeth who live in decrepit trailers, and c) the Republican Party is populated by the kind of people who make Snidely Whiplash look mild. This is usually followed up with a pious, self-righteous screed against the GOP, accusing them of everything from obstructionism to outright cruelty, apparently for the sheer enjoyment of it.

The common thread through both of these scenarios is that the people involved are constantly playing a game of "gotcha." For example, as everybody knows by this point trump is being accused of colluding with Russia to throw the election his way (I am not debating the merits of this argument here, simply pointing out that it exists). In a very few instances I will see Republicans putting forth reasoned, careful arguments against this, usually along the lines of "while we are open to the idea that Russia interfered with the election, and are willing to investigate that fully as a serious breach of our election procedures, there is no direct evidence pointing to trump being actively involved in this." Which is a valid statement to make, and accurately reflects the conditions as we know them at this time. Similarly, I will see posts from the left saying essentially the same thing, but with the added proviso that investigations into trump's connection to all this should begin immediately if not sooner.

However, the vast majority of posts I see from the right on this subject are:
  • Screeching about liberals being filled with hate.
  • Hillary was crooked and should be locked up.
  • Obama sold uranium to the Russians so that's the same thing, right?
  • Trump is a great businessman, and liberals are just jealous of his success.
Meanwhile, on the left, the posts are:
  • Impeach trump now and throw him out (because apparently many people are unaware of the difference between "impeach" and "convict").
  • All Republicans are on the Russian payroll.
  • Trump is a puppet of Putin and the KGB (which, technically, doesn't exist any more).
  • Richard Nixon ain't lookin' so bad right about now. Neither is George W. Bush.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I myself have been guilty of this sort of generalizing.)

While there is a certain visceral satisfaction is calling someone a fucking idiot, it is (to say the least) counterproductive in that the usual response is "No, YOU'RE the fucking idiot." Not the greatest way to start a debate.

With all this being said, here's what we do know, with certainty, about trump supporters:
  • They very likely voted for trump.

On that same note, here's what we know about liberals:
  • The very likely did NOT vote for trump.
Everything else is up for grabs, folks.

We will never be able to have a substantive debate if all we are doing is yelling at each other from opposite sides of the room. If we truly want to address the issues facing us -- and there are many, from climate change, to illegal immigration, to North Korea, to our economy, and the list goes on -- we must begin by acknowledging that, for the most part, the people with whom we interact are genuinely interested in doing what is best for our country, and the difference lies in each person's definition of "best" (granted, there are folks out there who just want to see the world burn ... one of them murdered two people in Portland over the weekend).

For example, my personal belief is that climate change is the most crucial issue that needs to be addressed (you know, because of that whole "going extinct" thing being kind of a bummer). Someone else on the left may feel that, while climate change is important, our top priority should be racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. Someone on the right may say that none of these are as important as curbing illegal immigration, and someone else on the right will say that illegal immigration is important, sure, but not as crucial as eliminating ISIS.

None of these people are wrong. This is what needs to be understood. These are all valid positions. You may not agree with them, but that doesn't mean they don't have merit. Perhaps if we open ourselves up a but more, we might see that curbing racism and stopping ISIS are actually closely related, or that curbing climate change and bolstering our economy can be accomplished via the same means.

That's not to say I'm going to stop criticizing trump, far from it. I feel the man is a menace, if completely erratic, and is liable to throw a tantrum and launch a nuclear first strike against the Chicago Tribune, or something. However, much like I have tried to do in the past, I will avoid using blanket statements to make a point, unless it can be backed up with objective data.

I urge everyone else to do the same. If you're going to respond to an article you read online, respond to the article, not the headline. If you are in a debate with someone, present factual information that can be verified, not propaganda.

And fer chrissake can we stop beating up on Hillary already? She ran, she lost the Electoral College, and with the exception of a commencement address as Wellesly (her alma mater) and a couple of speeches here and there she has been staying out of the spotlight. I would think there are better things to do than go after her.

This has been my two cents. I gotta lie down.

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