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?

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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.

Readings: The President We Deserve

Noreen Malone wrote an article for New York magazine called “Oh, And He Is Also Driving Some Liberals Crazy,” about Donald Trump. You can find it in the 3/7/16-3/20/16 issue. The main takeaway is that we all created and incubated Trump–this isn’t just on Fox News alone, nor the populist Tea Party. Colbert, as did we all, joked about Trump’s zero-percent chances of winning the primary, which made us all eager to tune in and see what he’d do or say next. (Think Bulworth.) But part of this was out of genuine delight in hearing actual honesty out of a politician–even if it was abhorrent. As Malone writes:

For the past 40 years, even as candidates have moved toward greater levels of narcissism and power-seeking, they’ve also moved toward greater precision in their narratives, in their sound bites, in their adherence to lawyerly correctness and deadly carefulness. A news cycle that hungrily fed on “gaffes” seemed to guarantee that only personality-free robots who made the fewest unforced errors would ever become the nominee.

That’s not entirely true, if you look at Bush triumphing over Gore, but it at least hints as to why Trump might have been entertaining–at first. But then Malone continues:

Trump’s directness, his ridiculousness, his often spot-on and fascinating cruelty–he’s the star of a premium-cable show about a billionaire-populist anti-hero running for president, one we loved until we realized it couldn’t be turned off. Now the question becomes: How do you feel when real life is adapted from television, rather than the reverse?

This is what terrifies us. As in Idiocracy, we’re on the verge of voting for a cult of personality, for dumb spectacle and brash, unsupportable ideas, as opposed to actual governance. We distrust intelligence, because the truth is that the majority of us are petty, not-smart people, and–as one person suggested as a justification of all the various negative -isms out there–when we realize our own shortcomings, we love to see that there’s at least one other person lower on the rung than we are. There’s a person on my Facebook feed (a friend of a friend, thankfully), who insists that Trump must be elected on account of a single political issue–Clinton and Sander’s apparent support of partial-birth abortions (which is less about the thing itself and more about the wording of the laws that have tried to stop it, and the slippery slope that comes of restricting choice). Nobody cares about next season–we’re living from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and there’s always an even worse Big Bad hiding in the wings, should we manage to dispatch Trump.

Before they were popularized in the media, vampires used to be traditionally dispatched by sunlight–the idea being that no evil could stand being exposed to the pure good of the day. True Blood let vampires skirt that with fairy magic, The Vampire Diaries created magical daylight rings, etc. Trump’s a political vampire being kept aloft by the magical thinking of monomaniacal supporters; expose his lies and weaknesses and he simply keeps moving. The only way to beat bad television is to stop watching, and yet the worst, lowest-denominator shows seem to keep being renewed. (Thanks, Chuck Lorre!)

Be prepared to welcome our first Television President into the White House. Why couldn’t it have been Jed (Bartlet)?

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