Sunday, April 26, 2020

In the Mind of a Republican

Today, we don't try to understand why people have different opinions than our own - we just try to shout them down.   As a result, folks have retired to cubbyholes of belief, convinced the world is a scary, dark place full of enemies.

I recently had a nice conversation with a couple who are Republicans.   Believe it or not, they represent a significant portion of the United States.   Most Americans call themselves "independents" but on the whole are fairly conservative, and will vote for the candidate who they believe best represents their interests.  Funny how that works, eh?

Republicans have been winning a lot of elections lately - well, at least until recently.   And the reason they have won, time and time again, is that conservatives are more likely to "go along" with a candidate that they might not personally like, if they realize it is the candidate more closely aligned to their political and economic beliefs.

Liberals, on the other hand, hold out for "my way or the highway" and if their "perfect" candidate isn't nominated, they stay home and pout, like a small child.  "I'll show you!" they say, "for not letting Bernie win!"

And they showed us, alright.   But if Trump's policies negatively affected anyone, it was the Bernie supporters - the people hoping for free shit from the government.   They pretty much got the opposite of everything they wanted.

People, though, are pretty easy to figure out.   People vote for the candidate who they think will enact laws that favor them.   It is weak thinking, basically - believing in things that are convenient to you and also externalizing your problems.    Bernie supporters want free college, loan forgiveness, rent control, guaranteed jobs, and so on down the line.  This is convenient thinking to someone who racked up a lot of debt on a worthless college degree in Agitation Studies, and now has trouble finding a job.   And of course, they externalize their own problems by projecting them as society's problems - nothing they did was wrong, right?   After all, they went to college like "they" said they should.

Conservatives are no different, only that they have a different set of values based on a different life experience.   If you run your own business, for example, you may be a little weary of yet another government regulation to comply with, another government form to fill out, and yet another tax to pay.    As I noted before, one sure way to become a Republican is to become an employer - and find out that it is not a license to print money, but in fact a sure-fire way to go bankrupt in 2 out of 3 cases.  So as you might imagine, the conservative votes for the guy who will reduce regulations, lower tax rates, make it easier to hire and fire people, and so on down the line.

It is not that either the liberal or the conservative are "right" or "wrong" on all these issues, only that they have different perspectives.  The conservative who never went to college and runs his own business, doesn't understand why he should have to pay for the poor life choices of the liberal.  Why should he be subsidizing college degrees for the liberal elite?   The liberal, on the other hand doesn't understand why a system should be set up that entices people to ruin themselves financially at such an early age.

The problem, of course, is that neither side sees that benefits to society as a whole can benefit themselves.  You can pass laws that are draconian and allow people to be exploited by our economic system - and that might make a few people a lot of money in the short term.    But in the long-term, a society full of disgruntled people is not a stable one, and it could come back to haunt you.   And we saw this, in the 1960's with the riots in Watts and elsewhere.  Back then, life was a lot harsher for the poor than today - public benefits were not as generous, if they existed at all.  And racial prejudice was a dramatic and often legal thing as well.   Lyndon Johnson - a Southerner - pushed through his "great society" agenda not because he cared for these poor and mostly black folks, but because he wanted to defuse a bomb before it went off.

Similarly, on the other side of the coin, you can pass laws punishing businesses to the point where they decide to go out of business.   When you tax companies to death, they either move away or go out of business.   We saw this in the Northeast, where States and localities would tax factories - even the inventories of parts! - to the point where it was just cheaper to abandon the factory and move to Alabama  - or to India or China.    It wasn't like companies were doing this to "be mean" or to "chase profits" only that you can't keep losing money, year after year, and stay in business.   Eventually you run out of money.

The greater good often means understanding where the other guy is coming from, rather than depicting him as a caricature or Piñata to be whacked with a stick.

Anyway, talking to this nice couple, it wasn't hard to understand where they were coming from.  They ran a business and had to hire people to work for them and try to get some actual work out of them.  Funny as it may seem, people when hired, do the least amount of labor required - without getting fired.  Or in some instances, not even that.  Again, this is not surprising, just human nature.  When I was an employee, my performance was always just slightly above what was expected - they hold the bar this high, and you jump over it.   There is no benefit to leaping over it, as it is not your business.

As you might expect they were also fans of fewer rules and regulations affecting their business - particularly rules and regulations that seemed arbitrary and capricious or served not even a societal function.  So as you might expect, they tended to vote Republican.

He told me a story about one of his employees who was caught up in an ICE raid.  The fellow was in the final phase of obtaining his green card, but his ex-wife had destroyed the paperwork and actually called the ICE on her ex-husband.  Talk about a messy divorce!  Anyway, this fellow drove all the way out to the other end of the State and hired the best immigration lawyer he could find and after more than a month, got his friend sprung.  Unlike most of these stories, it has a happy ending - the fellow got his green card and shouldn't be deported.

ICE was playing the usual game here - offering to deport the fellow immediately if he would sign papers "admitting" he was in the country illegally.  If you don't sign the papers and don't have a lawyer, you may wait a year or more in detention before seeing a judge, and without a lawyer, you likely will end up deported.  Many sign.

My friend was pissed at this waste of taxpayer money.  "It costs them thousands of dollars a month just to detain these folks!  What a waste!"   I asked him, "Say, that wasn't one of those private prison companies, was it?" and he got a far-away look in his eye and then said quietly, "Now that you mention it, yes, yes it was!"

Maybe that will stew in his brain a bit.   This immigration thing is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

But even assuming that there is some sort of backdoor deal here between Trump and Prisons-R-Us, he still is going to vote for Trump in November, as Trump more aligns with his philosophies than the Democrats - who seem to be going out of their way to paint themselves as radical leftists.  The GOP has done a good job of painting the Democratic party into a corner, and Comrade Sanders, who is not a Democrat at all, has managed to conflate his socialist agenda with that of the Democratic party.

On a personal level, my friend and his wife dislike Trump - admitting that he is boorish, ugly (in a physical and mental sense) and inarticulate.  They would not have him over for dinner.   They are not MAGA-hat wearing Trump-rally attenders, which the left uses as a caricature of the Trump voter.  Piñatas, again.  There is a lot not to like about Trump and his policies, even for conservatives, but they "hold their nose and vote" and have no trouble doing this.   Ideological purity is not high on their agenda, policy and positions are.

And that is where Trump succeeded where Hillary failed.  Hillary's slogan was "Better Together" - the idea that she could stitch together a coalition of different identity groups, from trade unionists, to racial minorities, to women, gays, socialists, and whatnot. Often these identity groups are at odds with one another or with Democratic policies and positions. The Southern Black Baptist isn't interested in transgender rights.   The trade unionist isn't interested in free trade.

Trump and the GOP, on the other hand, presented a cafeteria-style smorgasbord of tidbits that a panoply of conservatives could select from. There is something for everyone at the Country Time Buffet - even vegetarians.   The stale bread of the Democratic party, served Soviet-style (wait in line and get a crumb) wasn't nearly as enticing.

The fundamentalist Christians voted for Trump in spite of the fact he is hardly a Christian man or even religious.  They got what they wanted - a Supreme Court stacked with anti-abortion justices, who are willing to revisit Roe v. Wade. A Federal Judiciary stacked with conservative judges is a bonus as well.

The business people are getting reduced regulations (or abolished regulations) as well as weaker enforcement.  They are getting tax cuts, capital gains cuts, one-time repatriation of foreign profits, and a whole slew of what they perceive as benefits to themselves. Again, of course, some more farsighted business people have sounded the alarm about deficit spending and the overall effect of some of these changes on society as a whole - which may be of detriment to business people in the long run.

The MAGA-hat wearing rally-attending Trump fans (who would love to have him over for dinner in their trailer) are getting what they want - their xenophobic tendencies validated, and anti-immigrant measures enacted.   Trump skewers the coastal intellectuals who have been talking down to them for so long - and the crowd eats it up.  Again, it is essential to understand where they are coming from with this, instead of blindly hating or dismissing them as unsophisticated.

America is changing in recent years, and to someone growing up in a small town, it may seem alarming when all the stores on main street close, only to reopen years later with signs all in Spanish - or another foreign language.  Multiculturalism is fine an all, but to many folks, they feel their own culture is being edged out.  You talk to these folks (and again, you have to actually talk to them to understand them) and most are not the racist buffoons portrayed by the media.  Most actually like latinos and blacks, and have friends and coworkers of different races.  It is the unsettling change they see happening that unnerves them.

This is the same effect that pushed Brexit through.  You grow up in a small town in the UK, and now the shops have signs in Polish and people are wearing hijabs and babbling in foreign tongues and you wonder what happened to your twee village.  Or like a lady in Italy (who was castigated for being racist - more than a decade ago) wondering whether Italy could remain Italian, when Catholic church bells were replaced by badly recorded "calls to prayer" five times a day.  Multiculturalism sounds like fun, but in formerly mono-cultural societies, can be a bit of a shock - as many of our Nordic friends are discovering.

But getting back to Trump rallies, the Trump faithful really plug-in to what he is saying, even if it is a turn-off to the Christians or the business folks.  He gets people riled up and motivated in a way Hillary - or even Biden - could not do.   He makes them feel proud of their country and tells them how great they are.  Democrats tell them they are the problem for not allowing their child to "transition" while in Kindergarten, or how the school cafeteria committed a "micro-aggression" or "cultural appropriation" by serving poorly-made tacos or "Mexican Hat" on Tuesday.

You could argue that is merely perception, but it is a perception they've made stick. It doesn't help any that some people on the left actually believe this shit.  The GOP has done a better job at keeping the far, far right at arm's length - decrying and denouncing the neo-Nazis and other nutjobs that make up the fringe.  Maybe we don't believe this, but at least they are on record as saying it.

On the other hand, the Democrats are falling all over themselves to court the vote of the far-left, and doing so unashamedly.  Nancy Pelosi, who has two $30,000 refrigerators, is trying to court Amelia Island-Carshow who thinks owning a garbage disposal is bourgeoisie.   I wonder if she and Nancy have had ice cream together - I kind of doubt it.

The problem for the Democrats is that the smorgasbord they present isn't palatable to a large enough group. The vegans, for example, won't even touch any of the food that may have been "contaminated" by being next to a meat dish.  So everyone has to have separate tables, and separate service à la carte.  This works if you are trying to elect a conservative Democrat in Virginia, or a "Democratic Socialist" in Vermont, but it fails miserably on a national stage. The Democratic "circular firing squad" kicks in every four years, it seems, destroying their own candidates.

If you look at the history of successful Democratic Presidential candidates, you see a pattern.  The "good old days" of the Clinton administration saw the deficit reduced and even the national debt shrunk - to the point economists were worried there would be so much surplus in the budget the government would become the largest investor on Wall Street.   That never happened, of course, and the GOP tried to take down Clinton for his sexual indiscretions.

Today, it would be the Left who would have taken down Clinton - and have taken him down - as part of this #metoo movement which some are saying has gone from raising social awareness to becoming a witch hunt.  And Clinton's policies are roundly condemned by the far-left today. Things like welfare reform and other compromises Clinton had to make with a Republican Congress are decried as cruel and unfair.

Even Obama is roundly criticized by the left as "too conservative" in his fiscal policies and too hawk-like in his foreign policies.  If he ran for President today (if it were allowed) the Bernie faction would tear him apart.  Bernie himself has already done that.

Democrats have a harder time wrapping their head around a simple idea: That no candidate is ever perfect, and that political maturity means voting for the candidate whose ideology is the closest to your own, and not holding out for a perfect match. The last time around, a lot of "Bernie Bros" threw a temper tantrum and decided that if they could not have Bernie, they would stay home and pout - and get the exact opposite of what they wanted.

Of course, one wonders how things would have played out if Hillary had won.  There would have been huge Republican gains in the House and Senate in the mid-terms, and gridlock in Washington for four years - and endless Congressional investigations of Hillary's e-mails.  In other words, maybe a lot would be the same, sans the wall.

A lot of folks are assuming that Trump will be a one-term President - that the Democrats will sweep into office in the fall, perhaps taking over the Senate as well. The response to the Corona Virus (which the Post and Times have been hammering into our heads for months now, was "botched") and the poor state of the economy would make it seem like a no-brainer.   "It's the economy, stupid" was the mantra that got Clinton elected, defeating another one-termer.

In order to win, though, we have to get the votes of more than just committed liberals - who have shown, time and time again to be an unreliable voting bloc.  A better approach is to go after those middle-of-the-road people who want logical, rational government, and are tired of the Trump drama going on.   Like my friends in Northern Virginia who voted for Bush - twice - and then turned around and vote for Obama.   You need to convince them.

In searching for the image above online, I got a number of hits for paperback books for sale on Amazon, or for websites and blogsites with titles like, "How to win an argument with a Conservative!" or "How to win an argument with a Liberal!"  These sort of sites and books and videos illustrate exactly what the problem is.  You can't "win" arguments with people - you only drive them further and further into their ideological cubbyholes.  This idea that you can beat people down with your ideas and have them come whimpering back to you saying, "Gee, you're right!  Please forgive my transgressions and allow me to join your political wing - but only if I am worthy!" is just a sick, sick fantasy.

But a popular one.  A far better approach is to try to understand where people who are different than you are coming from and learn to work with them, or, if it seems you are that far apart, to simply walk away. It kind of irks me that Democrats are trying to be so "inclusive" to people of all races and colors and orientations and religions (even religions that are intolerant, except of course, for Baptists) but cannot tolerate people of different political ideologies - even those whose beliefs overlap with their own.

A lot can happen between now and November.  The economy may really crater in the next quarter, as more and more companies go bankrupt - many actually dissolving rather than reorganizing. The extensive layoffs will really start to be felt.  And since Bernie is technically still in the race, if Biden were to catch the Corona Virus..... I think this is exactly what some on the far-left are hoping for. Because radical politics aren't enacted and radical politicians don't come to power, in times of plenty and peace.

On the other hand, if the virus fizzles out, and the economy does recover somewhat, Trump might just squeak by, for another four years on the merry-go-round.  As in 2016, it is the Democrat's election to lose.  Trump didn't win in 2016, Hillary lost.  She lost because the party stopped listening to people whose opinions didn't mirror their own.   You need those folks to get elected.