Saturday, April 06, 2019

Political Notebook: Politics this week

Here we are in the first of the (more or less) weekly Political Notebook posts. I'll do these unless I get tired of them or, less probably, the pace of political news slows down. Whichever comes first?

It’s all about justice

Criminal justice is a topic that often comes up in politics, and it’s just come up in the USA thanks to New Zealand. Vox reported that “The New Zealand mosque shooter could be the country’s first person sent to prison for life”, which may or may not end up being the case. The author, German Lopez, pointed out, correctly, that in most of the world, life sentences, especially without parole, aren’t used frequently, as they are in the USA. He wrote:
While this may sound strange to us, there’s good evidence that European countries and New Zealand have the right idea. Because as much as America carries out much harsher penalties, there’s no evidence that these harsher punishments actually keep us safer. In fact, the US has the highest murder rate among developed nations—even as it imposes much longer prison sentences.
The article goes into some detail on probable reasons why this is the case, but what the article doesn’t say is that New Zealand also has no death penalty and is a firm opponent of its use by other countries. Maybe they thought that mentioning only one thing that would shock and appall some Americans was enough for one article.

The Right thinks it knows about Democrats. They don’t

The USA’s Rightwing is pretty consistent in its very wrong belief that it understands the Democratic party. Their delusion arguably begins with them thinking it's monolithic like the Republican Party, rather than a coalition of very different kinds of Democratic Parties.

Writing for The Atlantic, rightwing religionist commentator Peter Wehner declares, “The Democratic Party Is Radicalizing”. He cherry picks individual positions made by individual Democrats and assumes that they represent the views of the entire party. Anyone who knows a real, live Democrat knows that they often disagree with themselves, let alone other Democrats, so the assumption is silly. He uses it mainly to attack positions he doesn’t like, including deliberately mischaracterising Democrats’ positions on abortion to fit his narrative. It turns out, the piece is useful mainly as a way to understand the thinking of a Rightwinger who seems to believe he’s “objective” when, in fact, he’s pushing his own ideology. Multiple polls of real, live Democrats demonstrate the party is absolutely NOT “radicalising”, though obviously it is not rightwing, and is pretty much the opposite of the Republican Party. So, basically, he was talking through his butt.

Much more useful was a piece in Mother Jones, “'The Left Can’t Meme': How Right-Wing Groups Are Training the Next Generation of Social Media Warriors”. The piece talks about how young Rightwingers are trained “how to own the libs” by creating memes. Two things. First, it’s clearly true that young Rightwingers actually believe that social media is real life and their memes matter. Second, and more ominously, they see it as a means of delivering mass propaganda in a way that people don’t even realise they’re consuming falsehoods, distortions, and outright lies designed to get people to oppose Democrats even more than to win them over to the Right. This has huge implications.

Is he losing his mind?

People have speculated about the mental health of the current occupant of the White House since before he ran for president, but most have concentrated on his personality disorder, malignant narcissism. Increasingly, experts are warning that he has pre-dementia and deteriorating cognitive skills. We’ve all seen him engage in some pretty bizarre behaviour that seemed as if he wasn’t all there, including minor ones like calling Tim Cook “Tim Apple”, to the repeatedly mixing up his father and grandfather, wrongly saying it was his father who was born in Germany (it wasn’t).

Still, it’s possible that his bizarre behaviour is just because he’s a bad man. Things like when he “made two remarkably authoritarian remarks in one day”, as Vox put it, are examples. But maybe it’s better to look at a whole cluster of behaviours.

Like his utterly bizarre behaviour around Puerto Rico.

First we found out he “opposes further disaster aid for battered Puerto Rico”, and he seems utterly unaware that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, complaining about how they taking “from USA”, something he’s never said about any US state when it receives disaster funding. He’s even got his allies, like Florida’s Marco Rubio, singing from his songsheet. But, as usual, the current occupant doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about (see “AP FACT CHECK: Trump misstates hurricane aid for Puerto Rico”), and his apologists all ought to know better. Still, and surprising absolutely no one, the Braggart in Chief also “says he’s taken better care of Puerto Rico than anyone” which is just another of his lies—or maybe it is pre-dementia confusion. Or, it could just be his firm racism. We simply don’t know.

Time to start a new page in the Notebook.

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