Monday, January 16, 2017

Doing what the PEOTUS asked

Bernie Sanders is wrong:

Yes. The next problem has to do with going issue by issue. This is happening right now. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer went onto the Rachel Maddow show on the same day, and they said, “The American people agree with us, issue by issue, each case and we’re going to press Trump issue by issue, and we’re going to start with health care and go on to other things.” What they’re missing is values.

They’re missing the idea that many Americans who depend on health care, affordable health care, for example, have strict-father positions and voted for Trump against their interests. And this is something has been known for ages, that a lot of poor conservatives vote against their material interests, because they’re voting for their worldview. And the reason for it is that their moral worldview defines who they are. They are not going to vote against their own definition of who they are. 

But not for the reasons George Lakoff thinks:

What you’ll learn in those courses is what is called Enlightenment reason, from 1650, from Descartes. And here’s what that reasoning says: What makes us human beings is that we are rational animals and rationality is defined in terms of logic. Recall that Descartes was a mathematician and logician. He argued that reasoning is like seeing a logical proof. Secondly, he argued that our ideas can fit the world because, as he said, “God would not lie to us.” The assumption is that ideas directly fit the world.

They’re also, Descartes argued, disembodied. He said that if ideas were embodied, were part of the body, then physical laws would apply to them, and we would not have free will. And in fact, they are embodied, physical laws do apply to them, and we do not have absolute free will. We’re trapped by what the neural systems of our brains  have accumulated. We can only see what our brains allow us to understand, and that’s an important thing.

So what he said, basically, was that there are no frames, no embodiment, no metaphor — none of the things people really use to reason. Moreover if we think logically and we all have the same reasoning, if you just tell people the facts, they should reason to the same correct conclusion. And that just isn’t true. And that keeps not being true, and liberals keep making the same mistake year after year after year. So that’s a very important thing
For one thing, Donald Trump didn't win because he garnered overwhelming support from a majority of the electorate.  He won because Hillary Clinton refused to listen to Howard Dean, and assumed the active support of "traditional" Democratic voters who didn't bother to turn out because they were expected to, but never encouraged to.  Black voters in the South certainly didn't vote for Donald Trump, but their turnout was lower than 2012 because Clinton's campaign didn't get out their vote:  they just considered their vote as given.  Had Clinton actually campaigned in Texas, she might have won the state.  She certainly got closer to winning it than any Democratic candidate since Texas went blood-red.  Trump only won by the quirk of the electoral college and by Clinton running a poor national campaign.

If Donald Trump and his promises were so popular, would this be happening?

On Saturday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held an event for his constituents at a public library in Aurora, Colorado. At least 150 constituents showed up, most of them hoping to ask Coffman about his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his plans for a replacement. But only about 70 people got to meet with Coffman: Despite booking a large room with ample space, Coffman allowed in only four constituents at once for five minutes at a time. When the crowd grew restless, police put up crime scene tape and Coffman snuck out the back door—six minutes before the event was scheduled to end.

Trump didn't win because he kept making people think of an elephant.  If that were the case, his approval rating right now wouldn't be the lowest ever recorded for an incoming President.

In fact, let's run this entire conversation through Lakoff's analysis:

In an interview on ABC's "This Week," Priebus responded to Rep. John Lewis' (D-GA) comment that Trump is not "a legitimate president" by denying that Republicans ever questioned the legitimacy of Obama's election victory.

"I and we look up to John Lewis and his historic contribution to civil rights and voting rights," Priebus said. "And in particular his—"

"But the President-elect said he was all talk and no action!" George Stephanopoulos interrupted, referring to tweets Trump posted Saturday morning lashing out at the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon.

"But, let me answer, but here's the problem," Priebus said. "We need folks like John Lewis and others who I think have been champions of voter rights to actually recognize the fact that Donald Trump was duly elected."

He called it "incredibly disappointing" and "irresponsible" for someone of Lewis' stature to question Trump's legitimacy as president.

"I think in fact President Obama could step up," Priebus said, suggesting that the White House should come out in Trump's favor.

"But isn't it harder to do that after a tweet like that from the President-elect?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"But George, hang on! John Lewis stood up in an interview and said that Donald trump was not a legitimate president! That's insanity, and it's wrong!" Priebus replied. "You're worried about a tweet that says 'get back to work instead of questioning my legitimacy'? Too bad!"

"We just had Senator Sanders on the program. He did not question the legitimacy of the President-elect," Stephanopoulos said. "But he did say that it was right to bring up questions like this because of Donald Trump's past and questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama with those years and years of questions about where he was born."

"Donald Trump's made it clear certainly over the last few years that President Obama was born in Hawaii," Priebus claimed.

"Not until the end of the campaign!" Stephanopoulos replied.

"But hang on a second, George, we're not questioning the legitimacy of the outcome of the election," Priebus said. "You didn't have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008."

"It is a fact that Donald Trump was questioning whether President Obama was eligible to serve as president under the Constitution," Stephanopoulos countered.

"And many people were, George, but that's been resolved for years now, and it's been resolved for at least two years in Donald Trump's mind!" Priebus hit back.

"Just a factual point," Stephanopoulos interrupted, speaking over Priebus. "He didn't stop raising those questions until late in this campaign, not two years."

"But look, George, that's not the point!" Priebus said, visibly agitated. "The point is not where Barack Obama was born! The point is that we've got congressmen on the Democratic side of the aisle that are questioning the legitimacy of President-elect Trump."

A commenter at TPM said Priebus and Stephanopolous were using different definitions of "legitimate" there.  Perhaps, but does it matter?  Priebus is simply lying.  He's deflecting all criticism of Trump and insisting the only person who can be criticized here is John Lewis.  Now, frankly, that's the kind of criticism Martin Luther King faced in his day.  If you imagine Dr. King was a revered figure, that his "I have a dream" speech was the only speech he had to give, that his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" opened the eyes of a nation as they turned to him for guidance and solace and reconciliation with their past; well, then, what Priebus said probably sounds legitimate to you.

But that's not likely.

Do the Democrats counter Priebus with sage wisdom?  Or do they go one step past Stephanopolous and simply call him a bald-faced liar who can't be trusted to report on the state of the weather outside?  Because that conversation is simply insane.  One need not dissect it, argue with it, explain it, or analyze it.  It is simply bullshit, and should be called same.

It's what Donald Trump would do.  It's the "straight talk" that Lakoff says has made Trump so popular (again, so popular his approval rating is at an historic low before he takes office.  It will only do down from there; it always does.).  I don't have to not think of an elephant when I hear the remarks of Mr. Priebus:  I'm already thinking of a man so full of shit his eyes are brown; of a mendacious lying weasel who would back the bus over his grandmother if he thought it would advance is career; a Grima Wormtongue, a toady, a bug I'd step on if I found it on the kitchen floor when the lights went on.  People who can lie that easily (and poorly) have no place in decent company.

That's what I think of.  Well, that and the fact challenges to Obama's legitimacy as President go back for 8 years.  And if you're being particular about what Priebus claimed, you can find a list of prominent GOP politicians who challenged Obama's legitimacy as President here.

Josh Marshall hits on this point in his reaction to the way the press is already covering Trump, and what should be done about it:

Trump wants to bully the press and profit off the presidency. He's told us this clearly in his own words. We need to accept the reality of both. The press should cover him on that basis, as a coward and a crook. The big corporate media organizations may not be able to use those words, I understand, but they should employ that prism. The truth is that his threats against the press to date are ones it is best to laugh at. If Trump should take some un- or extra-constitutional actions, we will deal with that when it happens. I doubt he will or can. But I won't obsess about it in advance. Journalists should be unbowed and aggressive and with a sense of humor until something happens to prevent them from doing so. Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don't surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him.

Much the same applies to the endless chatter about 'conflicts of interest' and the insufficiency of his plan to separate himself from his businesses. Why are we still saying Trump isn't doing enough to avoid conflicts of interest? He's made clear he wants to profit off his presidency. Let's accept that. That is what he wants to do. If you're a journalist, start documenting the details. If you're an activist or politician start mobilizing against his corruption.
We know what Trump is doing.  Quit trying to prove it to the satisfaction of people who will never be satisfied (the mythical "Trump supporters" who must be convinced to abandon Trump, or all hope is lost; i.e., the same people Lakoff would have us worry about) and just start talking about the situation as it is.  Don't worry about thinking of an elephant; worry about dealing with reality.

Besides, Reince Priebus really is a mendacious weasel.  Maybe we should try not to think of a weasel when we think of him.

But to get back to Bernie Sanders for a moment, a man who always manages to sound like the shrillest of his internet die-hard supporters (the ones who still say Sanders would have defeated Trump, where Hillary never stood a chance).  The same people who he thinks agree with him on every issue also think "Obamacare" is an abomination but the Affordable Care Act is a godsend.  They are the same people who want the government to stay out of their Medicare, and who think they paid into Social Security, and all they are taking out of it is their own money.  They agree with Sanders, in other words, that the ACA and Social Security and Medicare are important; but they don't agree on why.  And while they are happy for the government to take care of them, they are convinced it doesn't, and instead spends inordinate sums in "handouts" to illegal immigrants and other freeloaders.  And by the way they think taxes are only levied on U.S. citizens, and non-citizens somehow avoid paying taxes altogether; unless they are in this country "legally", in which case this magic shield that avoids taxation evaporates.  Of course Bernie Sanders doesn't assume everyone is fundamentally rational or he'd never have used Simon and Garfunkel's "America" and stirring scenes of white folk in his first campaign ad.  But like the rest of us, he preaches it round and square as it suits him.

And then there's Lakoff's analysis of Descartes.  Is he serious with that stuff, or does he just think it makes him sound smart to mention a name he's sure will be recognized?  Actually, the distinction between humans and other animals based on reason goes back to Aristotle, and was championed by the Church, to whom Descartes was making careful obeisance (if he got too far out over his skis, he knew he'd never make the landing).  Descartes didn't invent the idea that humans had souls which made them rational, and animals were automatons:  he simply translated Church teachings into the secular philosophical language of his day.  The idea that Descartes preserved that for the sake of free will, and that we "know" free will "doesn't exist," is so amateurishly wrong it's laughable.

Now don't think of a hyena.  Yes, we can only understand what our brains can comprehend, but that's not an argument limited to sociology.  It applies to Lakoff's reasoning, as well.  And one thing we can understand is Godel's proof of incompleteness in formal systems, so that there are always questions a system can formulate which the system itself cannot answer.  And we have Wittgenstein's insight (no slouch in rational thinking, he) that there are realities which don't fit into rational expression at all.  Now, are human beings fundamentally rational?  No; but Aristotle himself understood that.  Lakoff is setting fire to a straw man, not presenting even a minor insight.

And last but not least, of course, there's the hidden wound of American racism; the still fundamental cultural, legal, and political issue of our country, the sin we will not confess, the root we will not extirpate, the damage we will not repair.  Donald Trump won, ultimately, because of it, and to not even mention that is to commit yet another act of racism against the people Trump will surely injure in the next four years.

Or maybe the problem is with those of us who do think Black Lives Matter.


  1. Josh Marshall's opinion piece is excellent. The reporters who head for the fainting couch because Trump threatens to remove them from the White House ought to be ashamed. Or maybe they're just lazy and have forgotten how to do investigative news reporting.

    That access isn't necessary to do their jobs. And bargaining over baubles of access which are of little consequence is not compatible with doing their job. Access can provide insight and understanding. But it's almost never where the good stuff comes from.

  2. I remember an article in Harper's (I think), decades back: a journalist complaining about the White House press corps who sat and waited for the Press Secretary to give them something to write/broadcast about.

    He pointed out they could walk outside and interview Americans (and others) from across the country (and much of the world) on the sidewalk, and learn a great deal more about the state of the country (or the perceptions of the world) than they got sitting and waiting to be spoon fed their news.

    It never looked that way on the "West Wing," but I've forever had the image of the WH Press Corps as fledglings crowding a nest, mouths open, waiting to receive what was regurgitated for them.

    And yet the White House assignment is the "plum." Because, after all, it really is just about the gossip; and you can't get the gossip without access.....

  3. Trump sayeth, "No plum. No plum. No plum for you."

    You image of the White House Press Corp as nestlings is delightfully funny.