The Enemy

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When will key influencers on the American Left learn that they can criticise Donald Trump all they want, but that continually punching down and demonising everybody who voted for him is hugely counterproductive?

Does Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column reveal an early glimmer of realisation among the elite left-leaning commentariat that demonising the 46% of voters who voted for Donald Trump – and effectively accusing them of complicity with a fascist regime – is no way to win back local, statewide and national power for Democrats?

Perhaps so:

I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence. But let’s be careful about blanket judgments.

My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they’re profoundly wrong, but please don’t dismiss them as hateful bigots.

The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.

This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class “deaths of despair.” Liberals purport to champion these people, but don’t always understand them.

In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It wasn’t because they were “bigoted unthinking lizard brains,” but because they didn’t know where to turn and Trump spoke to their fears.

Trump tries to “otherize” Muslims, refugees, unauthorized immigrants and other large groups. It sometimes works when people don’t actually know a Muslim or a refugee, and liberals likewise seem more willing to otherize Trump voters when they don’t know any.

More:

There are three reasons I think it’s shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of America as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?

Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of our political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making our country ungovernable.

[..] The third reason is tactical: It’s hard to win over voters whom you’re insulting.

Many liberals argue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and that the focus should be on rallying the base and fighting voter suppression efforts. Yes, but Democrats flopped in Congress, governor races and state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S.

If Democrats want to battle voter suppression, it’s crucial to win local races — including in white working-class districts in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Yes, a majority of Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, but millions may be winnable. So don’t blithely give up on 63 million people; instead, make arguments directed at them. Fight for their votes not with race-baiting but with economic pitches for the working and middle classes.

Clinton’s calling half of Trump voters “deplorables” achieved nothing and probably cost her critical votes. Why would Democrats repeat that mistake?

Kristof is inevitably taking a lot of heat from many of his readers, whose blood is still up following the election and who think that falling back on the 2008-2016 Republican Party model of total opposition and demonisation (with an extra dose of left-wing moral sanctimony) is a winning, beneficial strategy for the country.

One angry reader concluded her comment by saying “I am scared and they are the enemy. Plain and simple.” Is this really helpful language to be using at a time of national division, and is the mindset behind it a healthy one? Surely not. Of course much of the fault lies with Trump, his bellicose rhetoric and his entitled, backward attitude towards women. But Nicholas Kristof and other commentators on the Left also bear some responsibility for having created such fear among their own readerships, by frequently hyping and exaggerating the troubling aspects of Trump’s administration for political reasons (playing with language to imply with virtually no basis in fact that the president has a deep antipathy to all immigrants or to people with brown skin, for example).

Many Trump supporters and residents of Trumpland are good, caring, conscientious people. Kristof’s reader only came to the conclusion that they are all “the enemy” because she has been told so, repeatedly, by people in the media whose partisan cunning and residual bitterness outweighs any sense of professional responsibility they ought to possess. And the concerning aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency are bad enough without the leftist spin machine, working through the imprimatur of prestige titles such as the New York Times, convincing their audience that half the country (apparently including millions of “self-hating women”) is somehow out to get them when this is usually not the case.

Nicholas Kristof warned of the dangers of demonising Trump supporters as a cohesive bloc back in November, when the wounds of the election were still very raw indeed. Unfortunately, he did so in the very same column where he suggested that the pain felt by American liberals in the Age of Trump would be akin to that of an addict in recovery, a grotesquely self-indulgent and self-pitying assertion  which made light of the struggles of those suffering from mental illness. As so often with the Left and their struggle against reality it was one step forward, two steps back.

Hopefully with this new plea to his readers, Nicholas Kristof will at last hold on to some of the moral high ground he has occupied.

 

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Will 2017 Be The Year That Independent Political Blogs Make A Comeback?

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Now more than ever, we need good political journalism and incisive commentary to make sense of the world and the challenges (and opportunities) facing us in the new Age of Brexit and Donald Trump. And increasingly, the only way one can find good analysis is by turning to independent bloggers

Veteran American television journalist / late-in-life social media champion Dan Rather has shared with his Facebook audience some thoughts on how they can best encourage and reward good journalism in the Age of Trump, following a presidential election campaign in which much of the mainstream media was deemed to have failed in its core duty to provide rigorous, civic-minded coverage and analysis.

Rather, who has provided an articulate and dignified left-wing running commentary on the 2016 presidential election via his Facebook page, writes:

There is no shortage of long, thoughtful articles that are worth a read. The problem is that our current journalism business model doesn’t seem to support the better instincts of the press as much as it should.

So if you want to know what you can do, please choose to support the press. If you find a news source you like and you think it is doing a good job, pay for the subscription. This doesn’t just help the bottom line but it is a vote of confidence in the system. Share smart, thoughtful pieces on social media and in emails to your friends. Let’s run up the clicks and views of the best of journalism. Also, I think we can not be passive with our news any longer. If you like what you see, let the publicans and journalists know through all the digital tools at your disposal. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, let them know as well. Or turn it off, refuse to follow the click bait.

The press is a vital partner in out democratic process. It is under incredible strains from a drastically changing media landscape and a potentially hostile in-coming administration. As citizens we should care deeply about this and vow to do something to help.

Many of us, for various reasons, have cause to be greatly disappointed with the mainstream media – whether we are left-wing or right-wing, British or American, supported Brexit or staying in the EU, preferred Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

With very few exceptions, television news has become a wasteland of quacking, know-nothing talking heads who specialise in providing visually pleasing, information-lite political gossip and who force their way onto our screens either by virtue of having had some dismal prior political career, fortunate social connections or simply the willingness to wear a bow-tie un-ironically while under the age of sixty.

And the print media is little better. While there are honourable exceptions at many publications, too many venerable titles have either dumbed down to the point where they have become utterly unreadable clickbait, or else sold their inquisitorial souls to the establishment in order to churn out tedious defences of the status quo and scurrilous hit-pieces on those who seek to disrupt it.

In many cases, a combination of scrambling to capture new revenue streams and remain financially viable combined with a fawning desire to be “liked” by the right people in Westminster and Washington D.C. has all but hollowed out the ranks of decent political journalists and de-fanged once-formidable publications.

In this, my good friend and fellow Brexiteer-in-arms Pete North has it exactly right:

In the final analysis the legacy media is dying. Our media was once a luxury liner. It is now a corred garbage scow with corrosion holes in the hull. It is dying a much deserved death and every bit of bad news for the newspapers is good news for us bloggers. I can think of plenty blogs who produce better and more informed content in an afternoon than the usual suspects manage in a week of trying. And there is good reason for that.

Outside of the bubble you have a certain distance from the fray and not in hock to the peer pressure inside it. Outside the bubble is the only place where free thinking can occur. To join them is to become them. And who would want to stunt their intellectual and personal growth in such a way?

This does of course mean that writing is now done largely as a labour of love. There is no money to be made nor recognition to be had. All that matters to me is that for every moment readers spend on advert free blogs is a moment they are not reading the Spectator or any of the other garbage. Every blog post I write is an act of vandalism on an established media whose final gasp cannot come too soon.

[..] This is the year where the word “blogspot” and “wordpress” carries prestige. The low grade tat of the legacy media shouldn’t even be acknowledged. If it didn’t exist at all we would be no worse off in our understanding of events and politics would be all the better for it. The dinosaurs have had their day and we should not mourn their passing. We should do what we can to hasten their demise.

Trust Pete to find the almost John Galt-like nobility in what we bloggers do – it certainly beats “fighting on the internet”, which is how I had previously been describing my nocturnal pastime of ranting into WordPress.

But joking aside, as Dan Rather says, “If you find a news source you like and you think it is doing a good job, pay for the subscription. This doesn’t just help the bottom line but it is a vote of confidence in the system. Share smart, thoughtful pieces on social media and in emails to your friends. Let’s run up the clicks and views of the best of journalism.”

Some of the best political commentary right now comes from independent bloggers who write entirely in their spare time as labour of love, with no hope or expectation of recognition by the failing mainstream media. Therefore, if you have a favourite blogger or bloggers and are in a position to do so, consider making a donation or regular subscription to aid their work and acknowledge their effort. Share their articles with other people who may be interested in reading. It all helps.

I am personally very grateful to all those who have kindly donated to Semi-Partisan Politics over the past year. The vote of confidence you make in me with your PayPal donations and standing orders helps to keep me writing.

But this is much bigger than me and my little old blog. One thing that struck me as I live-blogged the US presidential election results last Tuesday night was she sheer number of outlets providing live coverage. Beyond the usual television stations there were live YouTube channels, Periscope broadcasts, websites, other live-blogs, Twitter and Facebook personalities and more. Newspapers were offering video broadcasts and television broadcasters were offering written analysis. And all of this from every political perspective under the sun, from triumphant Trumpists to crying Clintonites to Bernie Sanders supporters shouting “I told you so!”. From having to rely on a handful of networks and newspapers a generation ago, one is now paralysed by having too much choice.

(Now of course this raises important questions about the bubble effect, and one certainly doesn’t want to saturate oneself with endless sources bias confirmation – but that is a separate discussion).

But of all the cacophonous voices offering independent perspectives on politics today, very few will likely still be around in the same guise to cover the 2020 presidential election in America or general election in Britain. And more than likely, some of the best will have had to hang up their keyboards because of the pesky need to pay rent and buy food, while other, inferior writers and journalists go from strength to strength.

So I’m with Dan Rather. If there are writers or publications which provide you with indispensable or enjoyable analysis or commentary, make sure you vote with your wallet (and the social media sharing buttons) to let them know. And the sum total of these efforts may be a newly flourishing independent political blogosphere which continues to put much of the mainstream media to shame.

 

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