Friday, March 31, 2017

MARCH 2017 BONEHEAD ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH

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1. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Fact-conscious Americans understand that Donald Trump is a notorious liar. What’s most alarming is that many Americans, including most Republican Party identifiers, believe anything The Donald wants them to believe—that humans don’t cause climate change, all Muslims should be presumed dangerous, vaccinations cause autism, scientists shouldn’t be trusted, Obama was born in Kenya, massive voter fraud stripped him of a popular majority, his inauguration attracted a record number of attendees, the media pumps out vicious lies about the president-elect, and on and on. Chalk up Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, as a devoted Trump believer. According to Smith, it is:
 
“ … better to get your news directly from the president. In fact it might be the only way to get unvarnished truth.”
 
This is what it’s come to in America: a significant portion of the public trusts Trump’s direct communications more than it trusts the media, not to mention the truth. When this happens, as is perilously close, our democracy ends.

Monday, March 20, 2017

IS EXTREME PARTISANSHIP THE NEW NORMAL? A RESPONSE TO JIM DUBBS

 

NOTE: Below is a response to my The Personalization of Politics in America post of February 12th submitted by loyal Phronesis reader Jim Dubbs. It is followed by my response to his critique.


I must say that I am totally put off by any argument that would even try to compare the influence of political partisanship to that of racism. No contest. In any case, you may recall that in 1964, Goldwater and those who had joined his "tribe" were very personal in their partisanship (as, in fairness, were many of us who vehemently disagreed with him). His erstwhile fellow travelers (e.g., Senator John Tower, the Birchers, Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, General Walker, etc. -- hardly mainstream Republicans, but definitely not Democrats) demonstrated a partisan bias that was inflamed mainly by paranoia. Conspiracies everywhere!
 
Try to recall how many times you heard, "America, Love it or Leave it," or that fluoride water treatment was a Commie plot? One could not be neutral. A lot of families and friendships were split; emotions were very partisan and very personal. And like today, the Republican Party was hijacked by a very loud and ideological minority.
 
I tend to feel that much of the personalization of partisanship today has been amplified by the comparatively sudden emergence and pervasiveness of social media. It encourages intemperance and begs for over-simplification, which means little room or time for reasoned argument and, in turn, can rather routinely degenerate into ad hominem attacks. Soon or later, there is no room for a fair fight or a level playing field if the other side has subscribed to the tenet that the ends justify the means.
 
I am not sure how this is particularly new, however. To be more convincing, the Stanford research would need to also have been done 50 years ago to provide a basis for comparison. I think that the bigger worry about the future of domestic politics is how we can get competent individuals to run for office given the unbelievable amount of exposure and dissecting the most trivial details of their lives they are now being subject to. We may end up with only the most narcissistic and/or delusional to choose from.
 
As for this claim of partisan bias being the "new normal," I would counter by citing two factors: 1) the degree of apathy among US citizens eligible to vote as evidenced by the low voter turnout compared to other democratic nations; and 2) the growing number of voters who identify as Independents. I have joked with colleagues that voter apathy is a clear indication of the sound mental health of the populace, recognizing that the same ruling group will remain in place either way. Of course, it might just reflect a triumph of cynicism...or laziness, and apathy does, by subtraction, increase the influence of the partisan true believers.
 
My optimistic side would cite #2 as the stronger argument against concluding that partisan bias is the new normal, threatening the future of our democracy. I suppose if you are a strong partisan, that can infuse your view of almost anything, but if there are fewer like you as more of us become Independents, how might that development figure into predictions of what is normal?

Hey, it's only politics, certainly nothing to lose friends over. Besides, let's see what the next election holds before we start discussing a new normal. I seem to recall that words like "unprecedented," "aberration" and "bizarre" were frequently used to describe this past one. Just sayin'. We have survived more than a few periods of extreme partisan divides in our history. This, too, shall pass. I only wish I could say the same about racism.


Jim Dubbs


MY RESPONSE:


I’ve come to expect, and welcome, Jim Dubbs’ thoughtful responses to many of my posts.  He always brings an informed historical perspective to the table.  He makes me rethink my arguments with a keener eye to comparative history.  I don’t always agree with his responses, as is the case with his current offering, but they are always welcome. His skepticism about strong partisanship being the new normal inspired me to take a deeper look at the problem.  In my response below I take issue with some of the points he made in his critique and also offer some new thoughts on where partisanship may be heading.