Part 3—As always, The Others are dumb: Should the Trump voter, not Angela Merkel, perhaps have been selected by Time as "person of the year?"
We begin to think so! By tradition, Time's selection isn't intended as an endorsement. And without any doubt, the Trump voter has turned American politics on its ear this year.
This has led to many attempts to define the Trump voter, attempts whose methods often seem to derive from Salem village. Sweeping claims about these voters are becoming more and more common, including on "cable news," where we rarely see the baffled, corporate-paid hosts attempting to interview the voters they find so baffling.
Within our own liberal tribe, there are two basic parts to our sweeping portrait of the Trump voter. We seem to know that these voters are bigoted. Inevitably, we also know that they're dumb.
The latter claim has been emerging even from the new Salon, an institution conceived in dumbness and dedicated to the proposition that we the liberals and progressives are utterly undiscerning. But the claim of dumbness has started to travel with respect to Trump voters. We were surprised to see this passage in today's hard-copy Washington Post, where it formed part of a news report by David Weigel:
WEIGEL (12/23/15): If Donald Trump’s rise has been aided by low-information voters, Cruz is gaining with certain-information voters. They consume different media and admire different heroes than the press that writes gaffe-of-the-day stories or lists of winners and losers. And they are seen as more likely to vote in the defining early contests, especially in the Bible Belt-centered March 1 primaries.When was it established that Trump's rise "has been aided by low-information voters" in some way which deserves special mention? We don't know how to answer that question, but Weigel's statement appears in the Post one day after the famous newspaper took down a cartoon by Ann Telnaes—a cartoon depicting the children of Ted Cruz as a pair of monkeys.
Telnaes' cartoon comes from somewhere near Salem village. Its appearance will fuel claims about the attitudes of "the liberal media" for years to come.
But if Telnaes portrayed the children as monkeys, Weigel portrayed the voters as dumb. So far, that hasn't been taken down. But this claim—the claim that The Others are dumb—is a basic part of our pseudo-liberal creed as we resolutely spill forth from our Salem meetinghouses.
We love to say that The Others are dumb—and the dumber we are, the more we enjoy it! Consider several recent manifestations at the new Salon, on balance one of the dumbest publications we have ever encountered.
We the liberals have long been convinced that They, not We, are dumb. Last Saturday, Sarah Burris employed this tribal trope to explain why Stephen Colbert is lagging in late-night ratings.
Why is Colbert falling behind? He's fading because of "dumb Americans," Burris explained, seeming to name a demographic.
Headline included, this is the way Burris began. In a bit of unintentional humor, she misspelled the name of her Salon colleague:
BURRIS (12/19/15): This is Colbert’s real problem: Conservatives aren’t the issue, it’s mainstream AmericaDarn those "dumb Americans," otherwise known, at the new Salon, as "mainstream America!" According to Burris, Colbert has slipped in the ratings because Fallon and Kimmel keep giving "dumb Americans" what they want!
Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” keeps slipping in the ratings. In November, it even fell behind Seth Meyers who comes on an hour later than him.
My Salon colleague Sophia McClennnan [sic] suggested when Colbert slipped to third that it might have something to do with a Republican audience having problems with complex satire. While it’s true that Colbert does get a little more advanced than the silly games you see on other shows, I would also propose that hosts Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel are giving dumb Americans exactly what they want: pre-digested content that says nothing and doesn’t make anyone mad.
Burris is ten years out of the University of Kansas. That makes her a greybeard by new Salon standards. To us, it means she's quite young.
We're sure that Burris is a very nice person. Unfortunately, she seems to have absorbed the pseudo-progressive tic in which we dumbly denounce the "dumb Americans" who we otherwise ID as "mainstream America," not forgetting to suggest that "a Republican audience" will probably "hav[e] problems with complex satire."
Within our tribe, this has long been of our basic messages. As a matter of politics, we'd call this message amazingly dumb. But how strong is our tribal claim on the actual merits? For that, we'll turn to Professor McClennen (actual spelling), whose pieces at the new Salon have often struck us as somewhat dumbfounding.
McClennen graduated from Harvard in 1987 (philosophy department); she got her doctorate at Duke. She's now a full professor at Penn State (Comparative Literature and International Affairs). She's associate director of Penn State's School of International Affairs.
On the surface, McClennen is one of our smart ones. Despite this appearance, she spends an inordinate amount of time writing about TV shows at the new Salon, not always extra-insightfully.
Burris linked to a piece from last month in which McClennen pondered Colbert's ratings. And sure enough! Before too long, the professor was offering this, an apparent easy reader passage for us at the new Salon:
MCCLENNEN (11/23/15): The key difference is that Colbert still offers satirical comedy—not just entertaining comedy. Satire is completely different from the sort of jokes that make others seem silly or stupid. Instead it uses irony, sarcasm, and parody to encourage critical thinking...According to Professor McClennen, "recent studies have suggested that there is a significant intelligence gap between Democrats and Republicans." Our tribe adores this claim, even when it's supported by "evidence" like this:
It is smart humor and it is a sort of humor one never sees on Fallon or Kimmel. Even more importantly it is the sort of humor that is much less likely to appeal to Republican viewers because it depends on questioning beliefs and criticizing the status quo.
Recent studies have suggested that there is a significant intelligence gap between Democrats and Republicans. This is not just tied to data that shows that “blue states” have higher graduation rates; it is connected to what researchers call “the Republican brain.” There have been studies, for instance, that link racism, low I.Q. and Republican views. As Psychology Today reports “for those who lack a cognitive ability to grasp complexities of our world, strict-right wing ideologies may be more appealing.”
"Blue states have higher graduation rates"
Careful, professor! You're wandering onto extremely dumb terrain!
Still and all, how accurate is that claim? Beyond that, how "smart" and nuanced does our tribe tend to be in advancing this treasured claim?
How smart and nuanced are we liberals in advancing the claim that we've been proven smarter? Geniuses, this is the new Salon! When we clicked the professor's link, it took us to an article which bore this embarrassing headline:
"5 Scientific Studies That Prove Republicans Are Plain Stupid"
The article closes with this embarrassing claim:
"Conservatives are dumb...it’s a scientific fact."
It should be embarrassing to see a professor linking to work of that type. That said, we're often surprised by the caliber of the work McClennen produces at Salon.
Just how dumb are The Others, presumably including Trump voters? As McClennen proceeds with her thoughts about Colbert's ratings, she offers us this:
MCCLENNEN: It is the socially conservative, less educated, Tea Party version of the GOP that is least likely to want to watch smart comedy like Colbert’s. This is the portion of the population that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, Obama is not a citizen, and the separation of church and state is a myth. As Chris Mooney explains, “liberals tend to be more open, flexible, curious and nuanced—and conservatives tend to be more closed, fixed and certain in their views.” It’s not surprising that those differences would also yield different tastes in comedy.Are Tea Party members "less educated?" Briefly clicking, we kept hitting surveys which said that isn't the case. At any rate, in the world of Salon professors, you can read about our love for nuance and layered thinking under headlines which read, "5 Scientific Studies That Prove Republicans Are Plain Stupid." It really isn't a gigantic argument for our tribe's massive smarts!
This means that it is not just a question of who Colbert targets in his joke; it is also a question of how he makes the joke itself. Nuance, irony, and layered thinking may be more of the problem than Trump jokes. He has virtually abandoned jokes about Fox News but clearly that isn’t enough to attract GOP viewers.
In truth, those studies do exist, such as they are; we liberals love to cherry-pick from them. This will often mean taking narrow differences in degree and presenting them as definitive differences in kind. For an example of what we mean, consider the way the brilliantly nuanced gang at Salon got conned by PPP.
Or at least, so it seems. Here's the background:
PPP is a Dem-leaning polling firm. It has been raising its profile in recent years through the use of eye-catching, unusual questions—the kinds of questions which produce buzz in our buzz-heavy world.
Last week, PPP released the results from one such puckish question. Puckishly, the firm had asked voters this:
"Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?"
For the record, Agrabah is the fictional sultanate in Disney's 1992 film, Aladdin. Because the sultanate doesn't exist, foreign policy experts agree that it can't be bombed.
The puckish gang at PPP asked the public that question. For whatever reason, 30 percent of Republicans said they would bomb Agrabah. So did 19 percent of Democrats.
That's a difference in degree, not a difference in kind. That said, we liberals love to assert a difference in kind when it comes to our massive smarts.
This is where the apparent con came into the game:
As best we can tell, PPP played one of its puckish pranks when it released the data from this survey question. Based on time stamps on its tweets, it seems that PPP released the figure for Republican voters one hour before it released the figure for Dems.
At the new Salon (and elsewhere), this produced a rush to glory. Tribal members rushed to declare that The Others are just so freaking dumb—or, in the words of one Salon headline, that the "GOP is nuts."
Over at the new Salon, Sophia Tesfaye got there first. Her report about the thrilling new numbers appeared at 11:36 AM last Friday, beneath this headline:
SALON HEADLINE (12/18/15): Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters support bombing any Arab sounding nation—even the fictional land of AladdinTesfaye began her report with the Republican polling result. In the body of her report, she didn't mention the Democratic figure. Inevitably, her report quickly produced such nuanced comments as these:
COMMENTER: In another poll, 82% of conservatives approve of abolishing US passports. Rufus McDummy from south of the Mason-Dixon Line was overheard saying "dem passports promote evil by exposing god fearing muricans to foreigners."That's the kind of layered thinking McClennen was talking about!
COMMENTER: I'll bet 30% of RepubliKlan primary voters believe the moon landings were fake and there are FEMA camps under abandoned WalMarts. These aren't low information voters. They are less than zero information voters. Everything they know is wrong.
At some point, Tesfaye appended the PPP tweet announcing the Democratic survey result. She may have done this at the time her report appeared, or she may have done so later. (The tweet had been sent at 11:23 AM, an hour later than the tweet announcing the GOP figure.)
In the nuanced world of the new Salon, a fairly minor difference in kind was now producing nuanced comments about Rufus McDummy from south of the Mason-Dixon line! Three hours later, Amanda Marcotte jumped on the story, with a report which ran beneath these headlines:
SALON HEADLINES (12/18/15):I posed question that proved GOP is nuts: 30 percent of Republicans say they’d bomb country from “Aladdin”According to the headline writer, that statistic proved the "GOP is nuts." Marcotte didn't mention the corresponding figure for us genius Dems.
New polling data shows that 30 percent of Republicans support bombing the fictional country from "Aladdin"
By 4:00 PM, Salon's Ben Norton had finally had enough. He posted Salon's third report about the poll, stressing the fact that 19 percent of Democrats had given the silly answer too.
By now, though, it seems that a wave of excitement had swept the web about the ginormous stupidity of those Republican voters. Even Kevin Drum may have gotten tooken!
"In my Twitter feed, everyone is getting a big kick out of the question on the right from a recent PPP national poll of Republicans," Drum wrote that afternoon. "Agrabah, it turns out, is the fictional city where Aladdin lives."
Drum posted the Republican response to the question, but didn't mention the response by Dems. We'll assume he wasn't aware of the Dem response.
In such ways, we the nuanced, very smart people tend to stampede off to declare our tribal brilliance. In this case, we did so on the basis of a fairly minor difference in responses to a puckish question.
In the process, it seems we got conned by PPP, which released the Republican result one hour before the Democratic result. But then, our liberal tribe has been proving increasingly easy to con.
If we might borrow from our Dylan, Gallup polling know what we need, but PPP knows what we want. PPP may also know how easy we are to con.
The new Salon is one of the dumbest sites on the Web. How does the new Salon prove its dumbness? In part, by its endless insistence that We are the extremely smart tribe while They are just massively dumb.
This morning, the Washington Post is saying, in a news report, that Candidate Trump's success has been driven by "low-information voters." As the paper makes this statement, it's explaining why it ran a cartoon portraying Cruz's kids as monkeys.
Has Candidate Trump's success been driven by "low-information voters?" We liberals love that general claim, with all that the claim implies. We love that story in large part because we're also so dumb.
A few weeks back, Rachel ran tape of interviews with two Trump voters. There they were, our political persons of the year.
What were those Trump voters like?
Coming: Two of their'n, two of our'n! What were the Trump voters like?