Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ask Arthur 2020, Part 3: Important and not

Today’s questions are serious/important and, to lighten things a bit, one that’s, well, not. At least, not to me. I suppose some might see tings the other way round.

Be that as it may, today’s first question is from longtime friend Sherry, who I’ve known for—well, a very long time:

I have always loved your take on American Politics.

I want to think my Trump supporting friends and family only supported him because they are Republican, or Anti-abortion. Not because they are like him, because I think character makes the man. And I believe in my heart, Trump is the worst human to ever sit in our White House. I pray my loved ones are not condoning his behavior.

I believe his lies alone have set our country in a terrible direction, because his in-your-face behavior says "it's okay," to be like me.

With you having come from a family where your father was a Pastor, do you feel Trump's character will forever change America? That 4 years of this man's behavior has brought out the worst in America? That it's okay to dehumanize women, hate Muslims, create division, encouraged violence, dismiss science, openly lie, ignore laws designed to protect a country from nepotism, benefiting financially from your position.

I'm afraid his influence on our morality is almost worse than his policies and political fallout. If so, how do we fix it?

I’m glad you like my take on politics, especially because I’ve been giving US politics little blogging attention for awhile now. There’s no doubt that the USA has been launched in a terrible direction, and the questions you raise are important ones.

First, his supporters. I think it’s important to separate 2016 and 2020 because the first lot may or may not have known what he was really like, but many didn’t care because they just wanted to “burn it all down” after decades of being ignored by the political establishment. Naturally, I think they chose the wrong solution to very real problems, but that’s mainly about ideological as well as tactical disagreements.

However, there were significant numbers of his supporters in 2016 who did, indeed, think he was just fine to be president, despite being an awful human being. In 2016, such people were very often anti-immigrant, racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, etc., but in 2020 the proportion was clearly higher.

In 2018, just a month out from the Midterm Elections, The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote “The Cruelty Is the Point”. He said:
Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.
I think the important point there is that the cruelty and hatred unleashed by the soon to be ex-occupant of the White House merely tapped into existing prejudices and hatred. In other words, he didn’t create the moral collapse in the USA, he mostly just exploited it.

Prior to 2016, it was (mostly) socially unacceptable to say racist things out loud and in public. Once racist and xenophobic and similarly bigoted Tweets and campaign rally taunts became common, everyday things, it opened the floodgates for people to express what they were already thinking and feeling. Because of that, I agree with you that “his influence on our morality is almost worse than his policies and political fallout,” but that leads to another question you asked, whether his character “will forever change America”.

The hard, cold reality is that after four years of the current regime, half of the USA quite literally hates the other half. It’s more than mere ideology, it’s basically tribal, especially for Republicans (though Democrats have been drawn in, too). How do we put the genie back in the bottle? After all, while 80 million people voted to make Joe Biden the next president, some 74 million decided that an incompetent, ignorant, lying narcissist with psychopathic tendencies was exactly who they wanted in the White House. Moreover, Democrats actually lost seats in the US House and in state legislatures, and failed to take control of the US Senate (on the night, anyway; we’ll know for sure early in 2021).

The solution to Making America Moral Again is far more than just electoral politics. Earlier this month, FiveThirtyEight published a piece, “Why The Suburbs Have Shifted Blue”, which talks about opportunities as well as cautions for Democrats in continuing to win what had been strongly Republican areas. While demographics in the suburbs are clearly trending toward Democrats, it could take some time for an actual shift to happen. The article quotes Ashley Jardina, a political science professor at Duke University:
“The big question mark for me is what happens in these suburban areas in two years or four years if [Republican candidates] adopt a similar strategy to Trump but with more competence and decorum?”
In my opinion, the real danger is not the current guy, it’s what happens if a smart, savvy person with the exact same immorality and amorality becomes the Republican standard bearer? The inept and ignorant current Republican leader managed to show how easy it would be for someone smarter and more capable to completely dismantle US democracy and establish an authoritarian dictatorship. Add to that the Republicans rigging the system to keep themselves in power, especially in Congress and the state legislatures despite being a minority of all US voters, and it raises huge warning flags that go far beyond the current guy.

Which doesn’t mean there’s no hope. If Democrats win control of the US Senate, they could move quickly to enact reforms to make it much harder for future wannabe dictators to damage the country. But the biggest of the necessary reforms—abolishing the Electoral College, reforming the US Senate by making it proportional like the US House (or even abolishing it), ensuring every citizen can vote—are all beyond the power of Congress, and would require Republican-controlled state legislatures to ratify Constitutional Amendments. As the saying goes, that would be like turkeys voting for an early Christmas—suicide, in other words.

No, I don’t think his character “will forever change America”, because he merely unleashed what was already there. Whether things can be fixed or not will be the big question, and it will depend on 74 million Americans being able to admit they were wrong, to learn from the experience, and to grow. Right now, we cannot know whether any of that is even possible, let alone whether it will happen.

Today’s second question is from Roger Green, who asks:

What products or services from the US – which you believe still exist – do you miss now that you're in New Zealand?

The short answer is nothing. Much of what I might miss (like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s) I know is gone. I’ve long forgotten what other products or services I used to buy because I've been here for 25 years now.

Still, there are a few. I miss Fruit of the Loom underwear, so much so that I’ve ordered it from the USA. I also miss clothes shopping at places like Target where I could get good quality inexpensive shirts (and that underwear…). In New Zealand, I’ve found shirts that are inexpensive or good quality, but not often both. Books and technology products (like from Apple) are also dramatically cheaper in the USA, however, I can get those here and do, so it’s just the cheap prices I miss.

There’s also food. American-style pizza and Mexican food isn’t easy to find, though most American fast food is available here. Apart from that, some food items (like kosher dill pickles) either aren’t available here or are very expensive.

So, after living in New Zealand for 25 years, there really aren’t that many products or services from the USA that I miss. I’ve either adapted, found ones here I like better, or, probably most common of all, I’ve simply forgotten about the old ones. All of which is for the best.

Thanks for the questions, Sherry and Roger! There’s still one more post in this series, which I’ll publish before the year is out. Of course.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-20”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


Sure, why not ask again? – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 1: An untold story
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 2: Same as it never was

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