Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Rant About Reciprocal Extremism

Republicans made clear their plan in 2008: oppose everything Obama does, period. It soon became clear this would include policies Republicans had themselves proposed (e.g. the Affordable Care Act), and actions the country direly needed (e.g. the Jobs bill). Their hatred for the guy and their extreme partisan gamesmanship outweighed their rationality, their patriotism, and their sanity. Mitch McConnell publicly stated his prime goal (above all other goals!): to make Obama's presidency a failure.

The rest of us watched in confused horror. Really? You'd tank the country just because you hate this guy? And, what's worse, Obama was (if any of them stopped to really take a look) clearly trying to rule from the center; taking pains to be everyone's president (though naturally also pushing some progressive policies - the perquisite, after all, of winning). Not one person on the right appeared to acknowledge this (if they did, they'd have been seen as traitorous collaborators; as cavers-in). Indeed, they just stiffened their opposition. They actually seemed provoked by his overtures!

I concluded that these Republicans were uniquely stupid and evil.

Red flag there. The notion that some group is uniquely stupid and evil is always wrong. No one group, no matter how terribly they're behaving, is uniquely bad-behaved. Every human is capable of anything (including Nazi death camp management); we all contain behavioral stem cells for the full gamut, just waiting for circumstances to trigger them. If you assume some specific group is unique, that's just the incomplete registration of a perfectly appropriate misanthropy.
We study the Other...and we don't like what we see. Men rue the cruelty of women; women rue the cruelty of men. Both are quite correct, really.
Sure enough, anyone with a dab of clarity is seeing now that this is not special shit Republicans do. As always, it's shit humans do.

Trump has made one of his first priorities a bill to restore our crumbling infrastructure. It's sorely needed, it's squarely in his wheelhouse (as a builder), and it's a Democratic agenda. But the left is stridently gearing up to oppose. Here's the line, in a (literal) nutshell:

We are completely disregarding his actual post-election words and gestures, because we hate and we're scared (believe me, I do understand both impulses), and that's paramount. Above rationality, above patriotism, and above sanity.

If this Slog were more widely read, I'd be reviled as an appeaser; a facilitator of evil, for saying any of this (the counterargument could be broken down thusly: "But OUR hatred is CORRECT in this case."). The right, which hate/hate/hated Obama even to their own detriment, enforced their ranks with similar tactics and language. "Appeasement". "Collaboration". "Caving". This is shit humans say, not just Republicans. We never learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. There are billions of followers of Christ, and millions of professed admirers of Gandhi and MLK, yet the moment stakes raise or we get frightened, we lose our character, our values, our intelligence, our self-awareness and our shit. We operate like babies. We Trump right back at Trump.

And the guy hasn't done anything yet! (If he bans Muslims or launches unprecedented deportation - Obama deported plenty, btw - or institutes torture, or nuclear war, or disbands NATO, I'll scream my head off, but what's the point of pre-suffering?) What's wrong with hoping he doesn't totally suck, or with offering positive feedback for conciliatory gestures? For not forcing him, unreasonably, to be an Obama - freakishly able to maintain noble consistency of principle in spite of impenetrable negativity - even if he tries to elevate to being his best self?

Ask yourself this crucial question: if things turn out ok during his presidency (aside from some corruption, some scandal, some stupidity, and a bunch of standard conservative initiatives - his perquisite for winning); if he turns out to be just a typical Republican POTUS (or perhaps even a bit more centrist) would you still be fully outraged and opposed? I believe most people I know would be. And that's just not rational. In fact, it scares me even more than Trump does (and he scares me plenty).

I always surprise and upset foodies when I tell them that if MacDonald's made terrific hamburgers, I'd be the happiest guy on Earth. Who wouldn't want quality delivered with that convenience, efficiency, and price? I'd be very very pro-MacDonald's if their food was great. Why the hell wouldn't I be??

I understand the politics. "Give him a mandate by helping him succeed, and he'll use that mandate to do terrible things." That's exactly what Republicans said about Obama, in spite of metric tons of evidence that - regardless of the fist-bumping, social-justice crusading, left-wing sanctimonious heart he was presumed, not without evidence, to possess - he was trying his darnedest (despite some genuinely progressive initiatives) to please everyone.

This stance can be (and often is) adopted by any opposing force at any time or place. This stance is the opposite of conciliation. This is the stance that we started out with, as cavemen. This is the stance we revert to when we get angry or afraid, or when stakes rise. This is the stance that stalemated the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and that will destroy the country and the world in time. This is the stance that makes it unlikely extraterrestrial civilizations (also likely arising via evolution, and thus selected for aggressiveness and blinkered selfishness) ever get very far. Most awful of all (fuck extraterrestrial civilization!), this is EXACTLY the stance of Donald J. Trump, himself. Which he at least appears to be, for now, resisting...while the rest of us lean in to it.

I understand people are afraid, and angry. I am too. But in the presence of fear, we don’t need to 1. get stupid, and 2. willfully take steps to block and punish positivity from the thing we’re afraid of. We don’t need to react to extremism with reciprocal extremism.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean by pleasing everybody? Obama was foremost pleasing his donors.

Jim Leff said...


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