"Too few think independently about politics"

October 21, 2016
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

To the editor:

The irony of "political correctness" is that the concept only refers to silencing from the left, while ignoring the fact that the rules for impermissible expression vary throughout the ideological spectrum. It would be ridiculous to suggest that wingnuts on the reactionary right, for example, care for freedom of speech regardless of who is offended. There is no shortage of sacred cows and black sheep.

In other words, it is not the opposite of political correctness, only the correctness of other politics. The rise of what might be called the outrage machine over the past couple of decades, whether the inbred offspring of talk radio or the internet, has invited hateful mockery and hyperbole celebrating its own ignorance to fester as ordinary discourse and unapologetic hypocrisy.

It was not surprising when Donald Trump would not implode from speaking in this language, for the same reason it baffled the establishment press. The civil society norms of what is "decent" in politics reflect their own centrist biases on allowable opinion, which are very adamantly rejected by the conspiracy theorists and doomsayers outside of the mainstream. When Trump speaks in reckless disregard for the constraints of reality, he is wooing an irresponsible audience who are sick of being told either exists.

What matters is a sweeping narrative that is "the truth," even if it is destructive, or wrong in every factual detail. The truth is whatever fits the prejudices or interests of the person hearing it. If they do not hear it, they will find some other source, someone who "tells it like it is." The shameless are rewarded for speaking untruth to power.

The fantasy that "Washington is broken" and "only an outsider can fix it" is rooted in this depravity. In fact, the first Bush is the only Washington insider to have been elected president since Nixon, with the outsider theory always failing. Trump is its most absurd, illogical conclusion. Congress would undoubtedly accomplish a great deal very quickly if one party was able to dominate the government. The president at war with his own party is only free to abuse executive power and cause lasting damage in international relations.

While ideological partisanship has increased severely, the gridlock fueling it is itself fueled by polarization. The biggest reason is the political parties have sorted themselves by ideology, while the voters and gerrymandering have simultaneously done the same for redistricting. Very few congressional districts have any chance of falling into jeopardy, which makes primaries the real general election. These are inordinately influenced by the most extremely indoctrinated.

The end result is that an actual threat to the country like Trump becomes the nominee of the Republican Party with only 14 million votes out of 220 million eligible voters, which is actually the record, where a vastly unqualified candidate is propped up to 40 percent in the polling because almost half the electorate votes solely by party. And why? They believe the other party poses a serious threat to the country. It is madness.

Robert Schnibbe
Saranac Lake

External Links

(1) "Too few think independently about politics" - Letter to the Editor; Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 21st 2016 (source)

(2) "Only one candidate is acceptable for president" - Editorial endorsement of Hillary Clinton; Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 15th 2016 (commentary basis)


(1) Those who do not vote by party line often follow a "values and issues" premise, which in a highly ideological partisan context effectively amounts to the same thing. Conservative evangelical Christians are heavily supporting Trump, for example, which would be satire if its hypocrisy were not so utterly expected. Thankfully, for the sake of not reducing the idea of religious integrity to a total sham, his support from Mormons in Utah is much lower.
(Post-Election Edit: It is now much more clear that conservative Mormons are also willing hypocrites. 11/10/2016)

(2) The left is not immune from some of this criticism. But there is really no moral equivalence, and the issues are somewhat more subtle. Smugness by liberal comedians and pundits has surely exacerbated some of the cultural backlash, and lowering the threshold on words like "racism" and "fascism" has now (ironically) neutered their silencing power. Trump can be as horrible as he wishes, and such words will be dismissed as "liberals always say that when they disagree and want you to shut up", with the Republicans saying the same thing outted as RINOs.

(3) It would be hard to deny that the mass media has become much more "immoral" by the standards of cultural conservative taboos over the past few decades. While the notion of "taking our country back" makes very little objective sense (or intuition at all for a liberal), as a subjective perception couched in reaction to being steamrolled by cultural changes it is understandable. There is really no question they have been badly losing the culture wars.

(4) This was narrowly focued on the mass media context of language and the ability of Trump to thrive in its total debasement. It is not addressing the deeper issue of the racial-nationalist populism he has tapped into, which owes much to the rift that formed between the Republican Party elites and their actual base of support. For years they have used social and cultural issues as a polarizing wedge to corral support for their own interests, while the actual policy differences between the two parties on matters of substance was fairly minor, even when manifestly wrong.

(5) Post Election Update: This letter still holds up under the harsh light of day. It was written when Hillary Clinton was ahead in the polls by 7%, and still asserted the threat of Trump winning was very serious. What is remarkable in light of the continued "outsider" trend is that the Republicans have now only won the popular vote for president one time since the 1980s. The ultimate irony of the election is that the mechanism the elitists of the 1780s intended to prevent the mob from making someone like Trump the president is what made him win. 11/10/2016

(6) Post Election Update: It is amusing that #2 above is now a staple of narrative explanation for Trump, when the stories people would have been telling themselves would have been completely different if he had slightly lost instead of slightly won. (The liberals have yet to absorb the fact that the polls were reasonably accurate and they were self-deluded about how they chose to read them. Nate Silver is still wrong for them.) Whether Trump will ultimately be able to play nice with the Republican establishment or favor the cranks and chaos is an open question. 11/13/2016