Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Don't be a Reactionary


Confession time. It may not be a surprise from reading my blog, but I’ll be clear: I’m a leftist. A liberal. An adherent of Classical Liberalism, who believes that the socialist welfare state, for all its flaws, is the best way to ensure the kind of just and equitable society people would want to live in.

So now that that’s out of the way, I have one question for all of you: What the hell are you all doing?

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine you are a member of ISIS. As Mr. ISIS, you’ve got a fairly unambiguous goal: to destroy the entire corrupt and degenerate West in an apocalyptic battle. But right now, you’ve got two main problems. The first, is that people in your own country keep trying to live ordinary, peaceful lives where they don’t get immolated in a holy war (boo!). The second, the evil west doesn’t appear to be that interested in you, as they’re too busy having fun, drinking coke, watching TV, and living normal lives (hiss!). But you’re smart, and relatively reasonable. How do you get the West to attack you and your citizens, solving your two problems?

I’m going to stop here, because it’s pretty obvious what you do, and we’ve seen how easy it has been to force a reaction from America. The more the average citizen can no longer live in peace, the more likely it is for them to have no choice but to join your holy war. And any clumsy move by the opposing side helps them.

So what do you do if you’re America? If you respond in the obvious way, you’re playing right into Mr. ISIS’s hands. He’s hoping for that reaction, and counting on it. But at the same time, not reacting isn’t exactly an option, as our Mr. ISIS will have to keep trying, ramping up his aggression until he gets the outcome he wants. It’s a no-lose situation for him.

As is quickly becoming a theme in this blog, I don’t have the answers to this one either. Ideally, the response would be some sort of third, paradigm breaking thing, that delegitimizes Mr. ISIS without playing into his hands.

If you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this yet, stop wondering. It’s about Donald Trump again. Donald Trump may be loathsome and rude, but he is not stupid. He is very good at placing himself in these “no-lose” situations, just like our friend Mr. ISIS. So let’s take it as a given that Trump is thinking at least one step ahead, anticipating the likely responses to anything he does.

In that case, what is meant to happen with this immigration ban? The same thing that happens every time he tries to push people’s buttons: he wants people to react (I talk more this as a negotiation tactic in a previous post).

But the point is, the left rising up en masse represents a victory condition for him. This is only the first few weeks, he’s trying to solidify his base. His power comes from the millions of people who see themselves as a persecuted minority in their own country, and mass demonstrations are not helping the matter.

I allude to this in the conclusion of my Fascism post, but I’ll be explicitly clear: a massive demonstration of people who are not them, spouting slogans and behaving in the manner of the least intelligent member of the crowd is the opposite of helping. All it does is solidify in their minds that Trump is their guy, gotta stick with him, he’s really giving it to those guys who aren’t us and gosh do we appreciate it.

A protest is the kind of move that Trump is predicting and counting on. And while I’m not going to speculate on the end goal in this post, I would imagine it looks a lot like Mr. ISIS's.
 
And Trump will use, and has used, the same strategy again and again. And he will continue to do so for as long as it works. I’ll make a not-so-bold prediction: look for him to repeat this same thing next week, with an executive order that targets LGBT folks, followed by frothing outrage. (Note: I am writing this on Monday, January 23, 2017)

This is not a secret, it is their stated strategy. Bannon and Trump are many things, but they are not stupid. They know that the media will react that way. They are counting on it.

And as long as he can keep identifying safe outgroup punching bags, he’s going to keep doing it. The protests are part of the plan.

I don’t know how to stop it, or how to break the cycle, but we have to think more. We’ve got to start playing multiple moves ahead. Because right now, the left is doing nothing but reacting, and if we keep doing that, we’re going to lose everything that matters.

(2/4/17 EDIT: So that executive order I was predicting seems to be on hold, though I would still be surprised if there wasn't some new outrage by the end of the next week. But I wanted to make clear that the "Mr. ISIS" bit was a rhetorical device, and a gross oversimplification of the historical causes  of unrest and animosity between the middle east and the west. While there were certainly recent causes, these conflicts have been fermenting for over a hundred years (if not earlier). Overturning Sykes-Picot is a stated objective of ISIS/ISIL. I may revisit this in a future post, as events warrant.)

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