Monday, August 22, 2016

Election 2016 - Emotional Thinking versus Rational Thinking

Our political system today isn't divided into Republicans versus Democrats, or Liberals versus Conservatives, but rather emotional thinkers versus rational thinkers.   Sadly, the latter are in short supply.  Pictured here, a tea party rally.

In Quebec it is interesting to hear how French Canadians view the election in the US.  Given all the press Donald Trump gets (and he gets a lot of press, but it seems that as of a month ago, the press "turned" on him and the love-fest is over) many Canadians assume he will win the election and that all Americans are infatuated with the Donald.

This reflects a nightmare most of the rest of the world has.   America by accident or design, is the only world superpower.   We spend more on our military than the next ten largest countries combined (or eight, depending on which source you cite).   We have fleets of aircraft carriers, while Russia has one, China is trying to finish its first (a rusty Russian hand-me-down) and the UK has none.

And despite all the hoopla you hear about China, their economy is not doing as well as ours is - in fact, our economy is the most robust on the planet, which is why investors worldwide flock to invest in things as lame as Treasury bills.  China doesn't "hold" a lot of our debt to blackmail us, they hold our debt because they perceive it as a safe harbor to invest in - safer than their own markets.

So America is the 600-lb gorilla, and the rest of the world simply hopes that we have some rationality and common sense not to wreck things more than we ordinarily do.   Some have called the post-war years the Pax Americana although during this Pax a lot of regional wars have been fought and millions have died.   But we've avoided a nuclear conflagration, so I guess that is something.

But in Donald Trump, the world sees trouble.   America might be abandoning what little rational thinking and intellectualism it had left.   We would no longer be the good guys in the white hats - to the extent we ever were - but rather self-interested take-all-you-can conquerors who would just look out for their own self-interest rather than the global interest.   And you see this attitude at Trump rallies, with supporters saying things like we should nuke the middle east and take all the oil that "rightfully belongs to us".

Trump supporters are like that - classic externalizer who view their personal problems as being the fault of unseen or vaguely defined "others" who are a threat to them.   And not surprisingly, most of these supporters are younger white men with no college education.   Their options in life are limited, as in a technological society you need to have a technical education to succeed.    As unskilled laborers, their value in the economy is not very high.    Unless they can acquire technical skills, they will not be able to climb the economic ladder.   And of course, this has to be someone else's fault.   

The fact they didn't pay attention in school or try to at least learn a trade is not their own fault, but the fault of "Liberals" or terrorists or the gays or whatever target-du-jour is being bashed.   "If only..." we could eliminate those bad people, the world would be a paradise-on-earth.   It is a message that resonates throughout the ages, with demagogues rallying the young, the dumb, and the poor with their message of "if only..."   Huey Long, Adolf Hitler, or Rodrigo Duterte, the message is the same.

And it is not a conservative message or a liberal one, a Republican one or a Democratic one.  Indeed, every aspect of the political spectrum has employed this form of emotional thinking to try to get into power.   Venezuela is using this sort of nonsense to prop up their failed government.   Communism would work, they argue, "if only" we could get rid of those rightists and profiteers.    Same old shit, different day.

Or take Bernie.   Both Trump and Bernie supporters are alike in that they are emotionally engaged with their candidate.  They fill rallies, they shout slogans, they are passionate about their candidate.   And both candidates promised a heaven-on-earth to downtrodden people who made bad decisions in their personal lives "if only" we could get rid of Muslim immigrants or the big banks or whatever.

Hillary, on the other hand, doesn't generate much excitement.   People don't put bumper stickers on their cars or get really emotionally engaged with her.   She represents the establishment and a continuation of the policies of the last eight years - policies which have resulted in steady economic growth and stable economy in an era where most countries are melting down.   Sure, she will change some things.  I hope she can fix the problems with Obamacare (instead of just abolishing it and leaving us all with nothing).  But no one really gets emotionally involved with a person who is the ultimate policy wonk.

This is a good thing,  trust me.

Every four years, the press plays to our emotional side and tries to portray the candidates in terms of emotional factors - kissing babies and whatnot.  Which candidate would we want to have a beer with?  That sort of bullshit.    I am not sure I want to have a beer with Hillary Clinton, although I would be fascinated to sit down and listen to her talk about policy issues.   Which is more important?

The election of 2016 will go down in history as one of the strangest of all time.   Unless Hillary has a nervous breakdown, it doesn't appear Donald Trump has a snowball's chance in hell of winning.  Even Georgia seems to be in play for Hillary (and you can bet I will be back in the State by November to vote!).

The Republican party, hopefully, will look at this debacle as an opportunity to re-think its strategy.  And many in the party are trying to do just that, but getting it all wrong.   They continue to seek out emotional issues as the backbone of their platform.   They fail to realize that being the party of "Just say No to everything" like some petulant child hasn't accomplished much in the eyes of the voters.   Rather than being against everything, they need to stand for something.

In the past, this was the case.  In the past, the GOP was the party of rationality, in terms of standing for sound government, balanced budgets, and limited government.   These were rational factors to argue, even if you didn't personally agree with some of them.  The Democrats, on the other hand, were more of the emotional thinking party, making arguments (as Bernie did) about how awful it was that the other fellows bank account was bigger than yours.

Somewhere along the way, the positions of the two parties changed.   It started with Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and his "Law and Order" campaign.   It matured with Reagan's "morning in America" and his appeal to evangelical voters.   No longer was the party about balanced budgets and limited government.  Instead, the GOP became the party of social issues - abortion, gay rights, women's rights, voting rights, and so forth - all in the "NO" column, of course.   Rather than a liasssez-faire approach to government, Republicans started campaigning on being "job creators".   And instead of balancing budgets, Republicans started running up deficits - even in times of economic prosperity, such as the Bush years.

As a result, the party started to splinter.   And the "big tent" of the GOP was suddenly full of people shouting "RINO" - and trying to force out anyone who didn't subscribe to their form of emotional thinking - failing to make the rational argument that forcing people out of the party isn't how one wins elections.

But it got worse.  The entire "Tea Party" movement was more like the Mad Hatter's tea party - a movement without purpose or direct, other than to wreck, delay, destroy, and usurp.   Nothing much was accomplished by the tea party candidates - many lost their re-election bids or failed to stand for re-election (that whole promise of one-term kind of backfired in a big way, as most emotional arguments do).   While ostensibly about taxes ("Taxed Enough Already" was their mantra) they were really a haven for anti-Obama and racist thinking, as evidenced by the signs and slogans at their rallies.   Taxes, it turns out, were just a cover story for what was really an emotional social agenda.   They were more interested in transgender bathroom issues than in tax policy wonking - as evidenced by their insane and unworkable tax proposals, most of which would have been a sop to the very rich.

There was a time in this country where we didn't view the government as the "enemy".   And we thought that government could be well-managed and well-run.   It was, after all, our government that managed to put a man on the moon within ten years of really starting a space program.   Back in those days, we thought that if proper scientific management techniques were applied to government, that government could be both efficient and effective.

We seem to have lost that thought somewhere down the line.   It became more convenient for us to blame our problems on the government rather than try to solve them.

Perhaps, once again, I digress.   What is the point of all this?   Well, the only real conclusion I can draw is that when there are two candidates up for office, and one tries to appeal to my emotional side by using emotional issues (greed, fear, externalizing) and the other candidate wants to talk policy until the whole audience is asleep, I have no trouble deciding which candidate is the better choice.

Emotional thinking is a dead-end.

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