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.