Monday, December 5, 2016

The Tightening Loop of Historical Repetition

In an election season bursting with horrible news, perhaps the most significant macro issue has scarcely been discussed.

Many, many people voted for Trump as a protest vote, assuming he'd never win. Or they voted Stein or Johnson as protest votes from that same assumption. Quoting the DNC's Andrew Tobias:
According to one pollster, 25% of [Trump's] votes came from people who — knowing for certain he had no path to 270 electoral votes, because that’s what the media assured them — voted for him to make a statement, but would not have if they had thought he might actually win. If that’s true, and had they voted for Hillary instead, the vote would have been something like 47 million for Trump, 80 million for Clinton. Even more if some Jill Stein and Gary Johnson voters would have voted Clinton if they’d thought Trump could win."
Political observers are correctly blaming the Clinton campaign for projecting over-confidence, the cardinal political sin. They had, in countless ways, signaled that victory was inevitable, leading to false confidence among an electorate which therefore voted for reasons opposed to their fundamental interest in keeping a lunatic out of power.

But what has me queasy is that the exact same thing happened with Brexit. Countless Brexit voters, who voted for something they didn't actually want to happen, because they were confident it wouldn't happen, woke up profoundly rattled the next day. We watched that happen, and proceeded to march straight off the very same cliff.

I accept that societies endlessly repeat mistakes. We forget the lessons of history, and repeat them. The younger generation's waning enthusiasm for democratic systems, for example, makes sense, because the despots of the early 20th Century are gone from personal memory. This crop didn't grow up in the wake of WWII, so history's due for a repeat. I don't like it, but I understand it.

But the Brexit vote was just five months ago! So either our memories are getting so flighty that we now forget our history not within decades, but within weeks...or else we've lost the ability to learn entirely.

This leaves me floundering. World events have always unfolded via an unending series of reactions (usually overreactions) to the previous thing. If we no longer react - even unwisely! - but just randomly poke ahead, then all bets are off.

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