Despicables: A Reflection on Political Insults

Not long ago I received a group e-mail from a Democratic political consultant who I have known for many years in which all Trump supporters were tarred as stupid, racist, misogynists who lack an interest in the values of the nation. Hillary’s rants go by me – they are not posturing; her failure to campaign in vital Midwestern states demonstrates a disrespect for and deep lack of understanding of the American people. Articles by self-satisfied, incredulous liberal authors who have been touring Red states to examine Trump voters go by me – they do a lot of interviews, but generally do not listen to what they are told. But this guy bothers me – he knows my schtick that I am a Republican in San Francisco because I have a genuine interest in liberty, opportunity, and personal responsibility, and that I will debate the issues. What gives? What drives direct confrontational insulting of people with differing political views?
Two theories:
1. Bullying of Republicans by Democrats has worked for a long time in Blue states. (And presumably the reverse.) For a decade or so, “racist” was the term of choice. Traditional American values – the Scout oath; Norman Rockwell paintings – reflected a longing for a society of white privilege; any opposition to Barack Obama’s liberal policies was based on his race; secure borders were code words for keeping Hispanics in their place. More recently, as the effect of an over-used racist invective has decreased, the gratuitous term “misogynist” (strongly prejudiced against women, as if a 50 cent word makes the user smarter) has been brought in as a reinforcement. No further discussion; no evidence needed; bad motives supersede any discussion. Presented forcefully and loudly enough, the playground belongs to the bully.
2. Personal attack from a (self-perceived) moral high ground is easier than a factual discussion of policy. The latter requires recognition that most subjects have two sides, and a familiarity with both is necessary for an effective debater. One needs The Wall Street Journal as well as the New York Times; Fox News as well as MSNBC; Rasmussen as well as Politico. And maybe a bit of intellect. Most importantly, one needs critical thinking skills which seem to switch off when the name Donald Trump is whispered in San Francisco.
A proud Deplorable has to be able to get to the meat of policy discussion. Yes, Trump is a sexual reprobate – as were John Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Bill Clinton. Yes, his personnel management is terrible – the quality of some of his early selections; the slow speed of bringing forward quality candidates for senior administration positions; public criticism of subordinates. But it was hard to attract good people when opposed by the Establishment Republicans and under siege by the media and the Mueller investigation. Trump’s personal shortcomings offer much grist for the media, and motivate the Democratic base, but they distract from what the country needs – a frank discussion of his disruptive policies. Every week offers new opportunities.
Perhaps the top this week is the trade conflict with China. Wall Street (volatile, but not panicked) seems to better understand the dance than do the political pundits. We have a $375 billion annual trade deficit with China which cannot go on; China has a state-sponsored plan to overtake us in numerous technology areas by 2025, in part by demanding that companies wanting to do business in China must form joint ventures and turn over their technology to Chinese partners. Presidents Obama and Bush allowed this unacceptable situation to arise; Trump is committed to restoring a sustainable balance. He has a qualified team in place at the Commerce Department and in the key trade negotiator. They have spent months developing a strategy which calls for a Chinese proposal on how to reduce the imbalance by $100 billion, a change of rules on joint ventures and technology transfer, and discussions of tariffs to address key industries. In the background Trump maintains a cordial relationship with Xi Jinping. It is a negotiation. To the Washington Post it is a reckless president seeking a trade war. To a dispassionate observer it is a careful approach to a necessary disruption of a status quo which cannot be allowed to continue.
There are plenty of other opportunities to get beyond personal invective and argue policy: the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence agents, while maintaining a personal relation with Putin by calling him to offer congratulations on his (fraudulent) reelection; calling on the National Guard (as Obama and Bush did) to help protect the Mexican border; re-starting the debate on sales taxes for e-commerce now that Amazon clearly no longer needs an advantage over the corner retailer. A large swath of the public understands that these have nothing to do with racism and misogyny no matter how loud my associate and the Washington Post yell. And it would not be a surprise if a majority of voters are coming to appreciate how much of what Trump does is intended to cause debate in Congress and in the public about issues that have drifted in an unsustainable direction for the past couple of decades under Democrats and Republicans alike. Insults only hinder that necessary debate.
This week’s video reflects PBS’s coverage of the Chinese trade dispute – straight from the Chinese Ministry of Truth. Perhaps the next budget deal will question why we need a government-supported left-wing news organization.
bill bowen – 4/6/18