Our Enemy Is Isolation

Justin Davidson, reporting for New York magazine, writes about the widening split between urban and suburban voters (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/the-urban-rural-divide-matters-more-than-red-vs-blue-state.html).

One odd paragraph stands out, however:

It’s not clear what accounts for this political force field that weakens with every mile from City Hall but that’s carried from center to center along transit lines. Do people with strong political views choose to live in like-minded communities, or do the places people choose to live form their opinions about how society should work? Which comes first: real estate or ideology? Either way, the dynamic behaves like an ideological centrifuge, distributing liberals and conservatives in complex but not random patterns.

From reading Davidson’s own article, or applying basic common sense, it seems pretty clear what accounts for deep-seated conservatism, and that’s isolation. If you travel by car and live in a single-family house (or gated community, let’s call that a “home-let”), then your interactions with other people are likely limited and largely avoidable. The freedom afforded you by your remove might even allow you to go out of your way to avoid mixing with people around whom you feel uncomfortable: you don’t have to shop at the supermarket closest to you, for instance. You can drive that extra five minutes in the other direction.

On the other hand, public transportation (like public school) day by day breaks down that fantastical “other.” While the stray bad experience–a mugging or other act of violence, a belligerent or deranged passenger–may still jade you in the short-term, the long-term effect of mingling with your fellow Americans–not just anonymously cruising past them in traffic or sending out unheard curses at whomever just cut you off–has a liberalizing effect. You can still hate those of different ethnicities, genders, or orientations, but you can’t do so anonymously, and the removal of anonymity–as seen when leaping from a water-cooler conversation to a message-board free-for-all–makes it a lot harder to do so. That’s the “political force field” that Davidson is describing: the more alone you are, the more entitled you are to everything around you, the more independent you feel, whether there’s any actual basis to that whatsoever. Of course these people retreat into conservative platitudes: they’ve already gone out of their way to physically cut themselves off from the world at large. What’s another psychic cut or two?

10/3/16: in defense of the undecided

I’ve seen the following David Sedaris quote about his contempt for Undecided voters cycling around for the last week or so, which I find hilarious, since it was originally written for Obama v. Romney (10/27/08):

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?” To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I understand the joke, but I think it’s a dangerous oversimplification and not everything should be reduced to a bon mot, no matter how appetizingly it might jive with your personal opinion. Choosing who you vote for shouldn’t be an easy decision. If I have contempt for anyone, it’s for the so-called yellow dog Democrats who will always vote their party’s ticket without doing a single ounce of research or soul-searching. (I obviously feel the same for those on the right.) Yes, in this particular election, Trump’s prideful ignorance represents a clear and present danger, and an endorsement of him would be an endorsement of so many backward ideas (i.e., racism, sexism) that we almost *have* to vote for anyone who can defeat him.

But there’s another reason people might still be undecided. Continue reading

8/29/16: sextastrophe

If you’ve been watching BrainDead, which I highly praised in my review earlier this year, then you sadly know that politics at this point isn’t really much more than a horror show. BrainDead‘s been on point with all of its parallels and suggestions for why America’s become so divisive and rhetorically (and actually) violent, but this week’s episode could not have been more prescient, since it focuses on Luke Healy, a brilliant politician who cannot get over his crippling sex addiction. Perhaps this reminds you of today’s lengthly smears and screeds about Anthony Weiner’s latest leaked series of sexts and his wife’s subsequent announcement of separating from him: here’s another politically smart and largely independent man again brought down by his inability to control himself, which is a shame, because his private life (and privates) really have nothing to do with his wife’s competency nor his political views, but instead, they’re used by the opposition to attack and weaken both.

But what fascinates me the most about this incident is how crazy some people have gone because of the contents of one photo–that is, the fact that Weiner’s son is in the background of one of the shots. Perhaps we would have otherwise ignored this; many of us seemed immunized to the infelicities and indiscretions of his second set of infidelities. Instead, like the horror sequel that this is, the media has turned to “gorier” new details in order to get our goats; they understand that they need to somehow keep our attention fixed on an otherwise familiar sight that we’d otherwise tune out.

We’re clearly not, as a people, better than this, though I wish that we were. Continue reading

8/10/16: how i feel about politics, in another person’s words

Jill Lepore, writing for The New Yorker‘s August 8 & 15, 2016 issue, makes a lot of great observations, but none better than this seemingly stream-of-consciousness one:

The rule inside the [Cleveland, Republican] Convention was: Incite fear and division in order to call for safety and union. I decided that the rule outside the Convention was: No kidding, it’s really awfully nice out here, in a beautiful city park, on a sunny day in July, where a bunch of people are arguing about politics and nothing could possibly be more interesting, and the Elect Jesus people are giving out free water, icy cold, and the police are playing Ping-Pong with the protesters, and you can take a nap in the grass if you want, and you will dream that you are on a farm because the grass smells kind of horsy, and like manure, because of all the mounted police from Texas, wearing those strangely sexy cowboy hats; and yes, there are police from all over the country here, and if you ask for directions one of them will say to you, “Girl, I’m from Atlanta!” and you have to know that, if they weren’t here, who knows what would happen; there are horrible people shouting murderous things and tussling, that’s what they came here for, and anything can blow up in an instant; and, yes, there are civilians carrying military-style weapons, but, weirdly, they are less scary here than they are online; they look ridiculous, honestly, and this one lefty guy is a particular creep, don’t get cornered; but, also, there’s a little black girl in the fountain rolling around, getting soaked, next to some white guy who’s sitting there, just sitting there, in the water, his legs kicked out in front of him, holding a cardboard sign that reads, “Tired of the Violence.”

All of these things at once: unstable, but also whole. That’s the America we must all continue to try to love. And the exhausted denouement to this paragraph really nails it–isn’t it time that we just grew tired of fighting and learned to enjoy the cool water on a warm summer day?

In trying to understand why smart Establishment-conservative commentators…so uniformly underestimated Trump’s appeal among Republican voters for so long, you have to start by assuming that they were in denial…about how his baser instincts might appeal to some in their party’s angry base. But insularity may have played as big a role as denial. Most Republicans are not racists, and race is hardly the whole Trump story, yet it’s not clear that the elites got any of the story.

This is Frank Rich, writing in New York‘s 3/21-4/3 issue, but I have to wonder how he reaches the assertion that “most” Republicans are not racists. If you’re willing to support Trump–a man who cannot immediately denounce the KKK, lazily stereotypes and targets Mexicans and immigrants, and calls for protestors to be beaten as they once were in the good old days of the openly racist ’60s–then you are a racist. That’s the entire story. It doesn’t matter what else Trump might stand for (and that’s hard to tell); this one issue should be enough to disqualify him. No matter how much the Republicans might want to sweep all three branches, to appoint new Supreme Court justices, to push through legislation, if they’re willing to even temporarily support a racist to make it happen, then they, themselves, are racists.

One of the great things about Trump’s campaign–really, the only great thing–is that it strips Republicans of their ability to feign ignorance or insularity, to suggest that their hands are tied when it comes to abortion reform (because of Roe v. Wade) or that they’re being stymied by those elitist bastards on the other side, smeared unjustly by the media. They’ll still try to play the victim–many Republicans could benefit from a second career playing soccer–but it should be nakedly apparent that in supporting Trump, they’re condoning racism. And those who don’t see that? Well, they’re racists.

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