OUR TOWNIES, OURSELVES: Like Haggard's mother, the columnist tried!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2020

In Our Town, such columns get published: In the past, we've sometimes mentioned Merle Haggard's mother.

The parent in question deserves our respect. As Haggard reports, she tried:
I turned twenty-one in prison, doing life without parole
No one could steer me right, but Mama tried, Mama tried
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame 'cause Mama tried.

We'll assume the reporting is accurate. Along with Okie From Muskogee, Mama Tried was one of Haggard's biggest hits.

Last month, folks in Our Town learned about someone else who tried. His story appeared in the New York Times, Our Town's most important newspaper. 

The author of the column in question was Wajahat Ali, a New York Times contributing opinion writer. As Ali began, he framed his piece as a warning:

ALI (11/17/20): Seventy-three million Americans voted for Donald Trump. He doubled down on all his worst vices, and he was rewarded for it with 10 million more votes than he received in 2016.

The majority of people of color rejected his cruelty and vulgarity. But along with others who voted for Joe Biden, we are now being lectured by a chorus of voices, including Pete Buttigieg and Ian Bremmer, to “reach out” to Trump voters and “empathize” with their pain.

This is the same advice that was given after Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory, and for nearly four years I attempted to take it. Believe me, it’s not worth it.

Sounding a bit like those very Trump voters, Ali seems to dislike being "lectured to." At any rate, the columnist  tried—and he says no one else should. 

One thinks of the greatest cautionary ballads, not excluding Young McAfee on the Gallows. Mike Seeger attributed the ballad to Jean Ritchie:

Draw near, kind friends, and learn of me
My sad and awful history.
And may you ne'er forgetful be
Of all this day I tell to thee.

So began one young man's cautionary tale. In his column, Ali warned about unwise conduct too. His piece appeared beneath this pair of headlines:

‘Reach Out to Trump Supporters,’ They Said. I Tried.
I give up.

Please stop reaching out to others! We're often given this advice in the organs of Our Town. Plainly, though, Ali says he tried!

Please stop reaching out to the others! In this case, the rationale for this advice was transparently comical. It's hard to believe, but nonsense like that which appeared in this column gets published in Our Town on a regular basis.

In this instance, the backstory went like this:

In late 2016, after Candidate Trump slid past Candidate Clinton and seized control of the White House, Ali decided to reach out to Trump's supporters. "I really thought it might work," he writes. 

The project went like this:

ALI: [I]n late 2016, I told my speaking agency to book me for events in the states where Mr. Trump won. I wanted to talk to the people the media calls “real Americans” from the “heartland”—which is of course America’s synonym for white people, Mr. Trump’s most fervent base. Over the next four years I gave more than a dozen talks to universities, companies and a variety of faith-based communities.

My standard speech was about how to “build a multicultural coalition of the willing.” My message was that diverse communities, including white Trump supporters, could work together to create a future where all of our children would have an equal shot at the American dream. I assured the audiences that I was not their enemy.

I reminded them that those who are now considered white, such as Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Greeks and Italians, were once the boogeymen. I warned them that supporting white nationalism and Mr. Trump, in particular, would be self-destructive, an act of self-immolation, that will help neither their families nor America become great again.

Over the past four years, Ali made thirteen attempts ("more than a dozen") to reach out to Trump supporters. In an unstated number of these cases, he performed this outreach by taking plane rides to  red states, then speaking to blue university crowds.

As a general matter, we agree with the message Ali describes, though we can't necessarily vouch for the way he may have advanced it. Today, though, Ali has given up—and he thinks you should give up too! 

Why has the Timesman given up after four years of effort? Below, you see the start of his explanation. Believe it or not, comical nonsense of this type gets published, quite routinely, all around Our Town:

ALI (continuing directly):  And I listened. Those in the audience who supported Mr. Trump came up to me and assured me they weren’t racist. They often said they’d enjoyed the talk, if not my politics. Still, not one told me they’d wavered in their support for him. Instead, they repeated conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points about “crooked Hillary.” Others made comments like: “You’re a good, moderate Muslim. How come others aren’t like you?”

In Ohio, I spent 90 minutes on a drive to the airport with a retired Trump supporter. We were cordial to each other, we made jokes and we shared stories about our families. But neither of us changed our outlook. “They’ll never take my guns. Ever,” he told me, explaining that his Facebook feed was filled with articles about how Mrs. Clinton and Democrats would kill the Second Amendment and steal his guns. 

Ali had spent 90 minutes speaking to one Trump supporter—but despite that effort, the Trump supporter didn't (seem to) change his views! Why would anyone keep keepin' on after such an experience?

As he continues, Ali describes several other such incidents. The conclusion he reaches is this:

ALI: I did my part. What was my reward? Listening to Mr. Trump’s base chant, “Send her back!” in reference to Representative Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim woman, who came to America as a refugee. I saw the Republican Party transform the McCloskeys into victims, even though the wealthy St. Louis couple illegally brandished firearms against peaceful B.L.M. protesters. Their bellicosity was rewarded with a prime-time slot at the Republican National Convention, where they warned about “chaos” in the suburbs being invaded by people of color. Their speech would have fit well in “The Birth of a Nation."

Ali says he did his part. But what was his reward?

Even after he spoke to the guy in Ohio, other supporters in other states hadn't changed their views! You simply can't reason with People Like This, the contributor sings as he closes.

Our question goes like this:

Could anyone read a column like this without thinking it's comically strange? That was the question which ran through our mind when we initially read it.

We don't know how someone comes to write a column so transparently foolish. But in Our Town, such musings get published on a regular basis, in Our Town's brainiest newspapers.

This was just a single column about maybe thirteen attempts. On the whole, the column will play absolutely no role in our nation's ongoing decline.

That said, this utterly silly ballad got published—in the New York Times, no less! In Our Town, at the highest levels, such work is believed to make sense.

As we wander the streets of Our Town, we encounter a lot of such musings. No, they aren't as crazy as Donald Trump's musings—but then again, nothing is.

Quite routinely, folks in Our Town offer advice and logic like that which appeared in that column. At the biggest newspaper in Our Town, such musings seem to make sense.

Out of such observations, anthropological learning might flow. What does this sort of thing say about Our Townies, but also about Ourselves?

Tomorrow: The logic of conversion


22 comments:

  1. Trump supporters don't even understand what the second amendment says, just another example of how one cannot have an intelligent discussion with a Trump supporter.

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  2. "We'll assume the reporting is accurate."

    The reporting about mama may be accurate but not about his sentence. He wasn't doing life without parole. Merle Haggard was sentenced to 15 years after escaping from Bakersfield jail.

    If Somerby is going to quibble endlessly about covid statistics, he can spend 10 seconds on Google and get this stuff right too.

    If Haggard were writing about a fictional prisoner, then he can make his sentence whatever he wants, but his "charm" as a performer largely rested on writing prison songs based on his own experience in San Quentin, where he met Johnny Cash during a performance there.

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  3. "Sounding a bit like those very Trump voters, Ali seems to dislike being "lectured to."

    And here Somerby demonstrates that he himself has never listened to those Trump voters at all.

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  4. The "greatest cautionary ballad," Somerby calls it, and he doesn't even give us its name so we can look it up and hear the whole thing for ourselves.

    The lines quoted are the pro forma part about "listen to my sad tale" common to many traditional folk ballads, not anything unique. The Cowboy's Lament, derived from similar English or Irish ballads (The Unfortunate Rake) says: "Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story..."

    But Somerby doesn't care about anything he quotes. It is just casual borrowing to move his own rant along, irrespective of the intent, content or context of the anonymous authors who Somerby steals from.

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  5. Once again, Trump didn't "slide by" Candidate Clinton, he stole the election with the help of Russian interference and Comey's malfeasance in the days before voting took place. Crimes were committed to get him elected.

    Somerby's phrasing is irksome because it implies Clinton was asleep and let him win through her negligence or incompetence. That isn't what happened -- that is Somerby's narrative to attack liberals and excuse those progressive and Bernie Bros who either stayed home or voted for Stein.

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  6. "white people, Mr. Trump’s most fervent base"

    This is a sloppy generalization. White women, especially the more educated suburban white women, voted for Biden. Elderly white people switched from Trump to Biden too. In those three key states that Trump took in 2016, Biden won back about 5% of the working class white vote.

    Harvard Business Review says: "All politics is about identity, for sure — George W. Bush’s as much as Kamala Harris’s — but demography is not identity. After all, we aren’t confused that all white people don’t vote the same way."

    That said, there is an element among white Trump voters who respond to his bigotry and white supremacy. However, not all white people are bigots, not even all white men.

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  7. "he performed this outreach by taking plane rides to red states, then speaking to blue university crowds."

    Where else are such speakers booked, if not universities? To assume that universities in red states have blue audiences is perhaps wrong. Young people do tend to be more liberal, but a lot of them are conservative too. There are active Young Republican chapters booking conservative speakers even in blue states.

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  8. “In an unstated number of these cases, he performed this outreach by taking plane rides to  red states, then speaking to blue university crowds.”

    Ali said he spoke to “universities, companies and a variety of faith-based communities.”

    Also, in the absence of evidence, it is presumptuous to assume the crowds at the universities were all “blue”, or that Ali spoke only at “blue” universities, whatever that may mean. Somerby mocks the limited number of Ali’s speaking engagements, but those may be the only invitations he got in those red states. So, if those universities were all blue, as Somerby assumes, then what does that say about “red” (conservative) organizations that declined to hear Ali?

    I live in a deep red state. I have family members, coworkers, and yes a friend or two who are Trump voters.

    Has Somerby ever tried to have a conversation with Trump voters about policy or political issues? I have, and it is nearly impossible. You can’t carry on a discussion if the other person refuses to discuss anything.

    Maybe Somerby thinks he would win their approval by talking about the contempt he has for liberals, but he would quickly find that that gains him nothing if he then tried to talk policy.

    Or perhaps he agrees with Kevin Drum, who recently wrote that liberals could win red voters by not talking about abortion, guns, gays, race, etc, ie, just becoming conservative on those issues.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Could anyone read a column like this without thinking it's comically strange? That was the question which ran through our mind when we initially read it."

    Yes, I read it and didn't find it comically strange at all. Somerby doesn't plausible explain what he finds strange about it either.

    I had a bet with a bridge friend about Hillary and guns. He bet me that one of Hillary's first moves as president would be to restrict gun ownership. I bet she wouldn't. It was obviously moot, but his entire vote was based on 2nd Amendment concerns and he was not persuaded by her childhood experiences hunting or her assurances. Nor by anything I could say to him.

    And I've had similar conversations with small business owners who are convinced they will do better under Trump. They aren't swayed by arguments about his crookedness or his bad behavior with women, or by anything you can tell them. They think the economy will prosper -- because that is what Trump tells them.

    I've had conversations with Trump voters who think Trump is a hoot. They love the way he "tells it like it is" and sticks it to people. They like that he "owns the libs" and breaks traditions and everyone gets upset. You can tell such people about his screwups and failures and they don't care.

    Somerby mocks those 13 speaking trips, but I too doubt that the outcome would be any different if he had done hundreds of such speeches. Because that's exactly what Democrats did to elect Biden, and yet Trump gained votes in 2020 compared to 2016.

    Somerby is wrong to first urge liberals to talk to The Other, and then mock them when they do so and it doesn't do any good. Somerby could be doing some "anthropological learning" of his own, but he doesn't say what was done wrong in this instance, much less what works anywhere, for anybody.

    I assume that Somerby's conversion to conservatism occurred as the result of hours of voluntary Fox News watching, with an open mind. He seems to have absorbed all the negativity against liberals spewed there and now echoes it here, on his blog. If conservatives were to watch MSNBC regularly, they might or might not convinced to abandon Trump and similar Republicans, but that is doubtful because we do not spend time maligning Republicans the way the right does us.

    Laughing at other people's efforts is easy. Somerby is typically lazy today. But if he doesn't explain what he finds ludicrous about this effort, he isn't going to convince any of us of anything.

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  10. The Trump voters in those red states are people who think that their Republican Attorneys General didn’t go far enough to overturn the election when they signed on to that insane Texas lawsuit.

    These aren’t reasonable people.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've always believe in political compromise, and I still do. We should always be open to reasonable compromise -- budgets, infrastructure, judicial appointments, statutes, whatever. We must be able to reasonably if occasionally heatedly discuss such issues.

    But so many Trump supporters leave me at a loss. When the core tenets of a political philosophy include such claims as Obama being born in Kenya, Soros was a Nazi, vaccinations are the "Mark of the Beast," COVID-19 is a hoax, Democrats stole the presidential election, liberals are all pedophiles, the Clintons have murdered hundreds of people, and on and on, I am at a loss. So many conservatives I do assert at least one of these insane claims and refuse any evidence to the contrary. Many others, despite knowing these claims are bullshit, steadfastly refuse to publicly speak out in defense of truth. How do I reach a reasonable compromise with people who absolutely reject reason?

    We have become a nation of conspiracy theorists, from FDR know about the Pearl Harbor attack in advance to Bush planned the 9/11 attacks to virtually every climatologist in the world forging evidence in support of Climate Change. It truly exhausts my hopes

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  12. "The Trump administration has relaxed a regulation restricting water flow from showerheads, a pet peeve of President Trump, who complained that he wanted more water to make his hair “perfect,” the AP reports."

    Political Wire blog, Taegan Goddard

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. Isn't it funny that we never seem to see the RW-media conducting these types of safaris into deep blue regions to see if they can reason with the natives and convert them to Trumpism?

    ReplyDelete
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