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Archive for December 2016

The Russian Hacking Story is Not About the CIA

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A lot of people are asking if we can believe the CIA on Russian hacking – that is a red herring. Hanging this issue on the CIA’s credibility is an intentional strategy by the Trump campaign to distract from the overwhelming evidence. The goal is to sew doubt by implying that we’d have to take the CIA’s word for it – that is false.

17 intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians hacked DNC computers to discredit the Clinton campaign. Russia is currently under heavy US sanctions imposed by Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly implied he would lift those sanctions, in so many words. He just nominated a candidate for Secretary of State who received a medal of friendship from Russia a few years ago, and who is an executive at an oil company that stands to directly benefit to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars if the sanctions are lifted. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned just a few months ago because of inappropriate ties to pro-Russian forces in Crimea.

McCain, McConnel, and Paul Ryan have all said this demands investigation. Trump went on national television and directly called on hackers to go after Hillary’s “missing emails” for heaven’s sake. These are HIS WORDS:

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

This is not about the CIA – that is a diversionary tactic. Don’t buy it, go back to the evidence. It is overwhelming, and obvious.


Written by Mesocosm

December 13, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The New Racism

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Although overt racism is still a serious issue in the United States, a more insidious, widespread, and dangerous problem is a covert form of racism that I call New Racism.

New Racism is practiced by people who harbor racist attitudes and beliefs, but who have internalized the lesson that overt racism is a fringe position that leads to censure and exclusion.

My hope is that this concept will assist you in clearly recognizing racism in its dominant contemporary form, so you don’t have to waste time mincing words, or find yourself rhetorically checked by people demanding evidence that Donald Trump is racist, whether he appoints Bannon and Sessions or not.  

Word Pictures

When you close your eyes and think of a “racist,” what do you imagine? Perhaps you see a modern-day Archie Bunker, watching Fox News on a flat screen TV. You may see hooded Klansmen in formation, or skinheads spray painting swastikas on schools.

Or you may see black-and-white photos of Birmingham police officers attacking well-dressed demonstrators with fire hoses and dogs. This image is indelibly linked with racism in the popular imagination in part because the civil rights movement of the 60s was so successful in establishing it as a living reality. Using concrete images and historical examples brought home the fact that racism is not just an attitude or belief, but has real consequences.

Martin Luther King, one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, was a master at painting word pictures to motivate moderate Americans to take a stand in the struggle. In his “Hammer on Civil Rights,” for example, he talks about one of the most dull, undramatic things you could think of – deliberation on a civil rights bill in the Congress.

To make this topic come to life, he had to illustrate what was at stake in a way people could feel. He did so by appealing to imagery that everyone already knew, a scene that was recognizable to anyone who had seen an issue of Life in the last five years:

As had been foreseen, the bill survived intact in the House. It has moved to the Senate, where a legislative confrontation reminiscent of Birmingham impends. Bull Connor became a weight too heavy for the conscience of Birmingham to bear. There are men in the senate who now plan to perpetuate the injustices Bull Connor so ignobly defended. His weapons were the high-pressure hose, the club and the snarling dog; theirs is the filibuster. If America is as revolted by them as it was by Bull Connor, we will have victory.

He illustrates the battle against racism in the Senate by figuratively comparing it to the familiar marches in the South, both drawing from and reinforcing the common imagery used to understand and recognize racism and its effects.

Dr. King’s marches in the South armed him rhetorically for the rest of his career with an arsenal of images that he could use over and over again to paint a picture. He loved calling out Eugene “Bull” Connor by name, as it immediately conjures the image of a brutish, hulking opponent wielding physical violence against unarmed demonstrators.

What we see here is the link between the idea of racism and images in the public imagination. The burning cross and the swastika, the crew-cut police officer with the southern accent – these are fundamental references for people to understand what racism is. We know what it looks like.

Or do we?

My contention is that we have become captive to these images of racism, to a degree. There is a danger that old ideas about racism keep us trapped in an idea world that was developed in the past, and they no longer helps us to recognize the real thing, as it exists today. “Bull” Connor tells us something about racism in Birmingham in 1963, not in racism Baltimore, Oakland, Cleveland, and Chicago in 2016.

Overt expressions of racism do exist in the US, and we must be extremely concerned by the indications that they are taking on a new potency after the November election. We have seen an alarming spike in hate crime reports in recent months.

But neo-Nazis and Klan rallies remain fringe occurrences that attract a disproportionate amount of media attention. The National Policy Institute rally in November, for example, was the focus of several national articles when members gave Nazi-like salutes to Donald Trump, but the rally itself drew only around 200 participants.

We must be concerned about outright white supremacy, but I would argue that an excessive focus on these gestures, which correspond to our usual mental image of racism, distract from a far more dangerous and widespread form that I will call New Racism.

No Smoking Gun

The key distinguishing feature of the New Racism is that there is no smoking gun – there are no racial slurs, no declarations that the white race is superior, no call for laws or policies that directly and explicitly target minorities. There is, instead, a systematic focus of positions and policies that just happen to harmonize neatly with a belief in white supremacy, or that target people who just happen to be minorities.

The reason that racism has overwhelmingly taken this form in recent decades is simple – contemporary social norms in the United States strongly disfavor overt racism. An overtly racist joke or put-down can push people outside of the center of public discourse, but New Racism is far more difficult to establish, and easier to defend against.

Let’s say someone is racist at heart, but they have internalized the lesson that telling ethnic jokes makes it hard to run for governor. Or let’s say we have someone with racist attitudes who doesn’t even consider themselves to be racist – my guess is that most New Racists probably don’t. How can such a person be identified, and in what sense can we say they are racist?

Family Resemblance

To answer that question, let’s take a quick look at one model for understanding how language works. My definition of New Racism draws from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and his idea of “family resemblance.”

In his book Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein illustrates the idea of family resemblance using the example of games. How do we define the word “game”? Well, there are many different types of games – board games, card games, ball games, the Olympic Games, and so on. Is there any single feature that is common to all of them, some characteristic that we can point to and say “If a thing has this characteristic, we can call it a game”?

Maybe they are all games because they have rules? But trials also have rules, so that can’t be it. Or perhaps because they are all forms of entertainment? No, we also watch movies for entertainment.

Once we are satisfied that there is no single feature that all games possess that lets us say “that’s a game” – that is, we have no smoking gun – then we have to move to a slightly more complicated model.

We don’t call something a game because it has a particular feature. Rather, we call things games because of a bunch of different characteristics they possess – they’re fun, they have rules, they have pieces or equipment, they’re competitive, they have an element of chance, and so on. Maybe we can list ten features that most games have, and if something has six or seven, we will call it a game.

Wittgenstein said that we recognize a game by its family resemblance to other games. It’s like we have six sisters, and four of them have red hair, five have freckles, three have green eyes, five are very tall, and four of them have long noses. There’s no single feature they all possess, but we still recognize that they resemble one another.

This is the model of meaning I am proposing for the new racism – there are number of features you tend to find in the new racist, and when you find several of them, you have probably found one. Not that you will be able to convince the new racist of that – they will no doubt reply that they haven’t told a racist joke since they were six and they just want what’s fair for everyone. But we can’t be taken in by this – it’s a waste of our time.

Characteristics of the New Racist

What traits do new racists possess in various combinations? Let’s run through some of them.

I repeat that no one attribute is sufficient in itself to establish that an individual is racist, though some of them probably come pretty close. But if you find five or six of these in a single person, well, it’s a red flag, to put it mildly. It’s indicative of a racist psychology.

1) A fixation on minor social problems or low-risk threats associated with minorities, such as fear of undocumented immigrants voting illegally, fear of terrorist attacks by refugees, or terror of being mugged by blacks.

2) A strongly-held belief that problems in the United States are primarily caused by foreigners or minorities.

3) A tendency to be irrationally skeptical or critical of minorities, such as questioning whether or not Obama was born in Kenya.

4) Use of stereotyped language and ideas in understanding minorities, such as the belief that blacks are not industrious.

5) A tendency to dehumanize minorities or to cast them as fundamentally different.

6) An obsession with the threat of sexual violence posed to white women by minorities.

7) A strong, emotional opposition to social policies intended to benefit disadvantaged minority populations, such as furious opposition to affirmative action and welfare programs.

8) Association with groups that organize around these principles as a core ideology.

9) Strong intolerance of mild attempts to moderate public discourse, with frequent, disparaging criticism of “politically correct” values.

You can waste a lot of time agonizing over whether or not individuals are “really racist” if they haven’t been caught using slurs. We should not be taken in by lame equivocations, or feel paralyzed in challenging racist programs because we lack a smoking gun. We should also not mince words – people who lay awake at night, angry because Mexicans are streaming into the country taking jobs and committing rape are racists, whether they are Klan members or not.

Types of New Racist

One can distinguish between two types of new racist: 1) overt racists who have learned to keep silent in public regarding their views for fear of censure, and 2) people who do not believe that they are racist, but who harbor racist attitudes and consistently act in racist ways.

Overt racists who have learned to keep silent are a very serious problem. For a glimpse at how serious, I highly recommend Mike German’s Washington Post op-ed Behind the Lone Terrorist, a Pack Mentality, written in 2005. German is a former FBI officer who infiltrated violent organizations and learned how they developed strategies to protect themselves from public scrutiny, and how to indirectly support operations such as Anders Breivik’s attack on school children in Norway or the Oklahoma City Bombing without being directly culpable, and thereby legally accountable:

Imagine a very smart leader of an extremist movement, one who understands the First Amendment and criminal conspiracy laws, telling his followers not to depend on specific instructions.

He might tell them to divorce themselves from the group before they commit a violent act; to act individually or in small groups so that others in the movement could avoid criminal liability. This methodology creates a win-win situation for the extremist leader — the violent goals of the group are met without the legal consequences.

Actually, there’s no need to imagine this. Extremist group leaders produce a tremendous amount of literature, including training manuals on “leaderless resistance” and lone wolf terrorism techniques. These manuals have been around for years and now they’re even available online.

“Lone extremism” is not a phenomenon; it’s a technique, a ruse designed to subvert the criminal justice system. McVeigh did act as a lone extremist, as the FBI says. He was trained to do it this way. But his act of lone extremism was part of an ongoing conspiracy that continues to inspire violent attacks to this day, and to close our eyes to this conspiracy is to deny reality. It’s a matter of connecting the dots.

The second kind of new racist does not see themselves racist, but harbors racist attitudes and beliefs. I believe the large majority of new racists fall into the second category.

Dylan Matthews gives a good rundown on these attitudes in Donald Trump has every reason to keep white people thinking about race. In this excerpt, he reviews an experiment conducted by Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg and described in her book The Race Card:

She conducted a study with a random sample of Michigan voters where she showed fake television news stories about a gubernatorial race; in the stories, the conservative candidate was arguing that welfare recipients were an unfair burden. Some of the fake stories featured B-roll of black welfare recipients; others featured B-roll of white recipients. They were otherwise identical — but the stories with B-roll of black recipients led respondents to express significantly more hostile views toward government programs to assist black people. In fact, the effect on their expressed racial views was stronger than the effect on their expressed opinions on welfare.

But the cues can be subtler still, as other research points out. Nicholas Valentino, Vincent Hutchings, and Ismail White manipulated a 2000 campaign ad by George W. Bush that wasn’t even about welfare — it was about health care and taxes — by adding imagery of black people counting money, or a white nurse assisting a black mother, while a narrator says, “He’ll reform an unfair system that only provides health care for some.” In their control group, which saw no ads, measured levels of racial resentment didn’t do much to predict support for Bush versus Gore. Among people who saw the ad with racial cues, their preexisting level of racial resentment was hugely predictive of their presidential preference.

We should also consider people who are neither overtly nor attitudinally racist, but who are committed to policies that are racist in effect for ideological reasons. But this is a problem for another day.

Go Forth and Engage

New racism is a covert expression of racist attitudes identified by its family resemblance to a general racist psychology, the elements of which are fairly self-evident. The racist is constantly concerned about whatever terrible imagined things minorities are doing. It is easy to sense, because the underlying psychology is not subtle. It can be harder to establish – especially if you are looking fruitlessly for a smoking gun that isn’t there.

It is critical to be savvy about how the new racists operate. The New York Times ran an in-depth article on neo-Nazi organizations rebranding themselves for more palatable public consumption as “alt-right,” which said the following about Donald Trump’s victory:

“I’d been waiting to hear those words from a mainstream political candidate all my life,” said Gerald Martin, a retired public-school teacher from Dallas who grew up in a family that opposed desegregation.

He is a veteran of both the Army and a number of white supremacist movements, and name-drops the likes of William Luther Pierce III, a white supremacist who wrote “The Turner Diaries,” a novel about an underground band of white Americans who fight a liberty-crushing government controlled by Jews.

Before the Trump candidacy, Mr. Martin said, few in the alt-right were talking about politics; the movement was more about winning the battle of ideas. But once Mr. Trump began to talk, he said, “suddenly we’re all talking politics and we’re politically energized.”

“We’re almost intoxicated,” Mr. Martin continued. “We don’t have any power — but now we’re close enough to smell it.”

Written by Mesocosm

December 11, 2016 at 9:55 am

Posted in Racism

News Roundup

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  • In They are Slaughtering Us like Animals, Daniel Berehulak offers a blood-chilling account of the rash of extrajudicial killings rocking the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, which has claimed thousands of lives of rumored street dealers in the last several months.

    According to Duterte, who has boasted of his murderous policy and approvingly compared himself to Hitler, Trump assured him during a phone conversation a few days ago that he was handling the drug problem “the right way.” If that is not accurate, Trump has yet to contradict him. It’s hard to see how that doesn’t constitute a White House endorsement of overt mass murder.

    From Berehulak’s article:

    I witnessed bloody scenes just about everywhere imaginable — on the sidewalk, on train tracks, in front of a girls’ school, outside 7-Eleven stores and a McDonald’s restaurant, across bedroom mattresses and living-room sofas. I watched as a woman in red peeked at one of those grisly sites through fingers held over her eyes, at once trying to protect herself and permit herself one last glance at a man killed in the middle of a busy road.

    Not far from where Tigas was killed, I found Michael Araja, shown in the first photo below, dead in front of a “sari sari,” what locals call the kiosks that sell basics in the slums. Neighbors told me that Mr. Araja, 29, had gone out to buy cigarettes and a drink for his wife, only to be shot dead by two men on a motorcycle, a tactic common enough to have earned its own nickname: riding in tandem.

    In another neighborhood, Riverside, a bloodied Barbie doll lay next to the body of a 17-year-old girl who had been killed alongside her 21-year-old boyfriend.

    “They are slaughtering us like animals,” said a bystander who was afraid to give his name.

  • Trump announced Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his pick to run the EPA, signaling his probable intention to dismantle President Obama’s clean energy policy and to withdraw from the Paris Accord, an international agreement aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions to below critical levels.

    How bad is the choice? Well, a state attorney general is typically responsible for suing corporations to push compliance with EPA regulations, but Pruitt routinely took the other side, working with companies to push back against regulations intended to protect water, soil, and air. In 2014, the New York Times ran a story on Pruitt detailing how he wrote a letter to the EPA accusing them overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by gas well drilling. According to the article, “The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.”

    According to the Washington Post, on his LinkedIn page, Pruitt boasts of being “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Written by Mesocosm

December 7, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Posted in News

A More Perfect Union

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“It can be said that establishing a universal and lasting peace constitutes not merely a part of the doctrine of right but rather the entire final end of the doctrine of right within the limits of reason alone.” – Immanuel Kant, Metaphysics of Morals

People rally to platforms that inspire them; that awaken their hearts to possibility, speak to their interests, and comfort their fears – so long as they are competently represented and communicated by plain speech. In Strategies for Opposing Trump’s Agenda, I stressed the importance of building such a platform rather than focusing excessively on criticism, as elections are better won, and more easily, by enthusiasm than by fear.

Today my purpose is to think through a few of the particulars of what such a platform might look like, and begin the longer process of sketching it out. I will focus on a vision of a just and equitable internationalism based on democratic norms, which strikes me as a much more desirable outcome than the chauvinistic nativism and unilateralism espoused by Mr. Trump and his ardent supporters.

Why have so many great minds of recent centuries, such as Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Humboldt, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King – not just great thinkers, but great human beings – regarded openness and interchange with other nations of the world to be a general good?

It is not merely because of the enormous material benefits conferred by the easy, uninhibited flow of peoples, goods, and ideas across borders, great as that may be. But the deeper purpose is a commitment to the mutuality that dawns when many nations forge deep economic ties, and thereby bind themselves to a common destiny. In this we see a recognition of our common humanity reflected in the very fabric of our society, and that is something true and good.

Let us not forget that Europe, in the period of internationalism following World War II, has seen the longest uninterrupted peace in its recorded history. That is no mean achievement, and before we move to dismantle the political framework that has been an integral part of it, we must examine the problems that would move us to do so, and consider the best available solutions, with the utmost care.

In Europe and the United States, many people have become skeptical of globalization for two primary reasons. First, the great majority of persons have been systematically excluded from sharing in the benefits, and second, they increasingly feel out of control of the decisions being made by elites.

Attributing the economic woes of recent decades primarily to globalization is, I believe, a serious error, and retreating to a defensive posture of protectionism will not fix them. The underlying problem that I see is the failure of the global economic and political establishment to control exploding inequalities in wages and capital accumulations, and the failure to ground international cooperation in real democratic accountability. The elites who have managed globalization in the United States and Europe for the last few decades have been catastrophically indifferent to these effects – until now.

In the United States, as is well known, real wages have stagnated for decades across the board for every income group except the very wealthiest – the famous “1%,” or more accurately, the top .1% of income earners.

This economic stagnation has been exacerbated by the increased role of automation in displacing workers, and shocks such as the financial crisis of 2008. The situation is moderately better in Europe for income inequality, but wealth inequality remains extremely high.

Over the last 20 years, the EU has undergone a crisis of democratic legitimacy, because the mechanisms of economic union are strong, while the mechanisms of political union have remained weak. As the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff sardonically noted, “Europe is like a couple that wasn’t sure they wanted to get married, so they decided to just open a joint checking account and see how things went.”

In good times, the lack of strong democratic structures for establishing a legitimate, deliberated consensus among member states could be tolerated, but when Brussels, led by Germany and France, pushed southern states hard to adopt punishing austerity regimes as a condition for debt reduction, political tensions regarding the sovereign rights of member states have rightly exploded.

An analogous but not identical problem exists in the United States, where economic inequality is the outcome of policy decisions that are overwhelmingly monopolized by wealthy elites. In a much-cited 2014 study, for example, Gilens and Page found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In the span of this blog post I wish only to achieve a cursory sketch of the problem, which I believe is deeply rooted in the crisis of democratic legitimacy and economic inequality, and to offer my thumbnail sketch of the solution, which consists, in essence, of working cooperatively toward a more perfect international union, in which conflict and trade can be mediated by nonviolent procedures and deliberation, enshrined in a basic concept of fundamental, universal human rights.

That requires progressive tax policies, reformed domestic and international political mechanisms, including the repeal of Citizens United and the establishment of a European constitutional congress with real power and real accountability to member-states, and working toward the establishment of a global tax on capital as a way – probably the only way – of combating the strategies commonly used by global corporations and wealthy individuals to circumvent their tax obligations.

I will look in greater detail at all of these proposals in future posts.

Written by Mesocosm

December 7, 2016 at 10:32 am

Posted in Foreign Policy, Trump

Morning News Roundup

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  • I’ve been writing of the urgent need for the left to formulate a positive vision of globalization – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes a good case in Why Canada opts for openness in The Economist.
  • Scientific American looks at the leading role California may play in a cap-and-trade approach to carbon emissions reductions in Climate Action May Be Boosted by California’s Democratic Supermajority.
  • Die Zeit looks at a growing horrifying trend of violence against immigrants, especially arson attacks against refugee dwellings, in Germany in Flames.
  • In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns: Have you heard about this #pizzagate business? Apparently the crazy is coming out in full force. Made-up stories accuse a Washington-area pizza parlor of running a child abuse parlor in their back room for Hillary Clinton and John Podesta. A barrage of threats and obscene messages flood in. The son of Trump’s national security advisor nominee retweets the story, saying “it’s for the skeptics to disprove.” Then, a gunman shows up with an assault weapon and fires a few shots, later telling police he came to “self-investigate.” The New York Times covers it here.
  • Buzzfeed ran an analysis of news sources Trump retweets in Here’s Where Donald Trump Gets His News. Naturally Fox and Breitbart are at the top – I was amused to see also made the top twenty or so.

Written by Mesocosm

December 6, 2016 at 8:29 am

Posted in News

Two Bits of Good News

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Today in “It’s Not All Bad News”:

From the New York Times, Federal Officials to Explore Different Route for Dakota Pipeline:

Federal officials announced on Sunday that they would not approve permits for construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a dammed section of the Missouri River that tribes say sits near sacred burial sites.

The decision is a victory for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protesters camped near the construction site who have opposed the project because they said would it threaten a water source and cultural sites. Federal officials had given the protesters until tomorrow to leave a campsite near the construction site.

From BBC, Austria far-right candidate Norbert Hofer defeated in presidential poll:

European Union leaders have been welcoming the result, which comes amid fears of populism undermining established parties.

European Council President Donald Tusk conveyed “wholehearted congratulations” while Germany’s Social Democrat Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, called the result “a clear victory for reason against right-wing populism”.

Written by Mesocosm

December 4, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Posted in News

Strategies for Opposing Trump’s Agenda

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A number of articles have appeared in recent weeks with calls to action for concerned people who wish to oppose Trump’s destructive agenda. We clearly have good reason for serious concern – his cabinet nominations have telegraphed policies that will do enormous harm to geopolitical stability, efforts to combat climate change, and the US economy.

I have reviewed a few dozen of those articles and solicited advice from knowledgeable friends and analysts, and in this post I’ve compiled a list of my favorite recommendations, adding a few of my own.

Strategy One: Focus on a Positive Alternative

I believe it’s safe to say that the election has shown that blistering critique, even when trenchant, has limited political utility. One must construct and broadcast a coherent counter-narrative and alternative strategy which people can believe in.

Instead of focusing on negatives such as opposing the dismantling of climate protections and regressive tax reform, for example, in the long run we have to advocate on behalf of positive solutions, such as making a persuasive case for renewable energy investment and clearly articulating the economic benefits of progressive taxation. Obama was very good at this, Hillary, not so much.

I believe in the long term this is the more effective political strategy. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago observed in the New York Times that Donald Trump in some ways resembles former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is also something of a populist demagogue and media celebrity. He warns that the politics of outrage and protest are counter-productive, noting that Berlusconi was only defeated by politicians who disregarded the sideshow, treated him as an ordinary opponent, and focused on issues.

I also believe this is the most sustainable form of political engagement on the human level. There is a substantial psychological difference between a sustained critique of ideas you oppose and the active support of ideas you believe in, and it can make a big difference in remaining committed.

Strategy Two: Remain Involved

In today’s climate, one can’t help but remember the words of William Butler Yeats, who wrote that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

It is tempting to turn away from the horrifying barrage of public discourse and disengage from a political climate that is hyper-polarized, noxious, and, at times, seemingly broken beyond repair. However, doing so leaves the country’s political culture in the hands of the profoundly cynical and the maniacally zealous, and this is indeed part of a clear, concerted strategy of the Republican party to undermine civil discourse in the US. The more people are driven from the public square in horror and disgust, the more they cede political power to fringe interests who ram through extremist policies that are routinely at odds with what the American people say they want in public opinion polls.

Of course the danger of burnout is very real, and everyone needs to pay attention to their limits, so please, yes, pull back when necessary for the sake of your sanity and well-being. But if people of conscience do not keep an eye on what is going on and turn out at the polls, then we have lost utterly, and our democratic process has broken beyond repair.

Strategy Three: Give Wisely

Give what you can afford to organizations that you support – many of my favorites are included in the links on the right sidebar, but I’ll call out a few for special mention: the ACLU, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood. These organizations are going to be on the front line in coming years of fighting destructive policies.

Many organizations prefer small monthly gifts to large periodic gifts, as it helps for regular budgeting. There are different schools of thought regarding whether or not it is better to give a little to many organizations or a lot to a smaller number – I favor the latter approach personally, but it may be something you wish to think about. It also makes sense to think about whether or not there are organizations that you are committed to supporting in the long term.

I strongly suggest that when it comes to projects that are extremely ambitious, but which stand a very low probability of success, that you take care not to spend too much time and money pursuing them. There are a lot of ideas out there about how to drive change, and our resources are limited.

You may believe passionately in advocating for the secession of your state or lobbying Electoral College delegates to vote against Trump, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing these objectives. But we have to be realistic – they are long shots. Planned Parenthood or the NRDC can put your time and money to use today, right now, and directly help people who urgently need it.

Strategy Four: Stay Informed

An ill-informed electorate is an ineffective electorate. Keep up with the news, and be sure to focus on sources that are credible, and that invest in investigative reporting, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Pro Publica. Please subscribe if you can – they need and deserve financial support.

I recommend limiting your exposure to strongly partisan or editorializing news sources such as Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Greenwald, Democracy Now!, Occupy Democrats, and so forth. It is not that I disagree with where they are coming from, but their first commitment is generally to persuading readers of their point of view. The dangers of confirmation bias are well-known, and especially where we feel the most certain, we must be the most cautious and self-critical.

Same goes with the Jon Stewart tradition of reportage. For every ten minutes you spend with John Oliver, think about spending twenty with the Economist.

Try to be a responsible consumer of news. The GOP has been very effective at transforming the media into an unwitting ally by essentially duping them into going along with any faux-controversy they put enough time and energy into. Remember the 140 hours of sworn testimony that went into a Republican-led inquiry into the White House’s alleged misuse of their Christmas card list?. (ht Paul Krugman)

Whenever we click on those stories, we’re participating in the climate of public interest that fuels this manipulation of public opinion. Don’t buy into the latest outrage, and do what you can to push newspaper editors not to legitimize them with excessive attention.

It is up to all of us to work together to minimize the spread of misinformation.

Strategy Five: Think Strategically

To some substantial degree, this comes down to knowing yourself and your situation. In my own process of deliberation, I started by looking carefully at the things I care most about, and deciding which ones I particularly wish to focus on.

Once you have a sense of the values that you most wish to support, then it makes sense to ask “What are the levers that I can pull that will make a difference in these areas?” In my case, one area where I felt I could make a difference is by doing what I have always done by disposition – digest a lot of information and communicate my findings.

We have to be realistic about what we can do. The GOP currently controls the Senate and the White House and will soon control the Supreme Court. In nearly half of the states, the GOP holds the governorship and controls the state assembly. What does that leave? Where can we most effectively apply pressure?

My own initial conclusion is that the left must function as an opposition party, and work hard in the next several years to resist the push to roll back laws and policies such as the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulations.

One way to do that is to think about holding the line at the state level. California, for example, currently has strong emissions standards that have an impact over what happens nationally – auto manufacturers do not want to make one model for California, and another for Wyoming, so all of them meet the higher standard.

My prediction is that a major battleground in the upcoming years will be court battles over whether or not federal agencies can force individual states to lower their protections. As such, I’m supporting organizations that will be on the front line of fighting those court battles, such as Planned Parenthood and the NRDC.

Written by Mesocosm

December 4, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Activism, Trump