Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 20, 2020
Fair and balanced

Like much of the world I am watching the ongoing tragicomedy of the inept tinpot dictator of a banana republic trying to steal an election while claiming that it is his opponents who stole the election from him. Well, it would be just a comedy, the tragic part is the one where this happens in a country that was once viewed as a beacon of democracy.

The claims that a vast conspiracy of Democrats in big cities all over the country stole the election, implying that only the rural votes should actually be counted, are obviously preposterous. But I got really worried when following the reporting on how bad the USA had become, until I realized something: The claims that a vast conspiracy of Republicans all over the country is trying to steal the election is an equally big lie.

Once I had realized that, the panic stopped. I watched Fox News reporting that Guiliani didn't have any evidence at all and that there was no way Trump would remain president. If fair and balanced reporting is actually coming from Fox News, that proves that a large part of the right still hasn't lost the connection to reality. And once you look for it, you find lots of other proof for that: Republican state officials declaring Joe Biden the winner and denying all allegations of voter fraud, Trump appointed judges kicking out frivolous lawsuits from the Trump legal team. This isn't a fight between the Democratic left and the Republican right, it is a fight between the part of the Republican party that is still based in reality, and the fantasy wing of the party.

What I found somewhat missing in this debate was a bipartisan alliance of the moderates fighting for reality. I didn't see much left wing reporting about Republicans doing the right thing, other than showing Trump firing those Republicans doing the right thing. In the end, both sides are hurting Democracy by exaggerating the differences, and not admitting that the other side is just human beings with real concerns, who just happen to disagree on politics. Showing your political enemies as some sort of inhuman monsters is exactly what ultimately enables domestic terror, political violence, and civil war.

After all, there is an easy solution to the Trump problem. Him and his most fervent supporters have shown repeatedly that they aren't much concerned about reality, and would much prefer to live in a fantasy world. "Covid is a hoax, don't mind the quarter million bodies piling up over there!". So why not just use that? Why not create a fantasy America, with Trump as a fantasy president in a fake White House, speaking every day via Newsmax to his supporters, while in the real world Joe Biden is president of the real America in the real White House? You just completely isolate both sides from each other, and everybody is happy!

You dont see it plastered over the news for all the reasons we've already discussed in previous posts but yes moderate Republicans have moved on from Trump and I'd guess gladly so. They still supported the Republican party down ballot but a second term Trump presidency was rejected by moderates.

But as we know getting people angry drives ratings!
71m people still voted for the guy presenting fantasy land while those bodies pile up, and while the Fox News desk declared the election over, the top rated hosts on that channel are still denying it. The Trump cult isn't some small minority we can place to the side and ignore; its a significant portion of America that has been brainwashed and has very significant representation in government and beyond (most of those people know its all a lie, but its profitable for them to go along with it).
Well, even Tucker Carlson is now asking the Trump legal team for proof of the alleged voter fraud, and reports that he isn't getting any.

But the more fundamental problem is that you treat 71 million fellow Americans as lesser humans, as "brainwashed". Instead of asking the very important question of why these 71 million people decided to vote for the orange clown, in spite of probably knowing quite well how unsuited he is for the job. The answer probably has to do a lot more with the economic effects of globalisation than it has to do with brainwashing.
The answer probably has to do a lot more with the economic effects of globalisation than it has to do with brainwashing.

Really? And what exactly has Trump accomplished to reduce "the economic effects of globalisation" in any meaningful way? Has any Republican policy ever helped to reduce the economic effects of globalisation in, say, the last 20 years? No, these are voters who have consistently voted against their own economic self-interest for decades, and will follow anyone willing to promise to hurt the right people. That's what they care about... well, that and abortion.

I know you're a centrist, but this "both sides" trope is nonsense and has been since 2016. You might not have noticed how far the Overton Window has slid in the last four years, but you really want the Left to be cheering Republican election officials for doing their jobs and not outright supporting a coup? Saying "coup" sounds like hyperbole, but what else do you call it when a President is calling for election results to be overturned so he can continue being President? We've bombed Middle East countries for less. Just imagine if Obama did even one of the things Trump has done in the last month, let alone four years.

In any case, the era of moderates is over. Around 75% of Republicans believe there was election fraud, and that the election fraud that Lindsey Graham actually engaged in doesn't count. Mitch McConnell has figured out and exploited the idiocy of the Founding Fathers in terms of the Senate, and the entire Republican party is complicit in allowing him to bury hundreds of bills that would actually help working class voters. What good could working across the aisle bring when McConnell holds the keys and is the sole arbiter for anything to hit the floor?

The best chance America had was this election, and the blue wave never materialized. There is a lot of damage Biden can patch up just within the Executive branch, but we're not likely to get Ranked Choice Voting or get rid of the Electoral College for another generation. So... Plan B is to prepare as best we can for a climate apocalypse we will continue barrelling towards.
And what exactly has Trump accomplished to reduce "the economic effects of globalisation" in any meaningful way?

He hasn't reduced the economic effects of globalisation much, but he sure hurt globalisation and the standing of America as a global leader a lot.

But the worst thing he did is establishing that a president *only* is the president of "their side", the "not my president" principle. This will do immesurable harm to the United States of America in the coming decades, regardless of who currently holds the office. If you keep living on different sides of a trench, believing in different versions of "alternative facts", it will just end up hurting everybody. Contributing to that is bad, regardless of your "but the other side is even worse" excuse.
Azuriel's big gotcha is that Vox (hardly the least biased organ) wrote an opinion piece a couple of years ago in which a woman from Florida was quoted as saying Trump "is not hurting the people he needs to be hurting". Vox admit her opinion is unusual. They imply without evidence she means Blacks, or Mexicans, or Muslims - though from the linked NYT article, it seems she means that the government shutdown, intended to pressure Democrats to support a border wall to deter illegal immigration, is hurting federal workers more than it hurts anyone in government.

Trump screaming about a stolen election is embarrassing - though only because it's the president; half the Democratic rank and file, along with their friends in the media, have been screaming about an allegedly stolen election for the last four years, and all through the 2000s too.

"If you keep living on different sides of a trench, believing in different versions of "alternative facts", it will just end up hurting everybody."

I get your sentiment Tobold and on a strictly logically level it is true. I think common ground can be found between the average Democrat and Republican citizen. And I still believe that regardless of what you see in the media, MOST Republicans and Democrats are decent people who just want to live their lives and be happy. I dont have links but rough polling has shown that when issues are presented in non partisan ways to Republicans and Democrats that they agree on more issues then they would think.

The big problem is how do you bring in the extremes? As a hispanic it's hard to see where I would find common ground with someone who literally thinks I'm an inferior human being and shouldn't be here.
The problem I see is the people living in the Fox news/ Facebook bubble. They aren't stupid or mean, but they are deluded on a number of issues. I have a lot of relatives that live there, and Fox news is actually the relatively moderate source of their shared reality. The rest of it comes from Facebook, the most extreme right wing commentators on Fox and in other places, and crazy rumors that I am not even sure of the origins of.

They tend to believe stuff like:

1. Democrats, including Biden, want to ban all gun ownership. Even hunting rifles and handguns.
2. Democrats want to allow unlimited illegal immigration. They also want to give free housing and healthcare to illegal immigrants.
3. Democrats want to ban internal combustion engines and air travel.
4. Democrats want to ban beef.
5. Illegal immigrants can go to some government office, and sign up for a free house, free healthcare, and foodstamps that let them eat better than a working family can afford (a variant of 2, and I can't even imagine why they think this...where is this office? Can I go?).
6. Democrats want to force women to abort any baby that has Down syndrome or is on the autism scale.
7. Hillary Clinton was still secretly in control of the country for months after she lost the election.

The list just goes on and on. If you believe that kind of insanity, nothing that happens on Fox news is going to prompt you to question their reporting.
Truth is binary. Something either is true, or it isn’t. So even if the Republicans tell the bigger lies, why should a moderate trust a left wing news source like CNN more, when even I from a continent away can tell that they are lying too? You don’t have a Walter Cronkite anymore, who would say the truth, and everybody believed him. Now everybody is just lying, and the most truthful source of news about America is Al Jazeera!
I come to bury you and praise you, but mostly bury you.

The problem isn't, at its core, an issue of truth. There was an article that assessed the truthfulness of news pieces from sites like CNN and Fox, and found that in terms of accuracy, the major news sites are not that far apart. I would argue that the problem isn't truth, it is in story telling. The "truth" is that most of us want and need some level of interpretation of the truth in order to make sense of it. And what makes the most sense is when the truths of the world are assembled into stories that pack an emotional punch. Even most die-hard rationalists have an emotional core waiting to reveal itself. I know I have one.

So the news sources can take perfectly truthful articles and use it to tell the stories that their audiences want to here. There was such an article in one of the newsites that prominently placed a story about the reelection of the former Democratic House of Representatives member who defected to the Republicans. Perfectly truthful article, properly placed to pack an emotional response.

And conversely, you mistake editorial choice and analysis for "truth". Trust me, I've been reading the New York Times very closely (I am liberal myself). They talk about, truthfully, how the President of the United States has filed many lawsuits to overturn the results. How sitting a few sitting Senators are supporting him fully (and one, Lindsey Graham, made personal calls to election officials on his behalf). How a few have been outspoken in asking him to accept the results. On how, regardless, certification seems on track, including in Georgia which had the closest results.

If anything, and this is purely anecdotal, but the friends of mine that are most worried are those who were Republicans in the past and still have contacts and family who are Republicans. They are worried by articles and arguments presented to them by these Republicans, not by liberal outlets.

I feel you are making the same sort of mistakes that the people you are accusing of (both Democrats and Republicans) of making. You think of the polarization problem as black and white, and imply that it is easy to solve-- if only everyone sees things the right way and the bad actor politicians and media stop being bad, the United States wouldn't be in that mess that it is. But that is not "true": the media is not spewing out lies-- it is merely doing a great job of taking what facts and anecdotes that are out there to spin emotionally convincing stories, with heroes and villains. Republican voters know who Trump is, and they by and large fully support him. And simultaneously, a large fraction of Republicans and Democrats view the other side as existential threats to their side and to the United States as a whole.

And the thing is, when you are talking about stories, things are in no way binary. The quality of the stories matter. I lived through the G.W. Bush years, and things then were bad. I can say that as a Democrat and a liberal, I don't really think that in terms of liberal policy the Bush years were better or worse than the Trump years, and there was plenty of partisan ill will back then too. But the ability to slander indiscriminently and without consequence is much worse now. I'm not going to be even-handed about this-- in addition to the baseless election allegations, there are baseless allegations that doctors are fradulently misdiagnosing Covid, that the head of the US CDC is incompetent and ethically compromised.

So you are right, in the sense that the polarization is poison. I myself am trying to emotionally distance myself from the Democratic party (though in no way am I changing my viewpoint), as it was just not psychologically healthy for me. But to think that all it takes is for everyone to agree on the truth is worse than being wrong-- it is being naive.
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