Monday, November 14, 2016

5 Myths I’m Sick of Seeing in the Post-Mortems

Myth 1: That it’s anything other than arrogant to explain “what happened” in the election to anyone right now.
Man…I don’t know where you are with things. What stage of grief is it when you absolutely can’t stomach a single solitary opinion you read? That’s where I am. This is textbook Internet dysfunction: I cannot stand the takes right now, but I persist in reading the takes. And yet is only in processing this horrible fucking sensation--my visceral disgust for the thoughts and feelings of nearly everyone who voted like me, more so than the information that’s in the takes themselves--that I feel like I’m even beginning to get a picture of where it all went wrong.

Let me give you an example. During the election, I really liked reading Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone. As I read his post-election take, “President Trump: How American Got It So Wrong,” I found myself nodding along in the beginning. Sick Giuliani own. Yes, this is the good stuff. But soon after that I grew frustrated until finally, at the end, I was a little surprised to realize I was totally furious...but not for the reason I was supposed to be furious.

Taibbi writes:
We journalists made the same mistake the Republicans made, the same mistake the Democrats made. We were too sure of our own influence, too lazy to bother hearing things firsthand, and too in love with ourselves to imagine that so many people could hate and distrust us as much as they apparently do.  
It's too late for any of us to fix this colossal misread and lapse in professional caution. Now all we can do is wait to see how much this failure of vision will cost the public we supposedly serve. Just like the politicians, our job was to listen, and we talked instead. Now America will do its own talking for a while. The world may never forgive us for not seeing this coming.  
Like…I don’t know, mister. How about you take a minute. Your job demands that you provide quick commentary, I get that. Seems like this could have been the time for ‘if this election has taught me anything it’s that it would be arrogant to say I’ve got this whole thing figured out’—something like that. What no one needs is ‘Admittedly I was a self-absorbed nightmare person 36 hours ago, but now I’ve had a chance to reflect on my mistakes. I’m only sorry my epiphany came too late to do humanity any good. As a consolation here are more Giuliani owns.’ In response to Taibbi’s theory of where all of journalism went wrong in 2016, let me float my own: maybe it’s just deeply unnatural to churn out a self-assured 2,000 words about the end of the world immediately after it happens, you smug fuck.

Okay, okay…I’m very angry and maybe projecting some stuff onto that take. Never mind. Let us carry on with my take. The One True Take.

Myth 2: Michael Moore is a precog now.

Maybe there’s only so much horror the human brain can handle before it just starts rejecting things, but are people seriously praising Michael Moore as a fine political mind now? I’ve run the numbers, adjusted for how much my Internet Outrage Centers are over-firing, and I’m still 85 percent sure we shouldn’t kickstart a Michael Moore gimmick movie about the revolution just yet. (My other 15 percent is just really distracted by whatever is going on with his hair.) Yes, for sure, he wrote an eerily good take. But on the other hand…he is Michael Moore. Gather your wits, people.

Myth 3: The War on Harry Potter
Far be it from me to question the peerless political minds that belong to the weird twitter irony bros, but it’s a fine line between the dim notion that fuels “muggles unite” and performative disdain for Lena Dunham. I mean, I get it, in our new nightmare world Gryffindor is OUT, calling Kate McKinnon a loser is IN, comparing the president-elect to Voldemort is dumb, but making middle-school grade jokes about Arthur Chu sweating a lot makes you a paragon of political seriousness. Turns out that everyone—whether you’re an overly earnest fucking idiot or an irony boy who takes selfies with the katana sword he probably used for reals back in high school--falls back on whatever feels comfortable to them in times of trouble. Go figure.

Myth 4: Khaleesi must be held accountable (and/or Bernie definitely would’ve won).
A lot of people seem real worried that history won’t heap enough blame on Hillary Clinton, which is pretty weird since, so far as I can tell, every left-leaning man on the internet blames Hillary Clinton (along with the phrase “yasss queen,” for some reason) for literally everything ever. It’s my own feeling that, though she’s flawed and problematic, the time has come to give it a rest? I would have worried about her flaws and problems a lot more had she become president. Campaign strategy is fair game, but a question I genuinely have for the people who think hers was horrible is what a good campaign for Hillary Clinton would have even looked like. It also seems like she gets zero credit for the times she navigated impossible terrain with surprising competence. The debates? Come on.

I mean, we’re really talking about at least three separate things: why people voted for Trump, why people didn’t vote (for anyone), and whether or not Bernie could’ve mobilized those non-voters. These questions seem worth considering across three areas:

Messaging Problems
Republicans are really great at messaging: “No abortions, foreigners, or people of color. Also Jews.” Easy peasy! But while the average conservative has no problem embracing radical rightwing propaganda, most democrats can’t quite let go of the old-fashioned idea that messaging should be at least somewhat cogent and true, yet vague in such a way that you can project your own personal hopes and dreams onto it come away thinking that the message is about those. On top of that general problem, which has been going on for a while, this particular election was historically insane. What would the liberal equivalent of Trump’s “Mexicans are rapists” platform have looked like, exactly? Free college? You think subsidized book learning is ever going to be as compelling as the subjugation of minorities, a value on which this country was built? How do you translate Let’s Build a Registry of Muslims into Democrat if not Jesus Christ, let’s definitely NOT do that?? Even Obama ran on “Didn’t Do Iraq,” which is only different from “Not Trump” in that its locus is in the past, not the future.

Messaging for Democrats in 2020 will be easier, of course. It won’t take much to mobilize under a Trump regime--and whichever man comes along and does it, whether it’s Bernie or whoever else, will get a whole lot of credit for it, I’m sure. Meanwhile I’m not so convinced that Bernie would have mobilized non-voters in what was still the era of Obama. And for my money he sure as shit wouldn’t have swayed any people who ended up voting for Trump. The reason why “low-information” voters whose primary focus was income inequality (not racism) chose the celebrity in the gold-plated elevator wasn’t strictly a matter of Establishment vs. Anti-Establishment; it was also because they want to be the celebrity in the gold-plated elevator. I think low-information voters are aspirational, and no one wants to be Bernie Sanders. No one.

Demographic data tells us that Trump’s win comes down to two kinds of racists: bigots and the kind of people who aren’t full of hate so much as they don’t give a shit that some people are. That isn’t really a meaningful moral distinction, but probably they’re worth considering separately since the latter could have been potentially be reached through their “core” issue. With those voters, we’re looping back to the messaging stuff, which again I’m not so convinced that Bernie had on lock.

Misogyny and Double Standards
To say that Hillary is personally responsible for Trump’s win is to suggest that her reputation as unlikeable, selfish (lol), and divisive comes down to her faults—which are real—rather than sublimated male supremacy, which is realer. That’s confusing! And it’s made even more confusing by the fact that the far-ish left is unusual in that it dislikes Hillary for real substantive political reasons. Those aren’t the same reasons that most of America doesn’t like her, which are…….…

*gestures vaguely*

So there are these tangled threads—some lightly sexist, some straight-up misogynist—that become very difficult to separate. Some stuff is obvious: her biggest election “scandals” would have never in a million years stuck if she were a man. Other stuff is harder to articulate, but: peer into the hearts and minds of the boys of Deadspin and tell me the Liberal Man Crisis of Conscience Shtick wasn’t gendered in weird complicated ways. (See also: liberal men who expressed palpable disgust about the pneumonia collapse thing and told themselves that sentiment was somehow about her being hawkish.) I worry that a lot of things that people read as “inadequate politician” come down to Hillary navigating this election as a woman.

Anyway I think it’s really important to separate out that sexism/misogyny was more a factor for non-voters and maybe third-party voters, not so much Trump voters. Trump won because he ran on an openly racist platform. He didn’t run on an openly misogynist platform. In fact his misogyny was the one thing that people almost cared about.

Myth 5: The Left will eat itself if it continues to focus on identity politics.
A big mistake I made in the wake of the election was going on Facebook, a dumb platform I abandoned a long time ago. There, I saw two pals who I don’t really keep up with—an American diplomat who was born in Ukraine and a Sikh academic, both Democrats—talk about how the loss came down to the left’s insistent focus on identity politics. These are smart, politically savvy people—an immigrant who became a foreign service officer talking to a guy in a turban. What?

On the opposite side of the spectrum of liberal opinion, over the weekend I was hanging out with one of my best friends, a Mexican American born in Texas to a Mexican father and a white American mother. She told me about a painful “please don’t hate me” conversation initiated by her white cousin, who voted for Trump. “Barack Obama is like me—a white mom and a dad who was born somewhere else. Trump wouldn’t recognize him as an American, and he’s the fucking president,” she told her cousin. “Who knows whether or not my citizenship will count?” She’s a history professor who is not prone to panic about the news of the day...she tends to see things in terms of the bigger picture, and in this case it is personally frightening to her. In all my worry about Trump deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and creating a Muslim registry, this line of concern hadn’t quite occurred to me.’s just staggering, how much there is to worry about.

As marginalized people and even not-so-marginalized people (meaning white women like me) increasingly come under threat, identity politics aren’t going anywhere. It’s a very safe bet they’re only going to ramp up—as they should. The last few months I’ve had the president-elect’s voice in my ear talking about pussy. Abortion rights are about to be back on the table. Yeah, the Lena Dunham reaction was a bit much but also people are not freaking out because they identify with Hillary Clinton. Get a fucking clue.

Uneasy Conclusion
I’m old enough to remember my disappointment after the 2000 election. What worries me most about this result is recalling how worried and depressed and unhappy I felt back then, and knowing that I underestimated how bad things would turn out by a lot. Then, as now, I did that self-soothing thing where you tell yourself it can’t possibly be as bad as you think…when in fact it ended up worse.

That said, I’ve seen liberal takes that express the exact opposite opinion: that George W. Bush was bad, but not as bad as people said he’d be. That opinion is curious to me, given that, in 2000, no one could’ve anticipated the latitude W would have after 9/11, but…okay. I honestly don’t remember the takes from back then so much as my own feelings of doom.

I don’t have a huge amount of political smarts, but I know something about what W. did to this country—to the world. I know how the fundamental tenets of American defense policy changed and how Obama has made that worse. I see Peter Thiel…the death throes of satire…Chelsea Manning in a fucking hole trying to kill herself…photographs of these lunatics who will make up Trump’s cabinet, with their spittle and their unhinged grins, and the impossible question I’m left with is this: How is the Left going to reconcile the god-awful opinions of everyone who shares its core values? In a world where “working across the aisle” is plainly folly, the new tolerance is finding some way to countenance the clowns who are supposedly yours in the struggle. This hasn’t even started yet and my patience ran out about a year ago. This hasn’t even started yet and everyone thinks they’ve got it all figured out.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with you on #1. You use the word "arrogant", and I've been thinking the exact same thing from the other side -- surely, SURELY, the lesson from the election is that everyone needs to take a huge dose of epistemic humility.

    On the one hand, you've got the people who were wrong five days a week for the past year -- wrong that Trump finally had torpedoed himself now this time for sure, wrong that he'd never win the primary, wrong that he'd pivot to the "centre" (whatever that is) for the general, and then the biggest misprediction of all -- and those people have the chutzpah to turn around without missing a beat, or at most with a few paragraphs of handwringing, and explain to us what happened and what we need to do now. Like, Jon Chait wrote a post "Donald Trump Is Not Going to Win Michigan" and then six days later he's telling us "What should Democrats in Congress — and Barack Obama, and you — do now?". *Six* days later and we're supposed to take him seriously again already? How the hell do you go from being completely wrong about Donald Trump Will Never Ever Win the Election to deserving our trust about Here's Why Donald Trump Won the Election? You fucked the prediction up that badly and now you're going to postdict it? It'd be comical if the stakes weren't what they are.

    So those people are the worst. But you've also got folks on the other hand who maybe didn't spend the last year singing "la la la never going to happen", but still feel confident now to explain why it happened, and what to do next, and they should STFU too. They don't know why it happened either...I've been seeing this from the distance of Australia and reading either vaguely or less-vaguely left-ish takes on it in our media, and the CW has quickly coalesced into "oh, this was about economic uncertainty, losers of globalisation etc." But how do they know that? All they've got now is one more piece of evidence on top of what they already had; the reasons for the result are an empirical question and should be basically black-boxed until people have done a lot more work to investigate them. Yeah, those explanations sound intuitively plausible (as does your One True Take), but (again) SURELY the lesson of the election is that intuitive plausibility ain't worth shit when it comes to Trump?

    (Anyway, really pleased to see you blogging again, Kim)