WINNERS, LOSERS, ENEMIES, OTHERS: Martin is puzzled by The Others!

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2020

Gessen is asked to explain: Out in rural Hayes County, Nebraska, [NAME WITHHELD] had a better idea. 

This Monday, in the New York Times, Dionne Searcey described it: 

SEARCEY (11/9/20): When [NAME WITHHELD] realized last week that the presidential vote was swinging Mr. Biden’s way, his thoughts turned to a divided nation. Not just the kind of political division that has fractured much of America, but literal, maybe-it’s-time-we-cleave-this-country-into-two-nations kind of division. He was thinking of secession.

“Is there a point that this country becomes actually split?” he said he thought as he watched the vote tallies from around the country.

Mr. [WITHHELD], a Republican, lives in Hayes County, where nearly 93 percent of voters supported Mr. Trump...

According to Searcey's report, WITHHELD is a a volunteer firefighter who drives an ambulance. He also "serves as the county’s economic development coordinator." 

According to the Census Bureau, Hayes County's population is roughly 900 and dropping. On reflection, Searcey says, WITHHELD eventually changed his mind about splitting the nation in two.

Upon reflection, he changed his mind, but others have felt the same way. Over Here, within our own tribe, a commenter to a Thomas Friedman column recently offered this:

COMMENTER FROM FORT WORTH (11/10/20): I think separatism is what will save democracy in the politically blue regions.  Red America really doesn't want democracy, but is so conservative as to prefer a more authoritarian system.  It's culture is derived primarily from northern Europe of the Reformation rather than the Enlightenment. The largest discriminant with a Trump voter was having an authoritarian value system.  

I would advocate the population of this country separate, with the Republican voting base concentrating in the region between the Appalachians and the Cascades/Sierra Nevadas, and north of the 34th parallel.  Then set up a national border.

Our country is simply too diverse to hang together as a unified nation any longer.

The others don't want what we liberals want, this discouraged observer said. This commenter even knows where the borders should be after the new Trail of Tears! Our blue nation gets both coasts!

Other commenters agreed with this recommendation. The initial comment landed on the Times' list of Reader Picks.

Is it true? Is our country "simply too diverse" at this point to function as a unified nation? 

In our view, there's a great deal of truth to that observation. In our view, it's hard to see a way out of this mess as long as major corporate interests use cable news, talk radio and the like to create two different (epistemic) worlds.

That said, the bullroar isn't all found Over There, and neither is all the otherization. Consider the Amanpour & Co. rebroadcast we watched yesterday.

In the program's principal segment, Michel Martin was struggling to understand Those People, the Trump voters.  She spoke with New Yorker egghead Masha Gessen, who has a high IQ.

Martin grilled Gessen about the troubling Others. On the Amanpour website, the segment is thumbnailed like this:

What Makes People Want Autocracy?

What separates President Trump’s behavior from that of the average autocrat? Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist who has been writing about authoritarianism for decades. Their latest book, “Surviving Autocracy,” makes the case that Trump’s presidency has endangered American democracy and the world’s faith in it. Gessen speaks with Michel Martin about all this–and about the road ahead.

The others want autocracy, the thumbnail seems to suggest. 

As the interview started, Gessen said that Donald J. Trump has been trying to create "the vertical of vassalage." He wants all other sources of power reporting upward to him. 

We're not saying that assessment is wrong, though there certainly would have been a simpler way to say it. Around the 5-minute mark, Martin asked Gessen this:

MARTIN (11/11/20): Why do you think it is that the American public to this point doesn't seem more disturbed by this?

I mean, as you pointed out in your [recent New Yorker] piece, 65, 70 million people consciously chose Donald Trump as their president, as their choice, despite seeing these autocratic tendencies over the past four years, as you've described.

And yet Americans, some of the people who supported him, seem more concerned about being told to wear a mask on their face to prevent the spread of disease than they are of being sort of told who's going to be president no matter who voted or not. And I'm just wondering what you think about that.

We're curious about widespread mask aversion too. That said, did those 70 million voters (and counting) "consciously" want autocracy, as Martin's statement and question might seem to imply? 

Plainly, Martin and Gessen feel they've seen "autocratic tendencies" in Trump. We'd say that assessment is accurate.

But did The Others perceive the events and behaviors of recent years in the same way these eggheads did? Did the others, all 70 million of them, see "autocratic tendencies" in Trump, then "consciously" decide to support that? 

That's what Martin seemed to imply. This is classic otherization—and despite its broadcast by PBS, it's very low-quality work.

In what way was Martin engaged in otherization? The prehistoric tribal practice acts in these two ways:

First, we assume that Those People Are All Just Alike—in this case, all 70 million of them (and counting).

Then, we make a second assumption. We assume that the others must understand the world in the same (enlightened) ways we do. We assume they know and believe the things we know. They've heard the same things we've heard.

In such ways, a pair of overpaid eggheads were able to tell us what that ambulance driver in Hayes County had in mind when he voted for Donald J. Trump last week. This is familiar, not super bright work. 

That said, this tribal practice is bred in the bone. This unhelpful practice is as old as our floundering, war-inclined species.

At roughly the 9-minute mark, Martin asked the question shown below. She was responding to Gessen's description of the way Republican office-holders defer to Trump:

MARTIN: Is there something about the Republican electorate at this point that finds this stance and this posture so appealing that the people who are elected by them, that's where they are as well?

It seems as though there is a great appetite for this among certain sectors of the American people. The question I have for you is why? Why do you think that is?

Martin's presentation was a bit hard to parse, but we were struck by a point of oddness:

Martin was wondering why Trump voters vote as they do. She was wondering about what they find appealing.

Those are perfectly sensible questions. But why was she asking Masha Gessen? If she was curious about Trump voters, why wasn't she asking them?

Why wasn't she asking that guy in Hayes County? Why wasn't she asking him to explain how the world looks to him?

As best we recall, we've never seen a Hayes County resident interviewed on our tribe's cable channels. You'll never see such bumpkins interviewed on this PBS program.

In this way, our tribe constructs epistemic silos to match those found in Hayes County. When we want to know what Those People think, we come up with answer ourselves!

Th woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our tribe just isn't real sharp. Don't be fooled by all those degrees or by the incessant branding. 

More specifically, this interview featured some highly unimpressive work by two sachems of our own tribe. Needless to say, Gessen ended up saying that Trump's voters were responding to the same psychological forces which attracted Germans to Hitler. 

Along the way, she offered some remarkably uninsightful analyses of last week's elections—and she drove the tribal line forward.

For better or worse, our tribe is a tribe just like other tribes. At times of tribal division, we don't want to hear from the others. We want to hear pre-existing stories as told by ourselves.

It's true that a large, continental nation can't really function this way. Also, there's no way the nation can split in two, with our tribe getting both coasts.

Reading those recent pleas for separation, we thought of the Harrison Ford character in the Oscar-nominated 1985 film, Witness. 

Urban violence and political corruption have driven him to a type of internal exile in Pennsylvania's Amish country.  He's even developed a love interest there. 

It's tempting to think that he can remain in that exile forever. Eventually, he realizes that he has to go back and confront the dislocation which initially sent him there.

"Be careful out among them English," he's told as the picture show ends.


51 comments:

  1. "According to Searcey's report, WITHHELD is a a volunteer firefighter who drives an ambulance. He also "serves as the county’s economic development coordinator." "

    Somerby makes a big point of protecting this person's anonymity, but then he provides facts that make him easy to identify. That is a bad faith effort.

    If you really want to protect an informant, you omit or change ALL identifying details, not just the person's name. How many economic development directors can one small town have? Shame on you (and Searcey), Somerby!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nobody - and I mean nobody - is dumber than you are. And this is the first comment I've read so far. Jesus.

      Leroy

      Delete
    2. Anybody can call someone a name, such as dumb. Why don't you explain what specifically you find dumb about this comment.

      Anon @11:32 has just explained something that is routine in the social sciences, but apparently not known to Somerby (or you?).

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  2. "It's culture is derived primarily from northern Europe of the Reformation rather than the Enlightenment."

    This sentence in the quoted commenter's remarks makes no sense at all. The Protestant Reformation contributed to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment happened in Northern Europe too, especially Scotland and England. In Nebraska, the predominant religion is Catholic (not a participant in the reformation) with Methodists (a radical protestant sect involving voluntary poverty and good works) and Lutherans next. Neither is authoritarian. Hillary Clinton, who was a midwesterner, is a strong Methodist.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Is it true? Is our country "simply too diverse" at this point to function as a unified nation?

    In our view, there's a great deal of truth to that observation."

    Separatists never explain how they will support their new nation economically. The Red states are supported by the Blue states. They are a net drain on the country's resources and receive more from the federal government than they contribute. Their economic contribution to our nation would make them a third world country, if they were to attempt to stand alone. Their current life is made possible by the states they wish to disown. If they split off, who will want to invest in an area that is politically backward and undereducated, lacking the workforce needed by serious industry? The same lack of opportunity that causes young people to flee these areas, is the reason why it cannot prosper independently.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "it's hard to see a way out of this mess as long as major corporate interests use cable news, talk radio and the like to create two different (epistemic) worlds."

    How has the media "created" different epistemic worlds? No one in the media has put any limit on what people in Nebraska can read or think.

    Somerby dismisses Masha Gessen as someone with a high IQ. This example of anti-intellectualism shows his sympathies.

    From Wikipedia: "Masha Gessen, is a Russian-American journalist, author, translator[1][2] and activist who has been an outspoken critic of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the President of the United States, Donald Trump."

    Thus she is not just smart, but also an expert on modern authoritarianism, who left Russia because of its intolerance of LGBTQ people. She also looks like Rachel Maddow and that seems to be sufficient reason for Somerby to dismiss her, calling her and Martin "overpaid eggheads".

    Somerby is upset because no one asked Trump voters whether they are authoritarian or not. What do you think they would say? If they were sufficiently educated to know that authoritarianism is considered bad, like Hitler, they would say "Of course we are not authoritarian." If they are undereducated, they would say "hell, yeah!", bring on that authority. Trump'll show you how to git'er done!" Neither answer will tell you whether they are authoritarian or not, but that's what happens when you ask people about abstract ideas that are not part of their frame of reference. It doesn't make Martin & Gessen wrong. It does make Somerby wrong, but what else is new?

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  5. "Reading those recent pleas for separation, we thought of the Harrison Ford character in the Oscar-nominated 1985 film, Witness.

    Urban violence and political corruption have driven him to a type of internal exile in Pennsylvania's Amish country. He's even developed a love interest there. "

    Somerby has either forgotten the plot or he has deliberately distorted it, in order to use this other work for his own purposes.

    Harrison Ford plays John Book, a police officer, who is protecting a child and his mother from corrupt police in Philadelphia. The child has witnesses a murder and is thus in danger from criminals, so Book has buried him in Amish country in order to hide him and protect him until he can act as a witness to a crime.

    Book hasn't retreated to Amish country in order to flee big city problems. He is doing his job by protecting the kid, who is in a kind of witness protection situation. The key is that Amish country is someplace the criminals will stand out, or perhaps not think to search, not that it is a haven from society's ills, as Somerby wishes to portray it. Ford must learn how to fit in.

    Somerby's tendency to use other people's work to advance his own ideas, without respecting their own ideas, is a form of borrowing that is akin to using a Rolling Stones song beneath a car ad, without asking for permission or respecting their work. It is a kind of theft. Many of us have read, heard, or seen these works he grabs, and his self-serving interpretation may clash with our own experiences. That tends to ruin the experience for the rest of us. Sort of like stomping in muddy boots all over someone's nice rug. Somerby needs to write his own columns and stop twisting other people's words to fit his own warped world view.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "It's true that a large, continental nation can't really function this way. Also, there's no way the nation can split in two, with our tribe getting both coasts."

    All you have to do is look at a world map to see that this is not true. First, there are several nations that are split geographically and yet still function as an entity. Northern Ireland is not part of the UK physically but it is, politically. Hawaii and Alaska are part of the US despite being geographically distant. And then there are many geographically contiguous areas that are nevertheless distinct countries. Belize, for example. And why is Sri Lanka not part of India? Or Madagascar not part of mainland Mozambique? The many distinct small countries along the West Coast of Africa are all geographically contiguous without being part of the same country. The same for countries on the Arabian peninsula or surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

    Somerby's assertion that there cannot be coastal countries in mainland North America makes no sense at all. Of course there can be. It has happened all over the world.

    The only thing that keeps the USA a united country is our desire to be one. The South lost the Civil War, in part, because it was not an economically viable entity on its own. The middle part of our country would lose another civil war for the same reasons. It is better for them to try to work things out through diplomacy, which is how all countries with factions do things if they wish to remain united.

    We have come to think of this as a world without large wars, wars of aggression and territoriality. It has been declared a global time period, free of nationalism's conflicts. That may not be true of the Red part of our nation, which seeks to reject globalism (one of Trump's major policy points, if he has any, is American First). If the Red states cut themselves loose from the blue coasts, how long would they remain independent before the Southwest decided it would be a good idea to join Mexico, economically speaking? How long before Montana and Minnesota decided they had an affinity for their wheat growing neighbors in Canada (the elk roam free, why should there be a border)? The South might band together, but how long before they realize their black population is a serious political challenge to white supremacy? Will Jim Crow rise like a phoenix there?

    Somerby is an idiot. He thinks he can frighten liberals into being less liberal by threatening succession. Losers have a poor bargaining position, Somerby. If the blue coasts said "let them go, we're better off without them," it isn't the coasts who would suffer.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Somerby has borrowed a lot from Amy Chua, but without acknowledging her ideas. He blames liberals and the media for political tribalism, extending ideas applied to ethnicity, religion, culture, to political views. Chua makes a fuss about not being liberal or conservative, but her daughter is clerking for Kavanaugh and her attack is on liberals, not conservatives (who are supposedly tribeless despite enforcing extreme party loyalty on Republicans).

    If Somerby wishes to discuss this, he should clearly state his premises and argue them. This clandestine attack on liberals using Chua's notions of tribe aren't helpful. For one thing, no one else thinks about politics that way. For another, it is questionable whether tribe (i.e., membership in groups, important organizational affiliations) is really bad for anyone.

    Instead, Somerby takes it as a given that tribe is bad, and then he blames the left for emphasizing so-called identity politics (which liberals call civil rights), just as Chua does, while posing as a liberal, as he does again today, referring to "our blue nation" which he has not been much of a part of for years now.

    This is dishonest, Somerby. Time to defend your ideas, time to be clear about what you are arguing for and against, time to fess up -- you are not any kind of liberal, if you ever were one.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is why the Trump counties cannot secede:

    "Source: MSN/Newsweek

    Counties won by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden make up 70 percent of all U.S. economic output—or gross domestic product (GDP)—a new post-election study finds. Biden has repeated the phrase "there are no blue states or red states, just the United States" in several appeals to President Donald Trump's voters since being named President-elect Saturday. But the more than 75.6 million votes Biden won in the 2020 election led him to victory in nearly all of the country's top 100 most powerful local economies.

    Meanwhile, Trump voter counties make up less than one-third of the country's economic output, a Brookings Institution study said. The president's unsuccessful re-election bid hinged on his touting of the pre-pandemic economy. But his railing against urban areas as "crime "Trump's losing base of 2,497 counties represents just 29% of the economy," the post-election analysis co-authors found.

    Brookings Senior Fellow Mark Muro told Newsweek Thursday that Biden won 94 of the biggest GDP counties, while Trump won only six: New York's Nassau and Suffolk counties; Texas' Collin County; California's Kern County; and Oklahoma's Tulsa and Oklahoma counties. Trump's urban-versus-rural 2020 campaign narrative further widened the definition of blue and red states, meaning the Republican won 7 percent fewer population-heavy economic powerhouses than he did in 2016. Biden's 70 percent GDP share this year came from the 477 U.S. counties he won compared to the 29 percent GDP share held in the 2,497 counties won by the president.

    The study authors noted that Democrat control of heavily populated, economic city centers is hardly new. But the Republican Party's honing in on sparsely populated rural landmasses in order to hold onto votes has led lawmakers to reject things like coronavirus pandemic aid to cities, and to dismiss urban issues as partisan problems for their political rivals to handle. Biden flipped five of the 10 most economically powerful counties Trump won over Clinton four years ago: Phoenix's Maricopa County; Dallas-Fort Worth's Tarrant County; Jacksonville, Florida's Duval County; New Jersey's Morris County; and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida's Pinellas County...



    Read more: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-counties-make-up-just-29-percent-of-u-s-economic-output-2020-election-study-shows/ar-BB1aXiBz

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    Replies
    1. This, and the previous six long Anon comments are all truly excellent...really well-argued and informative. Somerby's been cranking out a lot of repetitive and petty junk lately.

      Delete
  9. Why is Mr. Withheld being identified that way? Because plotting to secede from the union is treason. Treason is punishable by death.

    But Somerby thinks it is quaint or cute. So do the Republicans who flirt with these militia guys. It isn't. It is harmful to our country to indulge these guys with media interviews.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's just silly. It's not treason and no one is plotting anything. Not sure why'd go there.

      Delete
    2. Engaging in warfare against the US is treason, not secession itself.

      Delete
  10. Why do you suppose it is always guys who engage in these secession fantasies? Always guys out there posturing with their guns. This is one aspect of toxic masculinity. Somerby should examine that, if he truly has fears about the direction our country is going.

    ReplyDelete
  11. TDH, and most people are so ahistorical. There's been civil discord forever, a couple of examples, the War of the Roses in England, or the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's. In the U.S. of course we actually had a brutal Civil War (we still haven't recovered from it), and in the 50's there was Joe McCarthy (50% approval rating), the anti-Vietnam and counter-culture movement in the 60's. If you don't have this, it is the exception. somehow, each of us needs to cope with it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "Needless to say, Gessen ended up saying that Trump's voters were responding to the same psychological forces which attracted Germans to Hitler."

    Somerby dislikes this suggestion, but I don't find it particularly controversial. The parallels are obvious. Including the fact that Trump has courted the neo-Nazi right and scapegoated immigrants and Jews.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great essay, Bob. I see where you've been heading with this all along. Sadly, nobody else does, at least, judging from the slabs of text emanating from haters who think they're just as smart as you are. They don't have their own blog, so they post anonymously to get their ya-ya's out.

    BTW here's a Ya Ya song. And ya, Jake, I know.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjrUOlK2714

    Leroy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You realize that blogs are free on blogspot? There is audition required.

      There are so many creatures in this world who are just as smart as Somerby, which makes them many times smarter than you.

      If a commenter could pick any name in creation, it sure wouldn't be Leroy. Since all names are fake (in the sense of being arbitrary), anon is as good as any.

      Delete
    2. typo: no audition required

      Delete
    3. Leroy, why do you come here and pick a fight instead of discussing topics?

      Delete
    4. 6:50

      I guess I miss deadrat. Or Cmike. Or Raven. I actually learned something from them (sometimes critical of Bob), but I suppose they just became bored with the task. I have the effect, actually.

      I keep wading in to say, "Bob's essay sounds good to me." Because the negs don't even know what he's talking about. They just think they do.

      Instead, all I've got is Mao's and crap like that. Call it a last gasp for Bob's comment section.

      I'm purty. Says so in my name. anon is cowardly.

      Leroy

      Delete
    5. I liked deadrat too, but Bob isn't producing much worth defending lately.

      Delete
    6. The voices who miss deadrat remind of the voices calling for Trump to be declared winner despite having fewer votes.

      The topic here has been why so many Trump voters find virtue in a man who seems, to the rest of us, to have none. The same can be said about Somerby. Trump voters might say, you don't understand what Trump is offering. That may be true, but does it make Trump any better a president? Of course not.

      I understand Somerby's message fine and I disagree with it. Disagreeing with someone doesn't automatically mean you don't get what that person is saying. It means you get it but don't like it.

      Now the dumbest and most mendacious commenters are deploring the retreat of deadrat. They are ignoring that he left because Somerby finally revealed himself to be an irredeemable bigot, not worth defending. Deadrat may have recognized that he agreed more with Somerby's critics than his supporters.

      With the presidency safely won, it seems to matter less that Somerby is pushing conservative memes under a liberal label. There seems to be less point in remaining here. If you love Somerby, you can have him. Just don't delude yourself that those who have criticized him didn't understand him. Trump has his special magic too -- his supporters find wonderful qualities in his pathetic mess of a life. They aren't any more real than Somerby's, but you are welcome to them.

      Delete
  14. I, too, really miss deadrat. He seem to have the almost endless energy necessary to patiently refute the seemingly endless anonymous idiocy in this comment section; and like Somerby, he also had his own rhetorical style that made him unique, whether you always agreed with him or not. I’ll close with a strong statement of Leroy’s above that I see as quite often true here, of both Somerby and deadrat: “Because the negs don’t even know what he’s talking about. They just think they do.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look up what "deadrat" means in the urban dictionary.

      Delete
    2. I enjoyed deadrat too, but his leaving is certainly an example of how most people handle a philosophical divorce from online entities.

      The perfect contrast to trolls.

      Delete
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