The events in Charlottesville and POUTS’s piss-poor reaction to them have already been extensively covered, and it won’t surprise you to learn that European reactions to what POUTS said range between horrified and disgusted. I don’t propose to regale you with much of that since it’s already getting pretty monotonous and you’ve read it all before.
We will in fact begin in Norway, as I promised last week. Their general election is on Sept 10-11: “election day” is the 11th, but there’s early voting on the Sunday in a lot of places.
The Norwegian Storting has 169 seats, elected from multi-member constituencies of 4 to 19 members. They use the electoral system I favor, although I think a 4-19 spread is too wide — the ideal size for multi-member constituencies is 6-10 in my view. The raw vote count produces a roughly proportional result, and there’s a little post-count jiggery-pokery to make it a bit more proportional, but it isn’t intended to be strictly proportional, ie vote share doesn’t translate exactly to seat share.
Wikipedia has a useful page about the election, including a graph showing polling averages. The key points:
The last parliamentary elections in Norway were held on 9 September 2013. The outcome was a victory for the Conservatives and their right-wing allies. The Conservative Party, led by Erna Solberg, and the right-wing Progress Party formed a two-party minority government, with Solberg as Prime Minister. The two parties received confidence and supply from two centrist parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.
There are currently eight political parties represented in the Norwegian parliament, all of whom are likely to participate in the 2017 elections.
- The Labour Party (Ap) is with its 55 seats in parliament the largest party of the 2013-2017 parliament. Labour describes itself as a social-democratic party of the centre-left. The party is led by former minister of foreign affairs Jonas Gahr Støre, who has served as party leader and leader of the opposition since June 2014.
- The Conservative Party (H) is the largest party of the incumbent government. Currently, the Conservatives hold 48 seats, after having garnered close to 27 percent of the vote in the previous election. The Conservatives’ party leader is Prime Minister Erna Solberg. The Conservative Party is considered to be a moderate centre-right party in the Norwegian political spectrum, and it officially subscribes to the liberal conservative ideology.
- The Progress Party (FrP) is led by Siv Jensen and currently serves as the junior partner in the Solberg cabinet. The party identifies as classical liberal and conservative-liberal. Political scientists broadly consider it a right-wing populist party, a label the party denies.
- The Christian Democratic Party (KrF) is a centrist party based on Christian democratic values. The party is led by Knut Arild Hareide, and participated in the 2013 election as a proponent of the centre-right coalition led by the Conservatives.
- The Centre Party (Sp) is the fifth largest party in the Norwegian legislature, with 10 seats. Between 2005 and 2013 the party served as a junior partner in the Red-Green government. The party is led by Trygve Slagsvold Vedum. The party is primarily agrarian, with some conservative and some liberal factions.
- The Liberal Party (V) of Trine Skei Grande currently holds 9 seats in the Norwegian parliament. It claims to be the sole social-liberal party in the country, and positions itself in the centre of Norwegian politics. The Liberals have a close relationship with the Christian Democrats.
- The Socialist Left Party (SV) is the second smallest party in parliament, and campaigned for a third term as a part of the Red-Green coalition government in 2013. The party sees itself as democratic socialist and environmentalist. Since 2012, Audun Lysbakken has chaired the party.
- The Green Party (MDG) made its debut in the Norwegian parliament in the 2013 election, gaining a single seat from the Oslo district. The Greens have no official party leader, but rather two national spokespersons. Currently, these spokespersons are Une Aina Bastholm and Rasmus Hansson. The party distances itself from the left–right axis, and identifies as an environmentalist party.
The next prime minister will either be incumbent Erna Solberg or Jonas Gahr Støre (unless something really, really weird happens) as leaders of the two largest parties. Which it will be will depend on which other parties are willing to support them, particularly the Christian Democrats (Kfr) and Liberals in the center. Those center parties have supported the present coalition on a confidence-and-supply basis, which means they won’t vote against the government’s budget or vote it out of office, but they won’t necessarily support them on anything else.
In the comment pieces I’ve found, there are references to the “cartoons” or similar. This refers to when the Daget newspaper republished the anti-Muslim cartoons which appeared in the Danish Jyllands-Posten (dunno about you, but I found them unfunny more than offensive) and then-Foreign Minister Støre was seen as weak to have apologized to the Muslim world rather than standing up for free speech.
However, the present government has now also taken a line of not upsetting foreigners on an issue important to many Norwegians, as Harald Stanghelle forcefully says:
Very carefully, the prime minister failed to say Liu Xiaobo’s name. He has become a non-person for the Norwegian government. Like the evil Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter universe, the dead democratic giant has become “Han-whose-name-not-must-mention”.
There is a fear in this. Something creepy can happen if Liu Xiaobo and the human rights fight are addressed. Therefore, all official guns are closed for fear of torturing the Asian giant
….For when she was Opposition leader Erna Solberg demanded that Norway be “a fireworks” in the fight for human rights. And it was the same Solberg and her party figures who rightly criticized the reddish government for going too quiet in the opposition to China.
“Human rights have a bad tendency to lose weight for business interests. We see this clearly as regards the relationship of nations and companies to human rights violations in China,” Erna Solberg wrote in her definitive book People, not billions from 2011. It was also Høyres deputy, Jan Tore Sanner, who nomiated Liu Xiaobo for the peace prize.
Now this policy is reversed 180 degrees:
Norway is not going to talk loudly about human rights violations – at least not in China.
We … have resigned in the fight for single dissidents who are being pursued.
But after all this:
The world is getting a little poorer and a little more dangerous when Norway is no longer among the nations that give a voice to the persecuted.
This is something that matters to us. Our self-image is changing and we are not fully recognizable. Our identity is at stake. We have lost ourselves by being dragged through the Chinese mill.
The other thing to note in what follows is that the Liberals’ name in Norwegian means “Left”, so it’s not as odd as it looks for “Left” to be leaning towards a conservative-led government rather than one led by Støre’s Ap. But only leaning — they and the KrF are not fans of the right-wing FrP (which confusingly translates as “Progress”).
Hanne Skartveitt examines the possibilities:
This week, the conflict peaked between KrF leader Knut Arild Hareide and Frp minister Sylvi Listhaug. Hareide accused Listhaug of lying. Listhaug accused Hareide of licking imams over his back.
It’s hard to imagine that the two can collaborate on anything. After this week’s drama, it is no longer unlikely that we can get a government with the Right and the two center parties – without Frp – during the next parliamentary term.
It has long been a decided truth that KrF and Left’s dream of a right-center government is completely unrealistic. It may turn. If not right after the election, look a bit out of the period. In that case, it is a prerequisite for the Left to cross the barrier limit – and that the right, left, krF and frp retain the majority in the parliament.
If the four partners behind today’s government lose their majority, the case is ready. Then Ap-leader Jonas Gahr Støre becomes new prime minister. He may lead a minority government if Red or others do well. They are going to make life difficult for him. But they will hardly vote down an Ap-led government in favor of Erna Solberg. And in such a situation, Støre will lean towards the center, and cooperate with KrF as much as he can. Much indicates he can succeed.
But if today’s four partners hold the majority, it is different. A new cooperation agreement between the two small parties and a continued blue-blue government is very unlikely. However, both the Left and the KrF basically wish for a continued bourgeois government. Today’s government will not fall if the four parties still have a majority, one feels. And neither will the Left or the KrF withdraw – to start with.
The question is whether the two minority partners will vote down a Right-Frp government on a major issue. In that case, the possible course may end with what is Left and KrF’s dream: a Right-Central Government with Erna Solberg as Prime Minister.
To summarize — the KfR/Left center grouping want to be the junior coalition partners rather than the right-wing FrP, so that the government would be a center-leaning rather than right-leaning form of conservative.
There has been a TV debate between the two prospective PMs, with more in prospect. VG’s editors reckon that Støre won, though not by miles:
[On the economy, Erna] appeared somewhat hectic and ruthless at times. Jonas, on the other hand, has a good timing and managed to get in a few jokes. It signals security.
It is clear that Jonas has become better at spelling his message and that he has been practicing online. Støre used the government’s own arguments in the Perspective to the Government. It is well done. He shows credibility at work and working life.
Erna Solberg is also very knowledgeable, with a good overview of all policy areas. But here she spoke too fast, so nothing was important. We struggled to follow occasionally.
The second section, about education, was less clear. Both agree that this is the most important policy area, if we fail here, we fail as a nation. But the parties are struggling to figure out the differences. Both Jonas and Erna want more of everything.
Which leads Astrid Meland to say that both party leaders are lying when they talk about taxes because their sums don’t add up. One might well comment that this is nothing new — party leaders all over the world promise that they can get quarts out of the pint pots of taxes they propose to collect.
We need tax revenues to finance a bureaucracy that is on the side of business. Norway has the world’s most professional bureaucrats, which give us things like supreme export agreements and in-depth veterinary certificates that allow Norwegian producersers to sell their fish in countries such as Iran. They would not finish it alone.
Then we have to choose what taxes we will charge. All taxes have negative sides, we must take the least bad ones. And the disadvantages of wealth taxes are less than too many other taxes. It does not inhibit value creation such as tax on dividends and labor. And presumably, many business people think it’s worse not to have a proper way to carry the goods than to pay wealth taxes.
But such shades do not prevent the left-hand side from dying with the rich zero taxpayers, and that the right hand side speaks about the tying of jobs. The debate has become so polarized that the parties are not able to give the other party a single point. I have asked people on the left side if they can at least figure out the problems with the tax, arguments that favor foreign owners. The objections to the tax have previously come even from their own, such as Roar Flåthen and Trond Giske himself. But now I do not get a proper answer.
I have asked people on the right side if they do not see the problem that riches should not pay a wealth tax. Then I get a long lecture that zero taxpayers are quite common, look at all the poor retirees. Perhaps I hear that taxpayers do not really exist because everyone pays VAT, taxes and other taxes.
The Aftenposten newspaper is clearly campaigning to get young people out to vote, pointing out that low youth turnout led to both Brexit and POUTS. They also argue that the elderly currently get a pretty good deal and don’t need any further gifts from government:
The provision of services in the elderly care must also be prioritized in the coming years. But there is no reason to continue spending money on senior citizens, as this government has done.
The government’s increase in the minimum pension is a step that at least helps those with low income. However, both pensioners’ tax credit of NOK 840 million and the reduced abridgment for cohabiting retirees are expensive and bad decisions. The abbreviation is due to the fact that it is cheaper to live with someone than alone, but the Government has assumed that this is irrelevant.
The Labor Party does not appear to be willing to reverse this change, which costs taxpayers several billion dollars a year, and largely goes to retirees who already have good advice. The bill is what the younger generations need to take.
The argument has been that retirees are lagging behind compared with the rest of the population, but this is just a point of the important pension reform.
Priority of the elderly is hardly the result of universal justice views from the politicians. A more related explanation is that older people are an important voting group that largely uses the right to vote.
Everyone hopes to have an old age that is experienced economically spacious. Kloke’s political choices and Norwegians’ efforts have made sure that it is now the case for the vast majority. Few people experience their own financial situation as weak. In this area, policy must also be targeted at those who need it most.
The survey shows that there is no national requirement to further improve the pensioners’. It should be able to give politicians the backbone to make decisions that will make future retirement plans more manageable. This government has contributed to the opposite.
All right, then, that’s enough about Norway for now. Next week, I will be introducing the German election which takes place in late September as well as keeping an eye on anything significant from the land of the fjord.
It seems appropriate to start looking at POUTS and related matters through German eyes, since they know a thing or two about Nazis. Sascha Lobo’s analysis of POUTS’s rhetoric calls it a lesson in Nazi-trivialization.
At the press conference on the events of Charlottesville, Trump used exactly the communication patterns with which the “Alt Right” (a euphemism for right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis) has been operating on the net for a long time. Of course, behind this, there are often ancient discussion tricks, ranging from ancient Greek rhetoric to Schopenhauer’s eristics . But whether as a strategy or on impulse: Donald Trump has turned the debated online communication of the “Alt Right” into a press conference .
It starts with the answer to the question, why he waited so long with a clear statement. Trump replies: “I have not waited a long time … […] It takes time to get the facts, you still do not know the facts … … honestly, people still do not all know facts. “It is a recurring pattern in net discussions, to explain that one does not know all the facts. This implies that one can not conclude conclusively. This sounds logical – but it is a trick, because it is rarely ” all the facts”. It is about the essentials, and this could be recognized very well, without knowing every detail.
In this way, an argument of the rational approach is reversed. Because of course you need facts to be able to judge. But whoever, like Trump, is still declaring that he does not know all the facts – he wants to disguise and sow doubts in public
Trump opens the door to other interpretations, which are already spread by the neo-Nazis in the network: it was an act of resistance. Trump was still talking about legal ambiguity, now he calls the driver a “murderer”. The reason: A murderer usually acts alone, but terrorist deeds contain by definition a complicity of the environment. In this way, Trump releases the neo-Nazis from “Alt Right” and singles the perpetrator.
The corresponding strategy can be observed more frequently by right-wing commentators in the network: for example, in the case of Islamic assassinations, a complicity of all Muslims is fundamentally assumed – while right-wing terrorism is always perpetrated by individuals who are misguided or temporarily untraceable. So one side is always responsible, and the other side is never.
The departure of Steve Bannon has not given rise to the same unanimity as POUTS’s behavior. Peter Huth sees danger for the “administration” (scare quotes because it seems rather odd to me to imply that this shitshow has some non-chaotic characteristics):
… it is a huge threat to Trump. For in the end, Bannon is the man who controls the rapidly inflammable emotions of the “movement”. Yesterday, he announced to return to “Breitbart” as “executive chairman”. He now has the sharpest weapon of America in his hand, he can and will use it against the President. At least indirectly, by attacking his personal enemies in the White House, Jared Kushner and General John F. Kelly.
In the year on Trump’s team in the last few months in the White House, he most likely noticed things that could destroy Trump. Because when you see what the president is twittering, you can only guess what he says when he thinks himself to behind closed doors.
Trump’s Administration could now be under attack from two sides: From the left the liberal America, from the right Bannon, which destroys the Trump myth in its core supportership. This is a struggle that Trump can hardly win. Bannon’s followers are already shouting: “War” and chanting about the “day when Bannon, the barbarian was born.”
One can await with a shudder the day when the new old strong man at “Breitbart” fires its first broadside against Trump. That it will come is as clear as the water at Trump’s golf club in Florida. For Bannon says the presidency for which he had fought had ended. A gloomy message to the “movement,” which is delighted by such diligence, and reads deep truth in it. The fact that he will continue to fight Trump’s opponents does not exclude that his journalistic sword is also directed against the President. In this game, the enemy of the enemy is not a friend.
It is also certain that after this presidency, there will be no more fictional series like “House of Cards” or “Veep” about the White House. Documentaries on Trump’s Time on Pennsylvania Avenue 1600 offer more stuff than the most eminent scriptwriters could think of.
Sean O’Grady, on the other hand, has a darker vision of what’s to come:
Indeed Bannon will be critical of Trump – but for being too soft rather than too extreme. That way, so the logic goes, the Trump project – or the Bannon project – might yet be saved.
Will it work? I suspect the world is overestimating the power of the so-called alt-right (ie, what we used to call bigots and racists) and underestimating the influence of the established mainstream media (or what we used to call the truth). But there is cause for concern, given how gullible people seem to be, frankly, and given the delusions of the Trumpites. There is a sort of Trumpland, you see, where things can be made to be true if you just use willpower to make them to be true, and just call anyone who contradicts you a liar or fake. It’s like if a bald guy believes he has a fine head of vibrant silky hair and tells himself and everyone else he has a fine head of hair, and maybe with some creative barbershop work, then he will no longer be a baldy. He will believe it sincerely and he is in such a position of authority some might even give the absurd notion credence.
Manifestly, the mainstream media is putting up a spirited defence, but the scale of the onslaught is unprecedented, partly fostered by technological change where anyone with a web connection and a Facebook and a Twitter account can be a publisher. It is possible that Breitbart, the other agenda-driven news sources, the keyboard warriors, the conspiracy theorists who think the moon landings were a hoax, the guys with the swastika flags and the haters will win this media war – after all, they helped get Trump elected by creating and fuelling a huge national movement of economic paranoia. Bannon, by the way, is supposed to have been annoyed by officials “wetting themselves” over his belief that China was waging and winning an economic war with America. He hasn’t given up on that just because he’s handed in his White House pass.
So Trumpism or Bannonism isn’t going away. Short term, protectionism will indeed bring back jobs to America, by definition, even though it means higher costs for consumers and less spending power for potential buyers of US goods and services abroad. If so then at least to some extent by 2020 and next election time Trump’s policies will be working, and all the chaos and clowning around of 2017 will be behind the administration. Bannon and his allies will be there again to push the key messages home.
How’s that for an eclipse?
Robert Fisk seizes on POUTS’s pigs’ blood crapola to remind people of the USA’s long history of anti-Muslim aggression:
I don’t know what the people of Barcelona think about Trump’s demented and repulsive tale of bullets and pig’s blood – but I know what Mark Twain would have said. He was the finest American political writer of his time – perhaps of all time – and he wrote with bitterness, sarcasm and disgust about the US military’s war crimes in the Philippines in 1906. No doubt Trump would have approved of them.
As so often, there’s no proof – and thus no truth – to the story that General Pershing ever told his soldiers to execute Filipino fighters with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. Besides, Pershing had left the islands and the Philippine-US war was officially over when the Americans slaughtered the Moro Muslims in their hundreds – men, women and children – in what became known as the Battle of Bud Dajo. With Trump-like enthusiasm, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt congratulated the US commanders on their “brilliant feat of arms”.
Twain – Samuel Clemens, to use his real name – thought differently. The American military had brutally crushed an uprising by the ethnic Muslim Moro people, a final and hopeless battle in the Philippine war of independence against the United States. It is a tale not without significance in any study of America’s recent occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq.
He wrote a deeply cynical essay about the “battle” of Bud Dajo a few days later….
“With 600 engaged on each side,” Twain wrote, “we lost 15 men killed outright, and we had 32 wounded … The enemy numbered 600 – including women and children – and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States … The splendid news appeared with splendid display – heads in every newspaper in this city … But there was not a single reference to it in the editorial columns of any one of those newspapers.” Twain observed that not one reader wrote to support the US “victory”. But President Theodore Roosevelt sent his congratulations to the US Commander, Major General Leonard Wood, in Manila: “I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honour of the American flag.”
On a different tack, Karlin Lillington looks at POUTS’s attacks on US business:
As a public-facing platform, Twitter certainly offers opportunities, for direct engagement with customers, for plugging corporate achievements and for data analysis, amongst other things. Yet I suspect most companies would be happier if they didn’t need to devote attention and resources to this unpredictable, many-headed hydra that cannot be ignored and must be constantly patrolled and managed, usually for possible damage control.
But irritable customers who leap to make critical posts about a service issue or product must seem a dream management issue for those companies in 2017 that have instead had to endure a new kind of Twitter horror – angry Trump tweets.
In a series of petulant tweets, Trump quickly bashed Frazier and Merck.
A few hours later, Trump was again acting the whiny bully: “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!”
From the political Grandstander in Chief, that was a bit rich.
And Trump was back hounding Amazon on Wednesday morning.
The morning after his gobsmacking press conference in which he defended Nazi and white supremacist protesters. The morning on which such actions received plenty of negative coverage in the Washington Post.
The only surprise about this chaotic mess is that business figures, many of whom should have known better personally and professionally, committed themselves to these panels and this president in the first place.
Moving quickly on, here’s an interesting piece by Magnus Petersson in the Svenska Dagbladet. Petersson is Head of Center for Transatlantic Studies at the Department of Defense Studies in Oslo.
For many, Brexit and Trump have symbolized the question of the liberal-democratic rule-led world order that West has so long defended. “The return of geopolitics” with anti-liberal, revisionist states in several directions in the international system trying to undermine the current regime, unprecedented in the Western camp and domestic political turmoil, are bad news for security in the world – not least for transatlantic security cooperation as our Swedish security is directly dependent on.
Of the political challenges facing NATO, perhaps the view of Russia is the question of what the alliance should take on different views on the burden sharing of the three most difficult ones. Although the US Congress is currently resolutely opposed to Russia, Trump itself seems to think Russia is a valuable partner with an admirable leader. In Europe, the view of Russia is also divided; In the north-east, Russia is perceived as a first-grade security problem, while most NATO countries around the Mediterranean see other security problems as larger.
This polarization is also relevant to what members believe that NATO should engage. Trump seems, however, that NATO should be an instrument for combating terrorism in the Middle East (preferably with Russia). Countries around the Mediterranean want resources to be applied to police operations at sea and in order to prevent uncontrolled influx of refugees, drugs and weapons from the Middle East and North Africa.The Northeastern Member, finally, wants NATO to devote itself to traditional deterrence and building a proper defense of the Alliance’s territory against Russia.
The third challenge, the burden distribution within the alliance, has existed for as long as NATO has existed, but it has been given a new dimension through Trump’s suggestion that NATO’s defense guarantees may not apply to states not investing two percent of GDP on defense. In addition, he has argued that member states that did not spend two percent of GDP on defense are owed to the alliance, or the United States, huge amounts.
Such strange statements naturally pave the way for the bad mood of the alliance, reducing the credibility of the United States as an international player and leader of the free world.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that POUTS (and Brexit in Europe) aren’t the only things which are bothering governments around the place, and that a lot of people all disliking the orange shitgibbon doesn’t mean they agree about everything else. It’s not just the Nazi in the White House who’s causing instability — he’s just making things worse.
I’m now going to take my life in my hands by inviting you to read Brendan O’Connor’s article about the Google bloke who got fired.
It is widely accepted that we need to have a conversation about men and their limitations. And, thankfully, that conversation is happening. It has been widely accepted, for example, that if there had been more women in charge in areas like banking and finance and property, the financial crash would not have been as bad as it was. It is widely accepted that an overdose of testosterone, of a particular type of man, and not enough people with different perspectives and skills, caused the madness that led to the crash.
Brace yourselves. Because I am going to suggest that James Damore, who wrote the infamous Google “anti-diversity” memo, for which he has been fired, might have had, hidden away in there, some important points.
I am nervous even discussing Damore. There is one very simple line on Damore right now. He suggested that women are biologically incapable of doing important jobs in tech. He is against diversity. He has now been embraced by the loonies of the alt-right where he belongs, and all right-thinking people should shun him.
But maybe it’s a bit more complex than that.
You would not know this from much of the coverage, but Damore’s memo actually contains a list of suggestions for how to encourage more gender balance at Google. And he argues that this needs to be done not with box-ticking programmes but by changing the whole culture of the organisation. For example, he argues that women, on average, show a higher interest in people, and men in things. While this is not a hard and fast rule, most of us would probably agree that this can be a weakness men have.
So he suggests Google should make software engineering more people-oriented. You’d have to agree that if there’s one thing tech culture needs, it’s more of a people focus. A feel for people needs to be more evident in every part of the tech process, from what they do, to why they do it, to how they do it. Tech has tended to disrupt things and develop new technology purely because it can, with little sophisticated thought for ultimate outcomes - the fallout for people, jobs, well-being, for where it is all going. Tech lords can tend to believe in progress for progress’s sake.
Would we not agree that what is regarded as a more traditionally “female” perspective, which comes, right now, whether we like it or not, from females, might help tech to create a more rounded future? Just as it might have prevented banking from doing stupid stuff?
What Damore has stumbled upon here, perhaps despite himself, is a core truth. What he seems to be suggesting is that rather than pay lip service to diversity, which is clearly not working, it is the paradigm of the workplace that needs to change. Tinkering around the edges is not enough. The paradigm of tech as we know it now was invented largely by a particular type of man. The future is too important to be defined by this paradigm, to be designed by their limited minds.
I say all this as a good liberal for whom diversity is an article of faith. Indeed my own bias is that in my life I have found women to be better colleagues, bosses, mentors, confidantes, advisers and even friends. Maybe then, I am as bad as Damore. Maybe I positively stereotype women, and negatively stereotype men.
But in terms of Damore and in terms of improving the direction of something as powerful and scary and important as the techno future, maybe it doesn’t matter where truth comes from, or how many lies it is wrapped up in. Maybe we should be open and diverse enough to listen to good ideas, even if they come from an asshole.
My trepidation at featuring that intelligent piece is an unpleasant symptom of the times. I appear not to have featured it, but I read a fine article recently about how too much debate today focuses on who said something rather than what they said. Which is arse-about-face. Something doesn’t become virtuous or evil because it was said by Ted Cruz, Cory Booker, Paul Ryan or Elizabeth Warren; the people who say what they say give evidence of their claims to virtue by saying it. We should be using the content to judge the orator, not using the orator’s identity to decide whether a proposition is valid.
I’ll conclude with John Rentoul’s thoughts about online debate, which seems particularly pertinent:
In the US, Donald Trump has turned out to be more awful than people who disliked him thought probable, and his approval rating has drifted downwards gently over his six months in office. Yet 39 per cent of Americans still have a favourable opinion of him (in a poll which found 2 per cent said they “haven’t heard enough about him” – which proves there are always the few who refuse to take surveys seriously).
People who are opposed to Brexit and to President Trump are reduced to exclaiming, “What does it take to make people realise their mistake?” Now that question – rather than the merits or otherwise of Brexit and Trump, which have been endlessly rehearsed – is the interesting bit.
One of the best articles about this was by someone called Christina H, on the US website Cracked, who described herself as a Christian, non-white woman, and a former Republican. She explained that her changes of mind were gradual and came about partly because of social media. It was not her experience of arguing with people that persuaded her, however, but that of observing other people arguing online. “Most of what changed my mind wasn’t said to me at all. It was said to someone else while I quietly watched, eating popcorn.”
She pointed out that she would never say that she had recently changed her mind. She would just go quiet about it and then pretend that she had always thought what she now thinks. “If you’re persistent, and patient, and genuine, and reasonable, you’re probably making a difference already, even if no one will ever tell you so… They will never tell anyone, but they will stop believing and parroting one sexist argument for ever. Maybe they will treat women a little better.”
It is surprising, given that persuasion is the essence of politics, how little politicians and their tribes of supporters seem to think about how to do it. And it is no wonder that people’s opinions of Brexit and Trump have hardly shifted, despite – or, rather, because of – the partisan fury on both sides.
Perhaps a lesson for us all.