Thursday, March 17, 2016

Motes and beams and tu quoque

Victor Davis Hanson, making a salient point (actually a lot of them) about our favorite orange-y politician:
There are many ways to assess Trump. The debates and rallies give us glimpses of his ill-preparedness (at least in comparison to his rivals). So far his vision has not transcended banalities and generalities. He seems to have no team of respected advisers, at least not yet. Indeed, at this point, advising Trump apparently would be a career-killer in the Boston–New York–Washington corridor. No one quite knows who talks to him on foreign policy. He is an empty slate onto which millions write their hopes and dreams, as “Make America great again” channels the empty “Hope and Change.”  
Those are grounds enough for rejecting him. But what we don’t need is high talk about Trump as something uniquely sinister, a villain without precedent in American electoral history or indeed public life. That is simply demonstrably false. Trump thrives despite, not because of, his crudity, and largely because of anger at Barack Obama’s divisive and polarizing governance and sermonizing — and the Republican party’s habitual consideration of trade issues, debt, immigration, and education largely from the vantage point of either abstraction or privilege.
And if you click the link, you'll see Hanson pull out dozens of examples in which our betters from the party of Bull Connor have said or done things that match up well with Trump's particular sins. A particular favorite:
Trump is all over the place on abortion, flip-flopping almost daily and without much clue about the mission of Planned Parenthood. But he has not seen abortion on demand as a good thing because it falls inordinately on the poor and minorities — in the fashion of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who matter-of-factly said to a friendly reporter, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” If we thought Ginsburg’s callous remark was a slip of the tongue, she clarified it a few years later with a postscript: “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people.” Did prominent philosophers, ethicists, and humanitarians sign a petition demanding that she step down, given her judicial ill temperament and what can only be described as displays, on not one but two occasions, of crackpot notions of racist eugenics?
That's what we call a rhetorical question. And Hanson's larger point bears repeating:
We could play this tu quoque all day long, but the fact that we can play it at all suggests that Trump is hardly, by current standards, beyond the pale, much less that he is aberrant in U.S. presidential-campaign history. He is or is not as uncouth as Barack Obama, who has mocked the disabled, the wealthy, typical white people, the religious, and the purported clingers, and has compared opponents to Iranian theocrats and said that George W. Bush was “unpatriotic” — all as relish to wrecking America’s health-care system, doubling the national debt, setting race relations back six decades, politicizing federal bureaucracies, ignoring federal law, and leaving the Middle East in shambles and our enemies on the ascendant.
Emphasis in original. If you'd like to argue we should be better than all that, I agree. But we aren't, now are we? That's another rhetorical question. Our esteemed commenter Picklesworth was making a similar point yesterday:
What if the problem isn't the candidates for president? What if the problem is the electorate? I realize that no candidate can say that. Nor can any party. But it might well be true. 
OR... what if our problem is systemic, not based on personalities or electorates at all? What if our system produces dysfunction over time. Over any short period of time we might see decent leaders, but as the field grows, we'll see a progression towards the mean. I'm no statistician. Not even close. But isn't that a possibility? And why do we keep assuming that our system is just plain awesome when the results suggest that this isn't necessarily true?
If you would reject Donald Trump for his ignorance, his lassitude, his bluster and his evident lack of any guiding principle other than "Donald Trump ought to run things," I hear you. I agree with you. If you are arguing that we should elect someone who is a better, wiser human being than Donald Trump, hear hear. If you're arguing that Donald Trump is a uniquely malevolent force in public life, nope. Or, as T. S. Eliot put it:

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!

We're quite good at planting corpses in the garden.

14 comments:

Gino said...

The fear of trump is over the top, to be sure.

I know why the GOP fears him, but I don't understand the why so many on the left are eager to tear him down before the general. Maybe it's because what they really fear is that their rotting corpse of a nominee doesn't stand a good chance against him?

Brian said...

One need not regard Trump as uniquely malevolent to find him nonetheless horrifying.

You (and Hanson) are playing right into Trump's own absurd framing of "political correctness" which conflates the merely crude with winking at (I'm being generous there) impulses towards deep racism, nativism, and an authoritarian demonization of the "other". Referring to an entire nation as "rapists" is qualitatively different from (and far more revolting than) making insinuations about Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle.

Mr. D said...

Obama told Cataldi that "The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know (pause) there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way."

More importantly,

"You got into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Demonizing the other is a growth industry, mon frère.

And when you dig past the condescension of Obama's second statement, you also come to the realization that 7+ years have passed since he made that statement, on his watch, and the people he's describing the in the classic social anthropologist style are still hurting. And they're voting for Trump because they learned long ago that the Party of the Working Man couldn't care less about their concerns. I sincerely hope that I'm not faced with the choice of voting for Trump in the general election. But if you're suggesting that voting for the Democrats is going to be any less of a crap sandwich, I simply can't agree with you.

Bike Bubba said...

The Combover is certainly not unique in his sins--he's not the one who was credibly, and repeatedly, accused of various degrees of sexual assault--but he is one who doesn't seem apologetic about it. The Clintons and Obamas spent a TON of time hiding their messes, but Trump does not. There is something very weird about that part.

He also is less apologetic about his lies--Hilliary mixes her lies with true statements to get her overall Politifact lie rating "acceptable", but Drumpf does not. Very interesting dynamic there.

R.A. Crankbait said...

Apparently Trump is a villain, but if we can just have him be advised by our villains then he won't be so villainous.

It takes a villain.

Gino said...

Trump's statement about the rapists: i heard it, and i knew exactly what was meant by it and it had nothing to do with 'all mexicans suck' because thats the manner in which we (my demographic, many of them mexicans)speak among and to each other.

nobody got offended by it until somebody outside his audience (that be us) told us we should be offended by it. it still didnt offend us, but damn... did the rest of ya'll get the freakin vapors or what? seems the smart people are not smart enough to understand the english many of us stupid people already can.

Mr. D said...

Trump's statement about the rapists: i heard it, and i knew exactly what was meant by it and it had nothing to do with 'all mexicans suck' because thats the manner in which we (my demographic, many of them mexicans)speak among and to each other.

nobody got offended by it until somebody outside his audience (that be us) told us we should be offended by it. it still didnt offend us, but damn... did the rest of ya'll get the freakin vapors or what? seems the smart people are not smart enough to understand the english many of us stupid people already can.


And that's why I'm spending so much time writing about these issues. By dint of education, life experience and (especially) the advantages I had when I was growing up, but didn't realize were advantages, I have been largely insulated from the obstacles that many others face. It's easy to ignore things you largely avoid encountering. A fish doesn't realize it's wet.

If Trump is speaking to an audience I don't recognize and using language that I don't really understand, it's incumbent upon me to try to understand it. Or I can just Otherize the people he's speaking to and condemn it all out of hand. That might be the right approach in the end. But I'm not yet convinced of that.

Brian said...

nobody got offended by it until somebody outside his audience (that be us) told us we should be offended by it

Bullshit.

R.A. Crankbait said...

Such language. I blame Trump.

Gino said...

so now Brian is calling me a liar.
ok, been done before, but i wont take this personal, because i know thats just the way he talks sometimes.

go back and recall some of my earlier posted rants. the way i spoke to you all before i learned to change up the code a bit and stay out of the hotter water.

Bike Bubba said...

Gino, Brian's calling you wrong, not a liar, and quite frankly, I tend to agree with him. Mr. Drumpf seems to have no clue, or does not care, about the optics of some of the stuff he says, and that was a great example. Nobody at CNN or MSNBC or wherever had to tell me it was obnoxious. It just was.

And the big thing here is that when you're dealing with foreign leaders, those cues and optics matter. There is a fine line between doing something that's a stroke of genius and something that's just obnoxious, and the Combover simply doesn't act like he knows where that line is.

R.A. Crankbait said...

I don't think Trump will give the Queen of England an iPod pre-loaded with his greatest speeches, but he might say to Merkel, "Hey, baby, I bet you were really something before electricity."

Gino said...

Bubba: he has stated before that he is speaking to a certain audience, he is not like that in the 'board room', and we can expect to see him speaking differently as the general gets closer.

on many things he seems to be flying by the seat of his pants, but on this aspect, he's on plan.

Bike Bubba said...

Gino; that completely misses the point that when you go campaigning, you are doing so with reporters watching--at least you are if you're any good at it! So you can't make the claim that the comment was "just for this audience." This is a lot like Reagan joking about bombing the USSR when he didn't realize cameras were on, except it was pretty obvious that Reagan was joking. Drumpf doesn't have that excuse, either.

And if you want to argue "he isn't like that in the boardroom"....um, take a look at who took it in the shorts in his four bankruptcies, and who takes it in the shorts when a business plan goes bad. Hint; it's not the guy whose name is on the marquee.