Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Virtue Signaling Is Not Persuasion

I'm not terribly surprised that this needs to be said, but it apparently bears repeating:

Virtue signaling is not the same thing as persuasion.

I've seen this at least twice since the election, and one time I already mentioned: California Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Léon's joint letter with the state Assembly, a thing of unbearable smugness.
By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.
Hey, Trump voters, d'ja hear that? Yer all bigots! I suppose we probably shouldn't talk about Hillary's late conversion to the gay marriage thingy, calling young black men "superpredators" in a 1996 speech defending the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, her continued support of the War On Drugs in which "total numbers of state and federal inmates grew more rapidly under Bill Clinton than under any other president, including the notorious Republican drug warriors Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush." Since the vast majority of those incarcerated are black and Hispanic (in no small part because of sentencing disparities), concluding a vote for Hillary is without shame but one for Trump is racist or sexist or bigoted in some other way is based entirely on branding, rather recent conversions, and in some cases, willful blindness. At best, Clinton triangulated her positions as they became popular, not out of anything resembling principle. Yes, this is politics, but it also gives those wishing to wear their morality on their sleeve some rather shaky ground to stand on.
The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well.
"Largest" by population, sure, but "surest conscience"? Well, see above.
California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.
And we will make sure you know how exemplary we are because we'll remind you of our moral rectitude at every opportunity.  Sense a pattern here?
California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future.
Bah, the provinces. This is why I very much doubt the coastal elites that run the Democratic Party will have learned anything from losing four consecutive Congressional elections, and now a presidential election as well. Given that Republicans now control both houses of Congress, 31 governorships, and 66 of 99 state legislatures (Nebraska's is unicameral),  this kind of preening represents a remarkable obliviousness. Sure, you can keep at it in your safe seats in mostly-coastal redoubts, but elsewhere it appears to be suicidal — as is a chronic incuriosity about the electorate handing out those defeats. By writing off key states in the upper midwest against Bill Clinton's advice, Team Hillary handed the election to Trump.

It's hard not to wonder whether this reflects a sense of contempt for "flyover country" derived from the base. A personal example of this showed up in the form of Patrick Thornton's essay in Roll Call, "I'm A Coastal Elite From The Midwest: The Real Bubble Is Rural America". His point that rural communities can be insular is well-taken, but then he takes a leap beyond it:
To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.
Funny, last I heard, all of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin are still in the Union, all their residents are US citizens eligible to vote in the election — and it was the coastal supergenius Robby Mook who decided those states weren't important to pursue. It is not "deifying" those people to say you need to pay attention to them; in a democratic republic, it is the very essence of winning elections. The electorate's flaws does not relieve a candidate of the need to hear them out. This would seem to be a Civics 101 principle, but it eludes Thornton entirely — as it does HuffPo contributor Jennifer Sullivan, who pays lip service to "paint[ing Trump voters] with that broad a brush" but then proceeds to imagine the reasons why such voters might have polled as they did:
At the end of the day, I cannot and will not be friends with people who think that we should be directing resources toward conversion therapy, for people “suffering” from homosexuality (like Pence). I will not be friends with people who think that it is okay to subject black people to practices that were deemed unconstitutional, because they deprived them of the very civil liberties our Constitution was intended to protect (like Trump). I will not be friends with people who think that those who subscribe to Islam are any less deserving of love, respect, or refuge than their Christian counterparts. I will not be friends with people who think that it is morally sound to indiscriminately murder the children of terrorists. Nor will I be friends with people who speak ill of immigrants, when without immigrants, none of us would even be here.
 Again, the author has concluded — without any supporting evidence — all Trump voters are bigots. I understand this from a certain perspective — there's plenty of evidence that Trump is a bigot himself — but his extreme negative ratings in poll after poll do not point to people suddenly converting to the cause of white nationalism. For even anecdotal evidence on such people's motives, the WaPo recently published a series of "why I voted for Trump" missives that is worth reading. Example:

Kirsten Johnson

31 years old • Minneapolis
I was literally undecided until I went into the voting booth. I was a strong advocate for Gary Johnson for most of the race, but I changed my mind after I saw him at a lackluster rally in town. Then Trump came through, and the energy and passion was astounding. He overflowed an airport hangar with 24 hours notice on a Sunday during a Vikings home game. Holy crap. So, in the end, I voted for the economy, against Obamacare and against a corrupt government, just as I was planning to for Johnson. But I also voted for the people, because Trump was the clear choice of the silent majority I eventually became a part of.
N.b., I do not endorse any of this, or Trump; as Freddie deBoer recently observed, "acknowledging the causes of terrorism is different from justifying terrorism". So Trump. The great task of convincing such people otherwise remains unfinished, and if the above examples are any indication, will not be set upon any time soon with the gravity it deserves.

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