Category Archives: Statehouse
I don’t like Donald Trump. I hope he’ll be merely a bad president and not a disastrous one. I don’t like Trumpism, either. I hope (but am not optimistic) the anecdotes of racially and sexist motivated violence are either exaggerated, reported only because they’re topical, or at least don’t represent a new trend. The night of the election I was depressed and worried. You might not believe it, but I didn’t sleep at all. Not a wink. I just lay awake in bed thinking about the future.
And yet, when people in my life criticize Trump or his supporters, I get very defensive for some reason. By “people in my life” I mean family members, close friends, coworkers, and people on the blogosphere. Even my belief that we do indeed need to understand our opponents represents a certain defensiveness because my go-to (with some past exceptions) is usually to understand Trump supporters or non-liberals in general and not to understand the liberals who oppose Trump.
Perhaps some of this has to do with “flippism,” an idea I got from Jaybird, a commenter Over There. In relevant part,
It’s the basic idea that if you don’t know which of two choices are before you, you should flip a coin. Not because you should do what the coin says, mind, but because the moment the coin is in the air, you’re a lot more likely to say “OH I HOPE IT’S HEADS” at which point you’ll know which choice you actually prefer in your gut.
Then you just have to figure out how much weight to give your gut.
I bring that up because hypocrisy can work that way for people who are on the fence. Let’s say that you’re torn on a particular policy. There’s this way, there’s that way… you don’t know which is the best one… then you encounter a hypocritical politician. Are you inclined to snort and reach conclusions about all those people? Are you inclined to get defensive and start defending the guy even before you read a single attack? Well, now you know what your gut thinks.
As upset as I was about Trump’s victory, I can’t deny that somewhere in my gut I wanted him to win, if not the presidency, then at least the GOP nomination, and not in the way that some liberals wanted him to win the nomination in order to ensure a Democratic victory. In the voting booth, even though I voted for Clinton, part of me wanted to vote for Trump just to be contrarian. In Sangamon that vote wouldn’t have affected the outcome, but it’s still something I might have done.
Some of this defensiveness and “gut support” is a luxury. I’m not among the demographics most likely to be hurt by Trumpism if the worst (or even just the “moderately bad”) predictions about what it means come true. Some of it is probably also due to what my co-blogger Oscar recently described as the “-ism-lite,” which is the type of racism (and other ism’s) that are not quite as nefarious or bad as the more obvious or open kinds, but are still wrong and withal easy for its practitioners to overlook. As he puts, it instead of rejecting out of hand, “I have to parse it, process it, and then I recognize it and decide it’s not OK.”
I realize that in this post, other than noting that I do get defensive, I haven’t really explained the defensiveness or even the types of situations that elicit that defensiveness. I’m simply noting that it’s there and I’m not sure what to do with it.
Sometime during the GOP primary races–probably after I wrote this— I started to sign on to the view that we need to stop “understanding” Trump supporters and focus on defeating them. I had forgotten two things.
First, while “defeating” (and winning over) the opposition are the principal goals in a political contest, it’s not always about “defeating.” It’s also about trying to live in the same world with others, being open to what they have to say, and when possible, convincing them to listen to what I have to say.
Second, understanding the opposition is always important. There’s the utilitarian reason. You’re more likely to win if you understand your opponent. But there’s also the intrinsic rightness of aspiring to empathy. People are people in their own right. I never said and never really believed that Trump supporters were the caricatures of racist reactionaries that others portrayed them as any more. But I probably acted that way.
Trump supporters have their own feelings and their own complex views of the things in their lives that affect them. They are humans just like me, though on average they probably got a lot fewer breaks in their lives than I have. I don’t mean that last point condescendingly, either, as in “they are so underprivileged that they must turn to somebody like Trump.” But it’s probably the case that I stood and stand to gain a lot than they from the type of policies that Clinton would have enacted or maintained. (It’s probably also the case that from a purely personal perspective, I stand to gain a lot from some policies Trump supports.) I also have resources to fall back on should I experience some reversals in fortune. So maybe I should withhold judgment when someone sees things differently. That’s what I ask of others before they judge me.
I do maintain some fundamental disagreements. Whatever their personal views, people who voted for Trump at the very least determined that his racist and sexist-bordering-on-pro-rape-apologetics statements weren’t deal breakers. For me, they would have been deal breakers even if Trump’s views aligned with my own on other matters. Some of my nieces, nephews, and in-laws are Latino or black. Those statements of Trump suggest either that they don’t have a place in our society or that their “proper” place is below white males. (That said and while I don’t know for sure, one of my Latina in-laws probably voted for Trump.)
I need to get out of my bubble more often. As the cliche goes, to understand someone is to forgive–or at least legitimate–them. “Understanding” can sometimes lead to apologetics or agreeing with that with which I should not agree. But it can also put things in perspective and force me to recognize others’ humanity.
This is a reasonable facsimile of a campaign sign in a few places just outside of town near Lain’s preschool.
I kept wondering where Garrison County was, and why there were signs for a campaign in some county somewhere else that I’d never heard of. I mean, there are a number of counties around here since we’re by two state lines, but even so I thought I knew what they were.
Finally, I remembered to google it and discovered that there is no Garrison County. So… what the hell?
It took me way too long to figure out what was going on.
Some recent comments by you-know-who have lead us to relitigate past accusations of unfair elections, specifically 2000 and 2004. Up until now, I had forgotten that my one tangible contribution to a successful political campaign involved allegations of election fraud. I was only reminded when I read this article:
The US has rejected a Russian proposal to send diplomats to monitor the upcoming presidential elections and some states have even threatened to bring criminal charges against any that appear at ballot stations, Russian election officials report.
Sources in the Central Elections Commission have told Izvestia daily that its representatives held a series of talks with the US State Department to discuss sending a delegation of monitors to US polling stations on November 8. US officials categorically rejected even the possibility of such a mission, however, instead recommending that Russia join the international mission of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
The request was also rejected on a state level, and in three states – Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas – officials used “very harsh formulas” to do so, the sources said. “In violation of all principles of democracy and international monitoring, in Texas they even threatened to hold monitors who appear at ballot stations criminally responsible,” they added.
Once upon a time, I sort of worked on a gubernatorial campaign. I didn’t actually work for the campaign, but a group I belonged to was contracted out to float ideas for attack ads. When all was said and done, we got a check for $214 a piece.
One of my ideas made it through into what turned out to be a devastating ad. (The genius of which was not my doing, however.)
The two candidates were Governor Mark Blankenship (R) and Former Congressman Jason Valle (D). The funny thing is that we were lukewarm on Blankenship and had, once upon a time, thought highly of Valle. In fact, Valle had earlier wanted us to be a part of his team. As a politician at the city level, he was a Democrat but a part of the conservative faction of City Council. When he ran for mayor, some of us were rooting for him. He ended up in congress, where he became a standard-issue Democrat. Running for governor was a bad idea. So, too, would have been burning our bridge to work for him. I might have been willing to, but others were more invested in the whole thing and I could understand where they were coming from.
Since we were in Colosse and he was a Colossean politician, we were a part of oppo research. Which was pretty easy, since we’d been following Valle for a while. My primary contribution was his speaking out in favor of (and voting for) opening US elections up to UN observers because our system couldn’t be trusted. Disliking France was all the rage, so my basic suggestion was something to do with putting Valle in a beret or something.
Very intellectual, I know. But it made it into an ad that was so successful that campaigns in other states copied it. While the UN thing was a central piece of the ad, it was the angle that got all of the attention. It was the ad agency that did that. (Not going to share it with you, anonymity and all that, but I can give you a link to the ad if you email me.)
It was kind of neat working for a gubernatorial campaign. I even got to meet the governor, albeit very briefly. It would have been cooler if it had been a governor that I supported. I voted for Valle.
UPDATE: Please see my version of this post Over There. The short story is, I was wrong and I retract my argument.
My wife got a piece of mail yesterday addressed to “[her name] or current resident” and the return address said, “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.” The bottom of the envelope had a note that said “From the desk of [Joe Schmoe],” who is Sangamon’s secretary of state. Inside the envelope were a vote-by-mail application, a postage-paid envelope in which to send the application, and a form letter from the Sangamon secretary of state explaining the vote by mail process. At the end of the letter is a postscript:
P.S. No matter who you vote for, voting matters. It’s the backbone of our democracy. Fill out your Vote By Mail application and send it back TODAY! You can apply online or find your early voting site at [Sangamaon]Dems.com/Voting-in-[Sangamon]
While I have mixed feelings about vote by mail, it’s an option open to people in Sangamon and I offer no complaint about it here. And because, as I understand, the state’s secretary of state is charged with voter registration and running the vote by mail service, I find it entirely appropriate that his office sends letters and applications to citizens.
But it’s unseemly, in my opinion, to have this thing paid for by the Democratic party. It’s also unseemly that she was the only one to get the application. While my wife is registered to vote, I don’t know if she’s registered as a Democrat. (If I understand right, in Sangamon, you don’t have to declare an affiliation when you register, but you may if you wish.)
I’m not a registered Democrat. I’m also not particularly friendly to the local Democratic party. Several months ago, a precinct captain was in the neighborhood asking for my signature on a petition for someone to run for Democratic the ward committeeman. I politely explained that I was uncomfortable with the quasi-official “party committeeman” form of governance. Equally politely, he didn’t pursue the matter or harangue me.
It’s possible I was put on the list of “not likely to vote for our person and therefore shouldn’t waste campaign resources on him.” When it comes to things like voter canvassing or who to hit up for donations, that’s a perfectly acceptable way to designate people. But if, as may be the case here, it might determine who receives vote by mail applications “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.”
Or not. There may be other, mostly innocent or innocuous, things going on. Our landline is registered under my wife’s name, so it’s listed in the phone book under her name. So if that kind of record is gotten by the same pool of information as the phone book, then I can see why the default would be to send the application to her. I also understand that in Big City, the Democratic Party is the main organization and its quasi-official role in governing the city gives it certain responsibilities. So it’s not completely bad that it helps meet operating expenses for public services like vote by mail applications. And Sangamon’s budget is pretty strapped, although I seem to recall similar notices sent to my wife years ago when the budget troubles weren’t quite as bad.
And the envelope was addressed to her “or current resident.” Presumably, I or anyone residing at that address could comfortably open the envelope and get the benefit of access to the application.
But I have a problem with that. I usually won’t open a piece of mail addressed to someone “or current resident” if that someone is not me. I opened this particular piece of mail only because my wife gave me permission. Even if the envelope had been addressed to me, the label “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon” might lead someone to believe it’s just a political flyer or request for a donation. In that case, I’d be disinclined to open such an envelope. Some of that is counterbalanced by the “from the desk of Joe Schmoe” note I mentioned above. And of course, I was curious enough to open the envelope, so I wasn’t deceived.
But if a state service “from the desk of” the state’s secretary of state is being sent out “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon,” that implies something like an official advertisement the party bought from the state, suggesting that for the benefit of paying for this outreach, it receives quasi-official status as the main game in town. This isn’t the most horrible thing ever, but it’s not entirely benign either.
Over There, Tod writes about Theranos with some stuff that didn’t make it into an article he wrote for Marie Claire.
I have some comments on a couple of them. First, about Holmes herself:
I was really taken aback when I saw my first Holmes interview. She wasn’t at all what I expected, which I guess was Melissa Mayer more or less. I’d seen pictures of her and except for the carefully staged ones, she looks… always. Pretty, in her own way, but very awkward in demeanor. Which maybe should have been an indication that she was not as polished as Mayer, but didn’t quite serve that way. Until her fall from grace, it actually made me like her more. There was a bit of phoniness about a Geek’s understanding of what a Cool Kid is, but emphasis on Geek. A kinship, of sorts.
When speaking in public, Homes has an awkward, stilted way about her. She’s monotonous and unemotional. While others on Ted Talks vibrantly emote, Holmes just kind of dully drones on. When answering tough questions in interviews, she tightens up and looks nervous, her face a mask of forced smiles.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Lot’s of people simply aren’t good on stage or interacting with people they don’t know, especially on camera. If you’re one of those people, you can sound boring, or look like you’re being disingenuous or hiding something, even if you’re not. The point simply being that when looking for a reason for how Holmes not only got away with doing what she did for as long as she did, but also for how she became a near-universal media darling, the answer “charisma” falls woefully short.
The second is about narratives, which I think is important but have comparatively little to add:
No one who had Holmes answer their questions with that answer on national television was under any illusion that Holmes was in any way answering that question, let alone addressing a very real serious public health concern about her product. But no one cared. In every case, the person interviewing her smiles and nods, and moves on to ask her how awesome it is to be the world’s youngest female self-made-billionaire, or what it’s like to truly make the world a better place, or some other totally unserious question that fits the narrative they set out to push before they ever lined up their interview questions.
Theranos became a public health problem because it was in Theranos’s interests to push a narrative that simply and obviously was never true. But it became one too because it was in the media’s interest to do the same.
This worries me about media coverage generally. I was talking on Twitter with someone recently about globalism and how one of the criticisms may be off-base. He asked whether I actually believed what the article said, given that it’s a pro-capitalism outfit and our masters all want us to believe it. I said that I believed it, but acknowledged something important: While I believe it’s true, I believe the media would tell us its true regardless of whether it’s true. I think the media does this about a lot of things, including trade, immigration, and race and gender narratives. Even political race coverage, wherein I believe the experts who say that Trump likely won’t win, but in the event that Trump were going to win, I believe they’d be saying… pretty much what they’re saying now. Which doesn’t lead to a reflexive disbelief on my part, but a persistent skepticism I don’t always know what to do with. But narratives are exceptionally important, and deviating from high society’s favored narratives is costly, which makes it easier for everybody to go along.
The last is a bit more political:
It turns out — and I know this will come as a shock to you — that most states have laws against medically testing people without a doctor’s consent, especially by medical testing facilities using procedures not approved by the FDA. Go figure! Turns out that Arizona also once had laws like this on the books. HB2645 essentially lifted those regulations so that Theranos could begin selling its tests to Arizona citizens.
Unsurprisingly, this strikes me as a more complicated issue. Yes, the Arizona legislature dropped the ball here. And they did so in service of a bad actor. And yet… medically testing people without a doctor’s consent doesn’t strike me as an inherently bad idea. I would say something about unapproved-by-the-FDA facilities and that being a good place to hang my hat, but… well, it’s the FDA. While the FDA might keep a company like Theranos from selling faulty goods, I don’t have a whole lot of difficulty believing they’d approach a good actor the same way.
And in a statement against interest, I believe we require a doctor’s consent on too much. A commonly cited example is birth control. Eyeglasses requirements are a bug up my craw as well. Doctors are too busy, and their time both too valuable and too expensive, to be involved in everything. Which gets to the difficult, nitty-gritty aspect of regulation. My approach here isn’t “Deregulate Everything!” but that some things that sound like a transparently bad idea – such as allowing blood tests without a doctor’s consent – may not be.
So while I can easily see that this particular manifestation of such deregulation is a bad idea, it’s not super clear to me what a better model looks like.
Addendum: Make it four. He mentions former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as someone who lent Theranos credibility. I only bring this up because when there was talk of a Third Party thing with a split of the GOP, I brought up Frist on a few occasions. It was said mostly jokey, as someone underwhelming to a group of people who had their eyes on Mitt Romney or John Kasich. Someone kind of dusted off the shelf because “Hey, he’ll work.” Anyhow, one thought I did have that didn’t make me like the idea is how much he cashed in after he left office. The Theranos thing doesn’t surprise me. Notably, though, he sold out in ways that Democrats would approve by speaking positively about PPACA.
Some terms have a technical meaning and a common meaning, and the common meaning has a “normative slant.” The technicians know how to use the terms in the technical sense. But sometimes the common meaning slips in, in such a way that using the term ends up making two arguments with one word.
If one isn’t careful, using such terms can lead to confusion. Who’s to blame is not always clear. It could be the technician who uses the term or it could be interlocutor who misinterprets or misidentifies the technical meaning.
I have a list of three terms here, in ascending order of how knowledgeable I am about the technical definitions.
Title(s) of technicians. Economist; political scientist.
Technical meaning. The extra amount one is willing to spend to get the next widget. Or, somewhat less technically but still bound up with what technicians mean: the amount of change a given policy will bring about in a given direction.
Common meaning. An amount that is unimportant or trivial.
Normative slant to the common meaning. Mostly neutral, but it can swing either way depending on whether “amount” in question is good or bad.
Possibilities for confusion. When people speak of changes “on the margins” or assert that such and such policy will bring about “marginal” changes, they may have in mind the technical meaning. But sometimes they let slip in or leave unaddressed the common meaning. If it’s a somewhat harmful, but in his/her opinion necessary thing technician is advocating, he/she leave themselves open to the charge that he/she is minimizing the harm.
Sometimes, too: The size of the margin–not whether a marginal change will be brought about–is really what is under dispute. Simply pointing out that change (for the better or worse) will occur along some margin does not 1) demonstrate how much the change will be and 2) whether the change is worth it.
Exploitation (Marxist version).
Title(s) of technician(s). Marxist theorist; activist.
Technical meaning. Expropriating the surplus value of a worker to pay the profits of the person to whom the worker sells his or her labor. (Other technicians may have other meaning, but I’m focusing on the Marxist version.)
Common meaning. Somehow compelling someone to do something that they don’t want to do and that harms them.
Normative slant to the common meaning. Bad.
Possibilities for confusion. One sometime activist I knew who was steeped in Marxist theory often used the word “exploitation” to great emotional effect when describing the treatment of workers and the need for a revolution. And yet if you bring up examples of workers being treated well or workers as a whole benefiting from the prevailing economic system, then that same Marxist will fall back on the more technical meaning of “exploitation” and explain what they really meant was that the workers’ surplus value, etc., etc.
Title(s) of technician(s). Historian.
Technical meaning. Representing the phenomenon of change over time. I believe it can represent persistence over time as well. The key point is that change happens (or doesn’t) but it can be explained by people’s decisions or by contingent, unforeseen happenings. This is probably a modern conceit. Historians in earlier times sometimes appealed notions of “forces of history” or “cycles of history” or “spirits of history” (e.g., Zeitgeist, Volksgeist, Ortgeist). I’m not saying my definition is true for all times and places and people, just that it’s the prevailing definition among those who were trained professionally in history and abide by professional history’s norms.
Common meaning. True and factual story of what happened.
Normative slant to the common meaning. Good.
Possibilities for confusion.There are at least two ways we sometimes commingle the technical and common meanings. One is simply using the common meaning when it suits us and then relying on our status (such as it is) of “historian” to claim that it’s truth.
The second is to speak as if merely demonstrating that a given belief or position or attitude is “ahistorical” we have therefore invalidated it. This is wrong, or at least “confusing,” because it assumes that historicality is the only measure by which to judge things. It judges people by the standards of professional historians even if those people did not claim to be abiding by those standards in the first place.
There’s a lot I don’t know about the above terms. I’m least confident with “marginal.” Not being an economist or trained in economics, I suspect I’ve got it wrong on some level. So please correct me.
I feel a little bit more confident about “exploitation” and Marxism. But to be clear I’ve never read Marx to any significant degree, and most of what I “know” comes from reading Marxist-inspired historians and talking with people like my sometime activist acquaintance. And perhaps the “confusion” I talk about is just an anecdatum from my activist acquaintance.
Even with “historical” I might be off despite my training. In my anecdotal observation and experience, historians aren’t usually trained in grad school to examine the assumptions of history. Instead, grad school socializes them into the norms of the profession, and among those norms are the assumptions I mention above. My experience is no exception: I’ve given these assumptions some thought, but haven’t really investigated them systematically.
My takeaway, though, stands. We should beware how we use technical terms. It’s not only that there’s room for confusion, there’s also room for deception or at least lazy argumentation. And while the blame can’t always rest with the technicians, it sometimes can.