Monday, March 13, 2017

Trump: Still Bad

Breaking news! Stop the presses!

Well, maybe not exactly. I wanted to review some of the points I made in “Don’t Be a Reactionary”, and talk about some of the unproductive mental habits that I’ve seen among family and friends the last few months.

Namely, there appears to be a near constant outpouring of outrage and shock, occurring whenever Trump/his people/the Republicans do anything. And I’m begging you, I’m pleading you, stop being surprised.

What's he grumpy about now? Who knows!

Or at least stop acting surprised. The reversal of the Obama mandate banning bathroom discrimination for transsexuals is a recent example, though I could name a dozen others. We’d be here all day. The important point is, this is not an unexpected outcome. You should expect him to take easy steps to undo anything democrats like and republicans hate, especially when there is no cost to do so. It’s a popular move that endears him to his base, and any public denouncements or protests just reinforce the divisive narrative.

As a mental exercise, I’d like my liberal readers to flex their pessimism muscles, and imagine bad political events that might happen, but haven’t happened (yet). Though many of these policies are in motion already (defunding planned parenthood, re-privatizing prisons, etc), it should not be too impossible to come up with some (realistic) things that have not yet happened. I’ve got a couple: passing laws to deliberately weaken environmental standards, starting a war with some middle eastern country, and formally withdrawing from the UN. I’m sure you can come up with more, especially if you take a few minutes to really think about it.

Now while most things you’ve just imagined are bad, or at least highly disagreeable, none of them should come as a true surprise. You should expect him to nominate pro-life justices, you should expect his appointees to do their best dismantle their various organizations, and you should expect him to act in ways consistent with what we’ve already seen. You can still be outraged, but please stop acting like every action is unforeseen and unprecedented (I’m knocking down a strawman here, but the point stands). It’s unproductive.

I read another blog post recently, and I’m going to quote most of it here, because it is highly relevant to the situation at hand:
The Angry Identitarian Left is the way it is, in part, because its practices are optimized specifically for college campus activism.

Within a university, the world is controlled by a nigh-omnipotent authority.  If you are a student, it is probable that the authority basically likes you and wants you to succeed; even if the administrators find you annoying, they fundamentally regard you as community members who should be receiving a good education, not as vermin or monsters or fifth-columnists.  If you are a leftist or liberal, it is probable that the authority basically shares your fundamental values; the administrators are basically you, thirty years down the pike.  But the authority is lazy and venal and (especially) worried about disruptions and embarrassments.  By default, you will be denied a lot of the political things you want, because that’s the easiest and cheapest thing, because the most convenient way to keep donors happy usually involves sweeping problems under the rug and not shelling out money.

Under these circumstances, the most flexible strategic plan seems to involve a two-pronged social assault, with the prongs consisting of “moral suasion” and “extortion.”  You speak with as much holiness and self-righteousness as you can muster, in hopes that you can guilt the administrators into acknowledging the merit of your points, which has a good chance of working because deep down the administrators probably do see the merit of your points.  (They really, genuinely don’t want to be racist or sexist either!)  And you make yourself as annoying and obstreperous as you can, with the implicit promise that you’ll stop as soon as you get what you want, in hopes that appeasing you becomes the easy way out.

There’s not much to be gained by persuading anyone of anything, or by looking to compromise with anyone, because there’s not really any principled opposition with whom to engage.  There’s also no real downside to using nasty rhetoric and dirty tactics.  In the wider world, that shit causes people to hate and fear you, it alienates potential allies and cements the resolve of your enemies…but within the college, you have no genuine enemies and you don’t have much use for allies.  All that matters is whether you can break through the sloth and self-interestedness of the decision-makers. 
And this, despite being an over-generalization, is the problem with your outrage and protests. Every half-baked protest and social disruption turns people away from the cause. This is not to say that you can’t be upset (I thoroughly enjoyed this article about “Bluexit”), but you need to think really hard before you act. If you’re protesting because it feels good to be an activist, good to be surrounded by other people who are morally indignant, and satisfying to preach from the moral high ground, I can say with certainty that you’re not helping.

If your protest would scare an uninformed bystander, or if it would not persuade someone on the fence, don’t do it. Trump’s administration is not and will not be swayed by protests, they see them as a sign that they are on the right track, and large scale civil disruptions make people long for a militarized police force. The Left needs a new playbook, and quickly.

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