By Douglas Moran
Joe Simitian talk: Listening to Trump's America: Bridging the DivideUploaded: Oct 15, 2017
In the wake of the Trump election, Joe Simitian--a Palo Alto native and currently County Supervisor--visited three counties that had swung to voting for Trump after voting for Obama, and he was especially interested in talking to those voters who switched. Overviews in Abstract and PAOnline article. There is no recording of this talk (or an earlier one) because Simitian regards this as a work in progress and because he told the people he was talking to that he wasn't creating a report. Part of his motivation was recognizing that Palo Alto is a bubble inside a bubble (Santa Clara County) inside a bubble (California). There was no discussion of Trump nor Republicans, and that will also be off-topic here.
He visited three counties: Cambria in Pennsylvania (map),(foot#1) Macomb in Michigan (map), and Robeson in North Carolina (map). Cambria was very similar to where I grew up in the 1960s and was 150 miles to the SSE. Macomb was shifting away from the Democrats in the 1970s when I lived in Michigan, and I heard a lot from friends from there.
I will be adding my commentary on the topics raised, indicated by the prefix "ME". I include what Simitian said in response to questions without annotation that it was not part of the prepared talk. I have extensively re-ordered Simitian's observations.
I heard nothing surprising in the talk--it was additional confirming details, which is both interesting and useful. Similarly, there would have been no surprises if you had been paying attention to the news coverage in the summer of 2015 about various Democrats seeking alternative candidates to Hillary Clinton. However, in 2015, those concerns, speculations, predictions and gut feelings were from politicians, analysts and bloviators who had questionable connections to facts on the ground. Simitian was summarizing what he heard from voters and politicians close to their local voters.
Note: Long article: One reader quantified the length as 2.5 coffees. For those who want to read in increments, I have provided headings to serve as easily identifiable stop/restart points.
One of Simitian's major topics was the level of desperation he encountered, and that it is not of recent origins. He talked of it going back 40 years,(foot#2) but the decline of some major industries was beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. It was not hidden--it has been prominent in both news and entertainment. It was part of major movies, for example, the 1977 Paul Newman movie "Slap Shot". This movie was set against a backdrop of a city where a factory closing was putting 10,000 people out of work, and (spoiler) where the owner of the hockey team was similarly trying to move the franchise to the Sunbelt. Some of the people he talked to pointed this out and asked "Doesn't anyone get it?"
The theme of desperation peppered his talk.
- "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" (Thoreau) but are no longer quiet.
- "Desperate people do desperate things."
- "So thirsty we would have drunk sand."
- "The most dangerous person is someone who has nothing to lose."
- "Trump's talk about jobs and trade was 'emotional heroin' ."
- "Inevitable that some snake oil salesman would come along."
- " False hope is better than no hope. "
ME: The repeated message that I got from Simitian's talk what that this was not "Trump's America", but areas that had understandably given up on the national Democratic Party.
People were telling Simitian that their pay had been cut in half or more, their benefits were "crap" and their pensions had disappeared. He found it notable how many remembered many details about when the jobs left, and remembered the specifics of their declining situation, such as the percentage decline in their wages.
Simitian reminded the audience that work was not just wages and benefits, but an important source of dignity.
Simitian's big takeaway is that Trump's election was but a manifestation of how bad this long-running crisis is. The system is failing them and they don't see anyone listening to them.
ME: I lived in Michigan during the 1970s. This was during the great migration of automotive factories to the Sunbelt, lured by government subsidies and promises of cheap labor. I heard from multiple friends that the auto companies were quietly trying to lure various of their abandoned workers to move to the new plants--the culture of the local workforce produced high turnover, high absentee-ism and other inappropriate attitudes and behaviors. Plus the companies had grossly underestimated the skills required of the workers and how long it took to train them. Simitian commented that being a steelworker required more skill than most people realized.(foot#3)
Historical aside: A similar problem arose for the British during World War I. They underestimated the time it took to skill-up a machinist to the level of being able to produce the tight tolerances needed for many items. For example, artillery shells: In the Battle of the Somme (1916), 30% of them were duds. Only then did Britain realize it had to pull skilled machinists out of the army.
----Disconnect within the Democratic Party----
The disconnect of the national Democratic Party from everyday people was also major topic, intertwined with desperation. In the counties Simitian visited, he heard repeatedly that the big issues of the national Democratic Party--the ones that they were "harping" on--were largely irrelevant to the voters. Example: "We don't care where an 8-year-old pees."
Simitian reminded the audience that both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street arose from similar discontent and alienation (with the Bush policies that were carried over by Obama). He heard people condemn the current Center vs. Left conflicts within the national Democratic Party--what is important is delivering on what matters. They wanted more services, less government. What the Democratic elite characterized as Clinton's "impeccable credentials", they saw as evidence that she had failed them.
There was also a large disconnect between the national party and the local party organizations. I had listened to the audiobook for Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, which I do not recommend.(foot#4) The book portrays the Clinton campaign organization as hearing, and ignoring, concerns and disquiet from some of the state and county organization, but what Simitian presented should have been blaring alarms. For example, in Cambria County (PA), for every lawn sign for Clinton, there were an estimated 200 for Trump. and the gap would have been larger except that the Trump campaign ran out of signs: There was a waiting list and people were standing in line to get signs when a new batch arrived, plus people were making their own.
Simitian mentioned a phonebank volunteer who was hearing visceral negative reactions against Clinton, but that information apparently went nowhere. The volunteer wondered "Why didn't we see this coming at us?"
Simitian heard of a large enthusiasm gap, with many Clinton supporters seeing her as only the lesser of two evils. One person compared Clinton to Bob Dole, the Republican Presidential candidate in 1996: We know s/he is going to lose, but it is her/his turn, and s/he is our candidate. Another similarity was that neither had a message.
Statements of alienation: Out-of-touch (repeatedly). A big city party that out of touch with small towns and rural areas, fostering the politics of resentment. Trump is at least talking about things that matter to them. A Democratic Party activist said that it needed to stop being the party that thinks it knows best.
So why did people who were alienated from the national party say they stayed registered as Democrats? So that they can vote for the local officials, such as sheriff, who are truly important to their lives.
ME: Trump's final campaign ad was "Donald Trump's Argument For America" (2 minutes long). On YouTube, it was dated as 2016-11-06, just two days before the election. My immediate reaction was "Wow. That was powerful. If he had released this earlier, Clinton would be toast." But in the news media aligned with the Democratic Party, this ad was dismissed and disparaged as "dark". The media similarly trashed Trump's nomination speech, contrary to my guess that he had been very effective in reaching his target audience.
----Disconnect on values----
Simitian mentioned several well-known books, such as Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance, 2016-06-28. He then pointed at the work of Joan C. Williams, which I would highly recommend. She has a book-- White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (2017-05-16)--but there are videos from the book tour (all the related articles I could find were behind paywalls). I would recommend the YouTube video LSE III | Professor Joan C. Williams | Why Did Trump Win? Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (LSE III = International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics). Simitian also recommended the video of a sermon The Continental Divide (58:52) by pastor Tommy Nelson of the Denton Bible Media Ministry (Texas) to see another perspective.(foot#5) However, I would remind you that Trump triumphed in the primaries over candidates supported by the Christian Right, and the Christian Right's weakness was one of the big surprises of those primaries. Note that this sermon contains various falsehoods that are common among that segment of the population.
ME (for remainder of section): Over the decades, there have been multiple studies of the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives, and they are surprisingly consistent in the results (Psychology has a large problem with the reproducibility of results). The researcher identifies 5-7 dimensions--typically the limit for what can fit in a traditional academic paper--and finds significant differences between liberals and conservatives in how they prioritize these values. It was claimed that conservatives could understand the full range of values, but that liberals could understand only the 1-2 that were their priorities. At first this seemed preposterous, but over the years I have come to believe it because I have seen numerous intelligent and thoughtful critiques by conservatives of liberals' priorities, but can't remember a similar critique by a liberal of conservative priorities.
The current prominent treatment of this can be found in the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Its promotional tour and related events generated magazine articles and videos of talks, which I recommend.(foot#6)
One of those dimensions that is a high priority for conservatives--but not liberals--goes by labels such as "Group Loyalty" and involves aspects such as duty, honor and other community and interpersonal obligations. This leads them to be invested in the community in ways that create a social safety net that doesn't involve government, especially government outside that community.(foot#7) The dominant economic philosophy of the Democratic Party is Neoliberalism, and it assumes mobility of labor (people). It assigns no value to community and interpersonal relationships, expecting that people can easily move away from extended family and community.(foot#8)
Thomas Frank's 2004 book What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America asks the question why people were voting against their interests, but suffers from interests being treated as largely restricted to economics.(foot#9) His recent book is Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, and there are numerous articles and videos from the promotional tour.(foot#10)
In August 2016, WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan (conservative) wrote a widely circulated piece "How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen" which noted aspects such as the elites being oblivious or uncaring about the negative effects of their policies on the non-elites because they are both out-of-touch and insulated from those policies.(foot#11)
In the aftermath of the Democrats loss in the Georgia special election for US House of Representatives, Tim Ryan, who had challenged Nancy Pelosi for leadership of House Democrats, said that the Democrats' brand had become "toxic" in much of the country because voters saw Democrats as "not being able to connect with the issues they care about" and that "Our brand is worse than Trump" .(foot#12)
The book Shattered presents the Clinton campaign as rejecting entreaties from many--including Bill Clinton--to engage in persuasion. The first step in doing persuasion is understanding the target's values, priorities and perspectives. This is important not just for persuading people to vote for you, but to avoid unnecessarily antagonizing people into voting against you.
Simitian heard complaints about the arrogance and condescending attitudes of the Democratic elites. (foot#9) (ME: In the lead-up to the primaries, various Democratic insiders warned about "smugness", which might be a better search term for those interested in the warnings). One person asked "Why do you have to push this in our face?" He mentioned a gay couple who had their wedding in a private home instead of their church to avoid discomforting some of the congregation.
ME: Many of us grew up with the admonition "Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean that it is the right (smart) thing to do" or a variant such as "...doesn't mean you should". Small communities don't have the luxury of having enough people to provide the critical masses to support various activities, and exclusion and self-segregation weakens the community. Being accommodating becomes a priority when you can't simply join a different group (as you can in a large city). People who unjustifiably give or take offense quickly acquire a reputation to their detriment.
Similar to "The coverup can be worse than the crime", the message behind the giving of an insult can be worse than the insult itself. The practices of the Democrat elite, Progressives and Social Justice Warriors is antithetical to this: finding insults where none was intended, hyperbolic responses to trivialities, ...
Then there are the insults designed to very publicly demonstrate power and utter contempt for the targets. Example 1: "We spit on your ancestors' graves": The Democratic Party regime in New Orleans began removing Confederate statues in the early morning hours of Confederate Memorial Day.(foot#13)
Example 2: "Our proclaimed concerns for women do not extend to your daughters." When the Obama administration issued its instructions on bathrooms and student gender identity, there were many protests about the potential for abuse.(foot#14) Rather than address those concerns, Democrats disparaged and demonized the concerned parents. Among my friends with some background in politics, the reaction was "Are the Democrats trying to lose?"
Example 3: The Obama administration's 2011 instructions to colleges on handling complaints of rape and other sexual offenses was characterized by multiple insiders as a system intended to produce convictions, not justice. In cases appealed to real courts, at least one judge explicitly characterized the proceeding as a kangaroo court (the accused were not allowed to know the charges, were not allowed to confront witnesses, were limited in bringing their own witnesses, and witness testimony was treated as evidence of the opposite having happened). As evidence of wrongful convictions piled up, the Obama administration took no corrective action.(foot#15) It took Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to rescind the Obama instructions, with the claim that she intended to produce a replacement that provides justice for both the accuser and the accused. Or as a hypothetical Republican political ad might put it: "We stand for justice for all. For Democrats, Political Correctness/Identity Politics is more important than justice." Recognize that Political Correctness and Identity Politics were cited as major factors for many Trump voters.
Although none of the above examples may have had any impact with a specific voter, there were just so many similar situations that voters may well have encountered one or more that resonated with them.
One of the biggest insults is to treat people as being so insignificant that their existence can easily be ignored. For example, one of the popular claims among Progressives and Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) is that Whites have privilege resulting from generations of inherited wealth stretching back into the times of slavery. Tell this to a family whose only asset is a house that is worth little or nothing--no potential buyers--but feels honor-bound to pay off the mortgage even though it would be financially better for them to just walk away. Tell that to those who are renters. Tell that to people whose ancestors arrived as penniless immigrants long after the Civil War. Tell that to the descendants of families that lost their most precious assets in the war to end slavery: over 365,000 Union dead, over 282,000 wounded. To the Democratic elite, many of these people are not part of their "coalition of the ascendant" and are thus irrelevant, if not invisible.
Another similar characterization is that Whites are highly educated and have high incomes. For example, on an NPR show, I heard a college professor claim that "Whites never have to compete for a job" but instead just call up a friend from "the Lacrosse team". The interviewer didn't say "Whoa!" or otherwise express any skepticism of this and other claims the professor was making. In his talk, Simitian reminded the audience of actual education levels: In Palo Alto, 85% of those over 25 years old have Bachelor's degrees; in Macomb County (MI) it is 23%; in Cambria County (PA) it is 19%; in Robeson County (NC) it is 13%. Ask yourself how are the people like those in these counties going to respond to a Democratic Party that proposes to fix the economy with massive spending to make college free?(foot#16) Remember, the sub-subtitle of his talk was "A bubble within a bubble within a bubble".
During the campaign, I tried to find well-written analyses to send to friends who were considering having to vote for Trump. It was an exercise in futility. All the potential choices were peppered with extraneous disparaging remarks about Whites and/or males--some that were signifiers of bias and others seemed to only serve as in-group signifiers to the expected audience (their bubble). Plus there were the usual partisan talking-points that were false. I was not about to damage my credibility with these friends by recommending that they read such articles. Attaching a disclaimer would have been worse because it would have implicitly pointed out how out-of-touch and hostile national Democrats and the Left are. I had become desensitized to this behavior during college and grad school, both from campus Leftists and from reading history that included Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-NewLeft documents. I was shaken out of this when I encountered a business/technology news article on a new energy efficiency standard that identified the benefit as reducing the need to impose "more power stations on minority communities".
Simitian asked the audience if they knew why the Monday after Thanksgiving was an informal holiday in the Pennsylvania county he visited. About 5-10% of the portion of the audience I could see raised their hands. Answer: It was the first day of regular deer hunting season (Note: the schedule varies by state and there are additional periods for archery, muzzle-loaders ...).(foot#17)
ME: Most of this is not sport or trophy hunting. Getting deer is an expected part of the food budget for many families, and thus it is important for both adults and older children to be involved, especially during the beginning of opening day: The odds of success plummet during the opening hours. In my high school, about a third of the students were absent on opening day.
Aside: Hunters have been important parts of the conservation movement. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, duck hunters' organizations were widely credited as the political bulwark against developers who wanted to fill in wetlands and other waterfowl habitat. And they supported--financially and politically--the improvement and expansion of habitat. Today, a few conservationists are worried about the declining number of duck hunters, but most are unaware that they were such a big part of why there are still wetlands left to preserve.
Guns are a big wedge issue between conservatives and liberals. The gun control advocacy groups and news media associated with the Democratic Party largely ignore this large segment of the population who are gun owners. Imagine how they feel when gun ownership is characterized as only criminality, mental illness, vanity or merely making a political statement. Many of these advocacy groups haven't even bothered to learn basic terminology and its correct use, signaling that they have absolutely no intention of engaging in discussion, much less having any interest in trying to reach a reasonable solution.(foot#18) Also those advocacy group often descend to irrationality, hyperbole and even hysteria that can exceed that of the NRA (National Rifle Association, the most prominent gun lobbying group).(foot#19)(foot#20)(foot#21)
NOTE: The above was written and being proof-read before the mass shooting in Las Vegas. As you read the news coverage, opinion pieces and statements from advocacy groups, ask yourself "Does this help move us toward a solution, or does it function to score political points, be divisive and inflame the situation?" An example of the latter is this LA Times news article that has large doses of partisanship.
Reminder: Simitian's talk was about Democrats, as is my commentary here. This is not a compare-and-contrast (to Republicans or whatever).
Simitian was surprised that the issues mentioned in the counties he visited were far fewer than expected: immigration, terrorism, Obamacare (and a few more that I missed). He was surprised by the "animosity" toward Clinton. People didn't trust her and didn't like her. A Democratic official who was a graduate of an elite university said that he would vote for Stalin before Clinton (Did being dead weighed in Stalin's favor?). He heard assessments that Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders would have won.
On trust problems, they cited the emails, the Clinton Foundation and Benghazi. Aside by ME: On Benghazi, it was the White House that created the trust problem and only later did Clinton bring her trademarked mismanagement of PR to the issue (and which was aggressively exploited by rightwing media).
Clinton was criticized for not focusing on the important issues. In Macomb County (MI) there was a strong reaction to Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine speaking Spanish in part of his speech: "Those are the people that want to take our jobs!"
ME: My biggest surprise from the book Shattered was that there seemed to be no recognition within the Clinton campaign of the trust problem, much less an effort to address it.
The Democratic establishment portrayed Hillary Clinton to be the "most qualified" person to ever run for President. Wrong. The managerial-professional class--of which I and most of you readers belong--often conflates "credentials" with "qualifications" (web search will provide details). For me and many like me, Clinton was unqualified at a very basic level, and tolerable only in comparison to someone like Trump. This sort of disconnect on how many people evaluate a candidate may have played a significant role in Democratic defeats (not just Clinton's).
Note: This is only to present other perspectives that mattered during the campaign--those perspectives are now facts of ancient history and arguing about their correctness is off-topic.
1. In summer 2015, at least one prominent Democrat memorably warned that with the Clintons you should always expect a scandal to pop up, and that with Hillary, you should expect her to bungle it by stretching it out and otherwise making it worse. Others expressed similar concerns. I want a President who is a good crisis manager, not one who is a crisis maker and magnifier.
2. Clinton seriously mismanaged her campaigns in both 2008 and 2016, although the book Shattered portrays the mismanagement as much worse than what appeared in the media before the election. If you can't properly manage a campaign, how are you going to properly manage the Executive Branch of the federal government?
3. As Secretary of State, she showed little awareness of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan in her handling of Libya and Syria. Having knowledge becomes irrelevant if one demonstrates that they can't be expected to make good use of it.
4. She was far too insular and self-insulated to be an effective leader. Little had changed from when she voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, with the later explanation that she had consulted her foreign policy experts. No mention of the many doubts about the Cheney-Bush claims that were raised in many newspapers (the now-defunct Knight-Ridder being notable in publishing evidence that various of those claims were false).
5. Clinton has severe problem understanding how her actions are perceived by others, even when it is being pointed out to her. For example, a reviewer of her current book (What Happened) cited a passage about her high-paid talks to the financial companies: She saw herself as doing nothing wrong and couldn't understand why others were suspicious of those actions. Another example: She couldn't see that her campaign slogan "I'm with her" emphasized and exacerbated one of her big negatives. It was so bad that a slogan of "Clinton: The lesser evil" might have been more effective (self-deprecating, self-aware).
When I asked Clinton supporters about their reasons, I first got "because she's a woman" and then checklists of very specific policies she purported to support. When I brought up her vote authorizing the Iraq War, it got waved off as ancient history and an isolated event, whereas I saw it as evidence of character and of her approach to decision-making.
Clinton failed to respond to the difference between "credentials" and "qualifications" despite warnings during the primaries. The most memorable was (Republican) Carly Fiorina's comeback to Clinton having cited the many miles she had flown and foreign leaders she had met as Secretary of State: "Flying is an activity, not an accomplishment." Similarly when Fiorina challenged Clinton supporters to produce a list of her accomplishment, the result came across as damning with faint praise.(foot#22)
----Ignoring Trump's faults----
The people talking to Simitian about voting for Trump said that they were well-aware of his legion of faults, but that it didn't matter enough to them. However, his talk didn't include why this was.
ME: Was it for the reasons mentioned in the Desperation section above that they chose to take a risk on Trump? Or was it a failure of the Clinton campaign to adequately highlight the implications of these faults? Or ...?
While the Clinton campaign cited some of Trump's many faults, it failed to humanize them. This is basic persuasion psychology. For example, instead of just saying that Trump had sleazy business practices, I would have expected campaign commercials that had a sequence of the people who Trump had shafted facing the camera and saying a sentence or two about what happened, and how it negatively affected them (example: His refusal to pay put my company out of business). I would have hammered at how Trump had demonstrated that trusting him was the road to ruin. The people I know in battleground states didn't see anything remotely resembling this.
On foreign affairs, the dominant commercial was little more than clips of Trump saying positive things about various dictators. It failed to make even a strong implication for why Trump would be dangerous, and said nothing about why Clinton would be good. In contrast, the corresponding Trump commercial very effectively slammed Clinton. If it had been me, I wouldn't have gone all the way to the 1964 Johnson "Daisy commercial", but I would have strongly considered one with North Korea in the background and saying something like "There is a country that has nuclear weapons and that is ruled by an erratic, hypersensitive, insecure, preening bully. When the US has to deal with that country, what sort of President would you want?"
Since people in places such as California don't see many of the political commercials, I had looked at best-of compilations for Clinton and Trump. The Clinton commercials seemed like preaching to the choir--for those outside that group, they seem to mumble "She still doesn't get it." Meanwhile the Trump commercials were very visceral. Simitian heard about the enthusiasm gap (above) and the comparison of the sets of commercials seemed to reflect that.
Consider Trump's infamous Access Hollywood comments. The portion of the comment I fastened on was "And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything." This was a statement of the arrogant abuse of power and privilege, and enjoying dominating and humiliating others. This was very relevant to how he would perform in office, and would have been yet another instance to hammer home the larger theme. The Democratic elite chose to fasten on "Grab them by the pussy" which involved personal behavior. Speculating, many voters might have dismissed this as not affecting them, family, friends ..., but only the very, very few who would ever be within an arm's reach of Trump. I hear you protest that this was indicative of how he would govern, but I didn't hear the Democrats even try to make that case, only that he was a despicable individual. You can't expect voters to know what you know and make the same judgments you make.
It is hard to tell how much of these failings were due to Clinton's inner circle, and how much represented the larger Democratic elite.
Or could it have been that the media loyal to Clinton had lost credibility by crying wolf too often and too long. They had probably reached this point during the Democratic primaries. During the main campaign, Clinton and the allied news media chose to ignore most of Trump's many real negatives and instead focus on claims that were easily refuted.
- Trump is a Nazi (defining characteristic: genocide/"ethnic cleansing" both internally and in conquered lands).
- Trump is a fascist (defining characteristics: single party, top-down control of many aspects of society, national mobilization). More than basic authoritarianism but potentially less than totalitarian. The fascist version of "greatness" is international military dominance, empire, aggression and other uses of force, which is very different from what Trump was talking about. Remember that Trump talked about pulling back from the US being the world's policeman and anchor of alliances, and was widely criticized for it. The basic symbol of fascism is a bundle of rods (with an axe) symbolizing "strength through unity". The slogan "Stronger together" wasn't Trump's.
- Trump is an authoritarian. Nope, he lacks the requisite self-discipline, attention span, political skills, ...
- Claiming that Trump said "All Mexicans are rapists", when his actual statement was that a subset of a subset (of a subset?) of Mexicans were rapists. A certain amount of exaggeration is to be expected in political campaigns, but this was beyond that threshold. While many give leeway to candidates, such deceptive portrayals is unacceptable from the news media.
- Claiming that Trump invited/.../pleaded with the Russians to hack Clinton's computers for the missing emails. If you look at what he actually said in context (video from C-SPAN via YouTube), he was poking at Clinton about failing to have proper computer security for sensitive information, and implying that Russia might have stolen those emails long before. Besides, if you were to believe the characterization by Clinton and news media, that would mean that those emails still existed--one cannot find something that doesn't exist--and consequently Clinton had committed perjury when she testified that they had been deleted. With friends and supporters like this, who needs enemies.
Final reminder: Simitian's talk, and my commentary, are about the national Democratic Party being out-of-touch with large portions of the country, such as the three counties he visited. I heard nothing in his talk about Hillary Clinton that was not in service to this higher theme: The failings of her campaign seemed to be primarily a problem within the Democratic elite, exacerbated by her limitations. Simitian's surprise at a number of the things he heard is indicative of this disconnect, and he is to be commended for the time and effort he spent visiting the three counties (one week each).
The big message from the talk was the desperation that has been festering and growing for decades, and the danger it represents to the country. He encountered people that called out Silicon Valley as part of the problem.
For those of you who attended this, or other, presentations of this talk, I expect that readers here would appreciate your comments about what you found notable about what he said.
Also appropriate: Parallels to our local situation.
For getting a sense of the viewpoint of others, I prefer to listen to them speak over reading, partly because those who write about their positions constitute a much narrower range. And for listening, YouTube is my first choice, both because of its quantity, and because its recommendation algorithm allows me to start with a very few and get more offered up.
I would advise ignoring videos that are interviews and panels because they have much less content than scripted videos.
If you are interested in the conservative viewpoint, I recommend starting with Matt Christiansen and select some from the "Vlogs and Commentaries" on topics that interest you. He tends to make calm, reasoned, analytical critiques.
Remember: This is not a recommendation of his viewpoints, but recommending him as pump priming for the YouTube recommendations.
Another entry point is Roaming Millennial. She talks about issues at a higher level than Christiansen, and with more passion. Disagreeing without being disagreeable.
A third entry point is Independent Man who tends to provide mildly sarcastic commentary on videos of particular events, focusing on Social Justice advocates. He is an Australian, but also covers the US, Canada and other countries with similar phenomena.
Jordan B Peterson is a possibility, but his semi-scripted videos tend to meander. He tends to be sharper and more focused in interviews.
I recommend against Ben Shapiro because his presentations tend to be more aggressive and targeted to those in his bubble/echo chamber, which may antagonize those who are not true believers. Also, since he tends to be in the mode of telling his intended audience what they want to hear, his talks tend to have problems with logic and facts. I can't remember him saying anything I thought was interesting or well-formulated. However, Shapiro is prominent on the rightwing lecture circuits, and you might want to give him a listen to get a sense of what sort of red meat his audiences are devouring.
Note: I may be biased against Shapiro because in 2011 I had the misfortune of reading one of his books (very long Amazon review): It was massively disingenuous and dishonest.
Alternate approach: Pick a topic and see what shows up as the top recommendations. "Evergreen State College" is a good YouTube search term because it is recent and most of the videos are from a conservative perspective. "James Damore" (Google diversity memo) is not as good a search term because you may get many Progressive videos in the recommendations--recognize that your search results are influenced by your own viewing history.
Reminder: You are not listening to these speakers to be convinced or to refute them, but to try to better understand the viewpoints they represent.
Warning: Watching video of viewpoints you disagree with will skew your Google and YouTube recommendations--too many at a time will cause the recommendation algorithm to classify you as an adherent of that viewpoint and give you more and more extreme viewpoints and decrease recommendations of articles from your viewpoint.
I handle this by creating multiple personas, which is easy for me because I have my own Internet domain and thus can create email aliases that are the starting point for such personas.
1. Cambria County:
One of the cities Simitian visited in Cambria was the site of the Johnston Flood of 1889. I was surprised that this apparently wasn't mentioned in this conversations (in areas like the Appalachian plateau, 128 years--4-6 generations--can be recent history). A dam collapsed, sending a wall of water--up to 60 feet high--down the narrow valley, killing more than 2200 people, devastating the city and nearby villages. The dam provided a lake for a exclusive private resort and had been negligently managed and maintained. The city government deserved some blame for ignoring warnings about the situation, but there had been too many false warnings.
2. Origins of current economic policy:
The current US government economic policy is "financialization": "a process whereby financial services, broadly construed, take over the dominant economic, cultural, and political role in a national economy" (Kevin Phillips).
This began during the Jimmy Carter administration (1977-1981) and, with the election of Bill Clinton (1992), was confirmed as the dominant policy in the Democratic Party. This shift was aided by the Democrats' decision in the early 1980s to redirect their fundraising efforts to large donors as the best means to match Republican Party fundraising. The leading advocate for this change was Tony Coelho, a California Central Coast Congressman and chair of the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee).
An interesting account/perspective--that I don't have the knowledge to vouch for--can be found in a long article "How Post-Watergate Liberals Killed Their Populist Soul: In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system" by Matt Stoller, 2016-10-24 (cited in a footnote of my blog of 2017-07-16).
3. Steelworker knowledge:
In footnote 3 of my blog of 2016-10-03, I gave some examples of the analogous knowledge required of glassworkers.
4. Recommending against book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign :
This book is roughly what you would have read in the news media during the campaign, with small additions of details of interactions between the various members of the campaign. My interest was in why they failed to take some seemingly obvious actions, plus more details of the debate within the campaign. The book provides little of this. From reviews I knew that there would be long sections reiterating what was widely known, so I chose the audiobook so I could listen while doing other things, such as exercising (both myself and the cat).
5. Evangelical sermon:
The sermon starts with a discussion of America and democracy (many inaccuracies). Then specific issues: anti-abortion, anti-LGBT+ ... The overarching thesis comes @44:21: "Christians:
Your freedoms are seen by this party (Democrats) as bigotry.
Your beliefs are seen a bigotry.
Your morals are seen as bigotry.
You, as a fundamentalist, are seen (as a hitch) as a glitch in the evolutionary progress of which we would be better off if you were gone.
That is how we are seen. ...
They will not stand your stance, and they will not stand your standing.
One of them will go. Them or you will go."
6. Jonathan Haidt - Righteous Mind:
A collection of links to overlapping talks from the book tour, invited talks and participation on various panels.
7. Community safety net:
From what I read, see and experienced years ago, using the government social safety net is an admission of several types of failure for many segments of the population. In many of these places, there are an abnormally high number of people on Disability because Disability is what you earned from working (Disability Insurance payments), while welfare is a handout. There often is an understanding of this by local doctors and by the local offices of the large government agencies.
8. Investment in community:
This was part of my two-part blog of 2016-04/08: "Community or Extended-stay Hotel or ...?", Part 1 and Part 2.
The Brexit (Britain's Exit from the EU) election is routinely cited as an earlier example of the forces behind the 2016 US Presidential Election. Two things that struck me from the Brexit media coverage:
- The Remain supporters routinely emphasized the importance to them to be able to easily move to another country (job, retirement, ...), whereas the Leave supporters prioritized what was happening to their current local communities.
- The Leave supporters complained about the loss of local control, out-of-touch EU bureaucrats and the undemocratic behavior of the EU, whereas Remain supporters saw important benefits in EU-wide policies and for that they are willing to cede control to a large, distant bureaucracy ("the experts") in Brussels. The EU legislature has the reputation of being little more than a luxurious retirement home, or place of exile, for cast-off politicians from the member countries.
9. What's the Matter with Kansas + Condescension (cited twice):
"Were Trump Voters Irrational?" by Keith Stanovich, 2017-09-28.
A long form article about psychological research about the biases in judging other people's decision-making.
10. Thomas Frank book: Listen Liberal:
Among the many videos, I would recommend the one from the end of his book tour (2017-04-06) at the Kansas City Public Library: "What to Make of the Age of Trump by Thomas Frank" (1:45:50, talk begins at 19:45). The audience questions and the responses are interesting enough to be worth listening to. Frank said that one frustration of his life was the complacency of the Democratic Party, and that it believes in "The Coalition of the Ascendant": That everyone votes their demographics forever and you don't have to do anything or serve anyone (@1:06:55). .
Interesting aside: He claims that what he says in this talk is no longer permissible in the US mainstream media--NPR, NY Times, MSNBC--which is why he writes for the British-based The Guardian which provides extensive coverage of the US (Aside: The Guardian is decidedly left-wing, but often has better journalism than many US news media outlets).
11. Noonan's WSJ article:
"How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen" by Peggy Noonan, WSJ (paywall), 2016-08-11. "Declarations columnist Peggy Noonan writes that those in power see people at the bottom as aliens whose bizarre emotions they must try to manage."
This column was widely syndicated and you may be able to find it on some other newspapers site, but most of the search hits are on sites of news aggregators, that is, they have little more than the title and then link to the WSJ page.
Background: Noonan was a top speech writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. As a measure of her ability to first understand what would connect with the intended audience and then to execute on that, she is credited with writing two of the best US political speeches of the 20th Century, as well as producing several lasting and memorable phrases. She won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
12. Brand worse than Trump:
"After Ossoff defeat: Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: 'Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump' " - by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, 2017-06-21, NYTimes (tiered subscription).
13. Public statues:
Surveys over the years have found that most people have little awareness of the typical statues that they routinely walk by, some not even remembering that they are there. Even among those who notice the statues, only a minority can remember even vaguely who/what it commemorates, and very few who know any details. Who does notice statues? Pigeons. They are great places to perch and poop. (But does outreach on statue decisions ever include this large stakeholder group? No! :-).
Don't believe me? There is a statue in front of the California Academy of Sciences (in Golden Gate Park). Have you ever noticed it? Who and what is it about?
Answer: The statue is of Robert Emmet (picture) who was an Irish Republican rebel executed in 1803, with NO connection to San Francisco, California, or the US. Timeline: This execution occurred between the creation of The Presidio (1776) and the 1835 origin of the city of Yerba Buena--the predecessor of San Francisco.
My assessment is that statues are largely ineffective as either commemorations or propaganda, except for a brief burst of publicity surrounding the dedication or similar events. For example, there is Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square in central London. Notice that it is the massive column that people refer to--the statue at the top is irrelevant (perfunctory?).
Conservatives and classic liberals see such instances as evidence that SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) and various Progressives are basing policy choices on a hierarchy of oppression, marginalization and victimhood of various groups. In this instance, because transgender people are higher in the hierarchy, women's rights are to be subordinated.
These observations come up in various presentations--I remember it being part of some of the talks by Jonathan Haidt (mentioned above), probably in the section "Versions focusing on/applicable to academia". However, even if the policy is an instance of that approach, I expect that this will go largely unnoticed except to those sensitized to that way of thinking. For the typical voter, this will be too down in the weeds and they will likely view the decision in isolation.
15. Unfair process in campus-rape accusations::
A informative, but long, overview of the criticisms with examples: "The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy" by Emily Yoffe - The Atlantic, 2017-09-06.
"At many schools, the rules intended to protect victims of sexual assault mean students have lost their right to due process--and an accusation of wrongdoing can derail a person's entire college education."
16. Free college:
In 1980-1983, I was an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Oregon State University. Because of budget cutbacks for public schools, many students were entering with less than 3 years of math and 3 years of science, often only 1 year of each. Consequently remedial courses were a large part of their freshman year. I had come from The University of Michigan where that was prerequisite for all applicants. Thus, the typical Engineering or Science major at Oregon State was less prepared for that field than an English major at Michigan. From what I hear and read, this situation is common across the country.
Point: Free college tuition is irrelevant to students with poor secondary educations, and to students whose aptitudes and personalities are poor fits to careers requiring college degrees.
Point: For several decades it has been pointed out that many jobs that don't actually require a Bachelor's degree have come to have that being required of applicants. This has produced multiple distortions in the economy that free-college would exacerbate.
17. Deer hunting:
Absent their natural predators--wolves and mountain lions--deer tend to over-populate their environment. Even with hunting, they seem to remain abundant to the point of being pests or being at risk of mass die-offs in winter from starvation.
18. Guns: Ignorance among Democratic Party elite:
The cluelessly ignorant statements by Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine (VP candidate) and others about "silencers" has been widely, and justifiable, ridiculed. They are a good example of Democratic politicians who don't appear to even have go-to people to fact-check drafts of such statements.
The NRA is a powerful lobbying group with a budget that is tiny compared to many other lobbying groups. Their power comes from making very effective use of that budget to rally supporters. And various gun-control advocates often make it easy for them, providing gasoline to pour on the fire.
20. Gun control measures: Statistics and focus
The website FiveThirtyEight (Nate Silver et al) has done a series of articles analyzing gun deaths and related issues, with two summary articles in the aftermath of Las Vegas:
"Mass Shootings Are A Bad Way To Understand Gun Violence" by Maggie Koerth-Baker, 2017-10-03.
"I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise." by Leah Libresco, Washington Post (tiered subscription), 2017-10-03.
The focus is on reducing gun deaths by what measures would produce the largest reductions. The biggest category is suicide, especially by older males, followed by "traditional" criminal acts (large majority are drug-related). Third is domestic violence. A substantial majority of gun deaths involve pistols--not semi-automatic rifles. An alternate focus might be on "innocent victims", which would ignore significant portions of the first two categories. Unfortunately, after yet another tragedy, the media chooses to highlight those who have an emotional reaction but can't be bothered to listen to the practicalities of what can be done, and those who cynically use the spotlight for virtue signaling and self-promotion.
Note: Although the authors of those articles appear to be of the urban professional elite with little/no experience with guns, their commitment to inquiry and statistically analysis seems to override their cultural biases.
Aside: Earlier data-based analyses had negligible impact on policy, and I see nothing to indicate that that will change.
21. Gun politics: Small but telling example:
During her confirmation hearing, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that she was willing to let local school boards decide whether it was appropriate to have a gun available to the school staff, and cited as a potential example--from Wyoming Senator Enzi--of a rural Wyoming school that had tall fences to guard against grizzly bears ("In Grizzly Country, DeVos' Gun Remark Lands Differently" - AP, 2017-01-19). The reporter can be forgiven for not realizing that a gun can be used to scare off wildlife, not just kill it, with the former often preferable. However, the bias or cluelessness of the article is seen in the suggestion that an elementary school art teacher might be the one tasked with using the gun: Arts education in many rural schools disappeared many years ago as budgets shrunk.
In other versions of this story, gun control advocates made the argument that because of the massacres of students by people who illegally brought guns onto the campus, the students would be endangered by designated members of school staff having access to a gun. (No, I couldn't follow the logic)
Note: Every school I know of has a safe for things like standardized test materials, and it is typically in a locked closet in a room where students are not permitted, or permitted only with staff supervision. They could probably provide similar accommodations for a gun safe.
The end of the article quotes from a press release from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, but it no longer seems to be available on their web site. However, I did find it at one of their chapters. The opening two sentence make it seem like a parody, but the remainder is very characteristic of such proclamations:
"We get it, bears can be scary. But for every fatal bear attack in 2015, 18,000 Americans were killed with a gun. Too many of those were students, shot with a gun they should have never had access to in the first place. It's clear that Betsy DeVos barely understands the very real issue of school violence, or the risks of guns to our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, and American students deserve better."
Excuse me, but is the Brady Campaign portraying this as having semi-automatic rifles standing in the corners of classrooms, or teachers having pistols on their desks? If you wonder why it is so hard to get reasonable gun control even though it is supported by the large majority of Americans, it isn't just the NRA, but self-sabotaging idiocy and raw political partisanship such as this.
Personal example: I grew up in a semi-rural village of 2500. There were multiple occurrences of Black Bears wandering into town, and usually they were "encouraged" to wander back into the woods. However, one Sunday morning a sow and her cubs had wandered into the center of town and were in front of a church when it let out. The sow ordered the cubs to safety up a tree and stood protectively underneath it, but also blocking anyone from leaving the church. Fortunately the people could go back inside and wait for Fish and Game to show up with a tranquilizer gun and transport for the bears, but that was well over an hour (more likely over 2 hours).
Another time, a buck with full antlers wandered onto main street and and was charging at shoppers. Some volunteer matadors manage to distract the deer long enough for everyone to get safely inside buildings. The village's lone police officer, riding in the back of a pickup truck, managed to lasso the deer and tether it to a parking meter until Fish and Game could arrive. In each of these cases, there were people with rifles or shotguns standing by should the need arise.
Lesson: The urban elites, especially of the Democratic Party, have a long history of being resistant to making real attempts to comprehend how the non-urban areas are different.
22. Clinton supporters' faint praise, some examples:
"What Is Hillary's Greatest Accomplishment? Carly Fiorina dared Democrats to name it. 20 top Dems accepted the challenge" in Politico Magazine (2015-09-17).
"Why I'm supporting Hillary Clinton" by Thomas J. Vilsack (former Governor of Iowa) in The Gazette of Cedar Rapids Iowa (2015-08-25).
Aside: I mentioned these in my 2015-10-02 blog "Lessons in marketing yourself: 'Making lemonade' from the Presidential campaigns".
An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.
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