July 23, 2016

A Growing Feeling of Political Homelessness

Homeless in Sugamo 2I suppose I should have written a post summarizing my impressions of the 2016 Republican National Convention. I ended up watching more of the convention and the convention coverage than I had planned. I could have written up some sort of summary of the few high points and many low points. But the thing is, I find myself with surprisingly little I want to say about it. Aside from a few odd moments, it just wasn't that interesting. It was pretty obvious that I am not part of their target audience.

What I was hoping to see was Donald Trump making a real shift from the Idiocracy character he has been playing to a serious general election candidate. That is, I wanted to hear some specifics about how he plans to accomplish any of the things he has been claiming he will do. Instead, he continued to make the same sweeping promises that carried him through the primary with few details. It is becoming clearer that he may not not understand how our political system works.

I suppose the primary theme to come out of the convention is that Trump plans to run as the sort of law-and-order candidate we've seen many times before plus the reality TV character we have not seen, at least not during my lifetime. Going the law-and-order route seems like a decent strategy for at least two reasons. First, a fear-based campaign seems to be the default whenever a Republican candidate has little to offer in the way of positive changes. This seems to be the case with Trump. Second, Trump seems to recognize the cards he has been dealt by prominent Democrats who refuse to acknowledge some important realities (e.g., Islam has a role in motivating some terrorist attacks, globalization has not been good for all Americans, there may be elements within Black Lives Matter who are interested in seeing police officers killed and utilizing counterproductive tactics) and the growing backlash against political correctness. The law-and-order strategy allows him to talk tough and make many vague promises around keeping us safe. It also leads some supporters to frame his narcissism and willingness to bully others as assets.

Some will note that the law-and-order strategy does have a fatal flaw in that it is based on a false narrative. Crime and violence are not increasing to epidemic levels in spite of the attention our corporate-owned news media devoted to them. I do not disagree with that. It is far from a reality-based narrative; however, that rarely seems to matter in a political context. All Trump has to count on is that enough Americans will believe that crime and violence are increasing to record levels while the Obama/Clinton administration does little to help. Then he simply has to offer himself up as the solution. The genius of this strategy is that he will benefit from every additional terrorist attack, protest that gets out of hand, or other example of civil unrest that takes place.

Much has been made of how divided the Republican Party appeared during the convention. There were indeed many signs of division, but I do not think that surprised anyone. I suspect that the Democratic Party is at least as divided, if not more so. It remains to be seen whether they will do a better job of hiding it during their convention, but even a few minutes on social media reveals just how much division there is on the left. The treasure trove of what are being described as hacked emails from the DNC has provided those who were already convinced that the deck was stacked against Bernie Sanders with what they embrace as clear evidence that they were right all along. The #NeverHillary contingent is still there and extremely vocal.

The current political mood I have seen taking place in some parts of both the right and the left was aptly described by one liberal on Twitter when he characterized himself as feeling homeless in a political sense. This increasing sense of "political homelessness" is something with which I can relate. It has been growing for the last 10 years or so, but it seems much more salient now than I can remember. When I look at the options, including those other than the two large parties, I'm not seeing anything that looks like a political home.

Not all of the left has embraced the sort of authoritarianism and pro-censorship attitudes we once decried when they came from the right, but far too much of the left has done so. Not all of the left has embraced GMO labeling or gone anti-vax; far too much of the left has done so. Not all of the left has embraced identity politics, but it has become increasingly difficult to find people on the left who have not done so to a disturbing degree. Plenty on the left have started looking critically at Wall Street, but far too much of the Democratic establishment appears to still be in bed with them. For these and many other reasons, the Democratic Party is no longer something I can recognize as a political home. That does not mean I am unable to support select Democratic candidates, but it does mean that I feel less and less connection to the party and would be more reluctant to vote down party lines without studying the candidates.

Is there hope of finding a political home for people like me? I know there are people on the left who value the free expression of ideas, embrace freethought, and deliberately seek to expose themselves to unpopular views in the hope of learning something. I know there are people on the left who value science and would like to see more evidence-based policies. I know there are people on the left who reject identity politics, political correctness, and strive to avoid petty tribalism. In time, there might be enough of us to exert an influence. In the short term, I fear that many will abstain from voting altogether. I hope that this is not the case, but I can certainly understand why someone would be reluctant to participate in a broken system by supporting candidates they do not like.
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