Part 4—"Blatant racism" decried: Near the end of last Friday's op-ed column, Anna Fels described the type of world which gets created by "people who hate."
In our view, there's a lot to ponder in her portrait. The professor says, correctly we think, that such conduct is "on the rise:"
FELS (4/14/17): The point is to hurt and humiliate. Those who hate want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have. It is this that makes the attacks so personal and lends them their crude, violent and often sexual nature. The intent is not to challenge opposing beliefs but to destroy those who hold them.Fels' portrait is well worth considering. First, though, let's consider two weaknesses in that passage.
People who hate can blame others for their losses, reducing doubts about their own inadequacies.
Hate converts a sense of helplessness into one of action. It can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution, relieving their sense of isolation or powerlessness. As a consequence, though, there’s a loss of empathy, and beliefs become simplified and rigid.
All this may help to explain why hate and its retributive punishments are on the rise. In a way, hate functions like a Geiger counter, signaling where there are serious disruptions of the social fabric or where cultural beliefs are under the most stress—whether it be from a new awareness of inequality, diversity or the radical redefining of gender.
Fels says her portrait "may help to explain why hate and its retributive punishments are on the rise." We don't know why she says that. We see Fels make no attempt to explain why political hate would be more attractive now than at some earlier point.
That strikes us as an obvious weakness in Fels' passage. For a second weakness, consider her examples of the places where "cultural beliefs are under the most stress," thus giving rise to political hate.
According to Fels, cultural beliefs are under the most stress in three areas. Cultural beliefs are being put under most stress by "a new awareness of inequality," by "diversity" and by "the radical redefining of gender."
Presumably, culturally beliefs are being put under stress in all three ways. But let's note an obvious point: in all three instances, Fels describes types of cultural stress which are being felt "on the right."
In all three instances, Fels thereby suggests that political hate is on the rise among Those People, the conservative folk Over There. She imagines no ways in which political hate might be on the rise among Us, the intelligent, well-meaning, wonderfully nuanced liberal folk Over Here.
Does this reflect a "bias" on Fels' part? It's hard to answer such questions. For today, let's restrict oursleves to a thought experiment, in which we ask such questions as these:
Is it possible that political hate is on the rise Over Here? Is it possible that we liberals have been identifying "objects of hate" against whom we launch "crude attacks?"
Is it possible that we've been involved in "the formation of new communities" in which we "share grievances" about our objects of hate? In which we experience "a loss of empathy" for such targets? In which our beliefes "become simplified and rigid?" In which we get to blame The Others for our political losses?
Could that be happening Over Here? Consider yesterday's piece by Amanda Marcotte at the new and improved Salon.
Marcotte's piece appeared beneath a punishing headline. Even as it cited a "new analysis," it told a tribally pleasing story—a story we liberals get served every day:
"New election analysis: Yes, it really was blatant racism that gave us President Donald Trump"
It wasn't just racism which gave us President Trump. It was blatant racism, the pleasing Salon headline said.
Briefly, let's be fair. Marcotte never refers to blatant racism in her actual text. We'll assume the extra word was added by an editor at the new Salon, making Marcotte's essay more "simplified" and more "crude."
That said, it would be hard to simplify Marcotte's text more than Marcotte did. And since everyone who writes for Salon will know that its headlines are tricked up this way, we'll have to grant Marcotte an authorship share in the exciting headline which sat atop her text.
That said, let's turn to that text-in-itself. Is it true? Did "blatant racism" give us President Donald J. Trump in some definable way? To what extent can racism be blamed for his status at all?
Asking Marcotte to address such questions is a bit like asking Donald J. Trump to analyze the Bolshoi Ballet. At one time, Marcotte specialized in issues involving gender. In the past few years, she has begun to wrote about pure politics.
Her work tends to be extremely poor. Consider the way she starts this latest pleasing piece:
MARCOTTE (4/19/17): It’s worth remembering, particularly when the Hillary Clinton recrimination news cycle is in full swing, that Donald Trump is president today because of a margin of fewer than 80,000 votes spread across three states.As is often the case with Marcotte's work, she starts with a bit of puzzling logic. She says, correctly, that Obama won the three midwestern states in question by "comfortable" margins in 2012. She then says that Clinton's loss of these three states was occasioned by a "tiny shift" in votes, "due to slightly more white working-class voters voting Republican."
“The most important states, though, were Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” Philip Bump in The Washington Post wrote in December. “Trump won those states by 0.2, 0.7 and 0.8 percentage points, respectively—and by 10,704, 46,765 and 22,177 votes.”
Those three states, however, had been comfortably won by Democrat Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Much of the recent shift, however tiny, was due to slightly more white working-class voters voting Republican than before. This, in turn, has prompted an ugly and ongoing fight between two progressive factions: those who believe those voters were primarily motivated by a sense of economic insecurity and people who think the shift occurred because racist appeals are prompting more white people to vote for Republicans.
As almost anyone can see, those conjoined claims don't exactly seem to make sense. It's true that Candidate Clinton lost those three states by narrow margins. (She lost Ohio by 8.1 points.)
But though the margins were tiny, the shifts in votes were not, given the size of Obama's wins in 2012. Here's the breakdown on Michigan in those two elections:
Michigan 2012:Where Obama won by almost ten points, Clinton narrowly lost. This involved substantial shifts in votes, whatever the explanation for those shifts may be.
Obama 2,564,569 (54.2 percent)
Romney 2,115,256 (44.7 percent)
Obama won by 9.50 points
(4.731 million votes cast)
Trump 2,279,543 (47.5 percent)
Clinton 2,268,839 (47.3 percent)
Clinton lost by 0.2 points
(4.799 million votes cast)
As with Michigan, so too with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Candidate Clinton lost those states by narrow margins, but she lost a lot of votes as compared to Obama's comfortable wins four years before. Meanwhile, here's how Ohio went down:
Ohio 2012 versus Ohio 2016:Obama won Ohio by 3.0 points in 2012. Four years later, Clinton lost the state by 8.1 points.
Obama 2012: 2,827,709 (50.7 percent)
Clinton 2016: 2,394,164 (43.6 percent)
Candidate Clinton lost a lot of votes in these midwestern states in 2016 as compared to Candidate Obama in 2012. This leads us to our second question: how did those votes get lost?
This is where the "blatant racism" theory comes in. The "new analysis" to which Marcotte refers belongs to Sean McElwee, a scrub-faced recent college grad (Kings College, 2013) who is becoming the liberal world's go-to guy for "blatant racism" analyses.
For ourselves, we would be slow to assume the competence of McElwee's analyses. That said, here's how he analyzed the vote changes in these decisive states, at least according to Marcotte:
MARCOTTE: For people who pay close attention to politics, McElwee argued, it’s been clear for decades that Democrats have been more progressive than Republicans on the issue of racial justice. But for the less informed voters, the “election of a black president, the reaction to that and then the Trump campaign” made race and racism more salient as electoral issues than they have been in recent political memory. The result is that people with racist attitudes are rapidly shifting toward becoming Republicans, and people with more progressive views on race are flocking to the Democrats.Inevitably, we're told that the decisive changes in votes came from "less informed voters." According to Marcotte's account, McElwee attributes the changed votes of these dunderheads to "race and racism," to their "more racialized [current] thinking."
This, in turn, helps explain the small number of voters who voted for Obama once and maybe even twice but then turned to Trump. They may have initially perceived Obama to be “post-racial” candidate whose color was not important. But after years of racist vitriol aimed at Obama, as well as the increase in racial justice movements like Black Lives Matter, those voters have turned to more racialized thinking and flocked to Trump. The constant complaining of Trump supporters about the pernicious influence of “political correctness” also suggests this reading.
Please note the apparent oddness of this one-size-fits-all analysis:
In 2012, the Democratic candidate was socially defined as "black." In 2016, the Democratic candidate was socially defined as "white." Why did the white candidate get substantially fewer votes than the black candidate had? Because of race and racism—indeed, because of blatant racism—we are now being told!
On its face, that analysis doesn't quite seem to make sense. Remembering that this is Marcotte's account of McElwee's position, let's consider the factors which are said to have accounted for the switches in votes:
Factors causing Clinton to lose votes in 2016, as compared to Obama in 2012:Does this analysis make sense? Remember, that "election of a black president" actually happened in 2008. We're now told that it explains the switch of votes away from a white Democratic candidate in 2016.
1) The election of a black president
2) These voters' reaction to the election of this black president
3) The Trump campaign, approval of which seems to be read as racism, no explanation required
We're even told that the election of that black president, and the reaction to it, explains the anti-Clinton votes of people who voted for the black president in 2012! Does this highly simplistic theory actually make good sense?
Has Marcotte discovered that all those votes were lost because of "blatant racism?" Has she discovered that the white candidate did substantially worse than the previous black candidate due to that "blatant" cause?
Forgive us for making an unpleasant suggestion. Forgive us for suggesting that this may be the "crude" and "simplified" way we humans tend to reason when we launch campaigns against objects of hate.
Is Marcote's explanation "crudely simplified?" Consider all the possible reasons for Candidate Clinton's loss of votes she doesn't even seem to consider:
Possible factors unmentioned by Marcotte:Amazing, isn't it? Marcotte is so eager to push the "blatant racism" line that she doesn't even mention the possibility that the female candidate did worse than the previous male candidate because of sexism/misogyny, the topic she rode in on.
1) The fact that Clinton ran a lousy campaign
2) Twenty-five years of demonization aimed at Clinton, both by the "right-wing noise machine" and by the upper-end mainstream press
3) The intervention of James B. Comey (starting in July 2016, not just in October)
4) The intervention of Vladimir Putin
5) The ridiculous assurances of the Professor Wangs and their pundit enablers (i.e., the claim that Candidate Clinton couldn't possibly lose)
6) The possible role of sexism/misogyny!
(We're instructed in Marcotte's opening sentence that we mustn't even consider the "Clinton ran a lousy campaign" explanation. See text above. You're looking at pure propaganda.)
Let's return to Professor Fels' presentation. Is it possible that Marcotte's piece can be seen as an example of the way political hate is "on the rise" in this country? Can it be seen as an example of the way political groups offer "crude" and "simplified" story-lines to attack the people they loathe?
Ever since November, this crude attack about "blatant racism" has been peddled wherever liberal story-lines are sold. Is it possible that this simplified account represents an attempt by our own liberal tribe to "blame others for [our] losses, reducing doubts about [our] own inadequacies?"
Could it be that this rather crude story-line "converts a sense of helplessness into one of action"—that it "can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution?" Is it even possible that this crude story about "blatant racism" involves our tribe is a "loss of empathy" for the people we're sliming in such crude, reductionist ways?
We'd say that all those things are possible—indeed, that they're happening every day. This helps explain why we swallow the idea that the white candidate underperformed as compared to the black candidate because of the "blatant racism" found Over There among The Others. Full and complete freaking stop!
In a fairly typical way, Fels could only see hate on the rise Over There, on the right. That said, we liberals are human too—human, if only just barely.
Tomorrow: The loss of empathy, combined with the rise of our own music men