Litmus Tests for Political Rationality

Republican Democrats

On Tuesday afternoon, my fiancé and I parked downtown and walked to the Trump rally. As we approached the Convention Center we saw a mass of protestors carrying signs.

No Hate. Down with the KKK. Black Lives Matter.

Singing chants. Hey-hey, ho-ho, Donald Trump has got to go, hey-hey…

One thing I didn’t see was a Trump supporter. Because the police had completely barricaded the two sides from each other. So, even though I had tickets to the main event, and was interested in experiencing both sides, I had no idea how to cross to the Trump side. So I didn’t.

The barricades reduced the likelihood of conflict at the rally. They also symbolized the complete divide we’re experiencing in politics. We’re so far apart we can’t even see each other.

I forget where I saw this analogy, but someone said Donald Trump is like that Gold/Blue dress thing. Different people just perceive different things when they look at Trump.

Two extremes drive the conflict.

A Trump loyalist is more like a Trump propagandist — repeating the talking points of Trump’s tweets and talkshow surrogates. They do not think for themselves, so are more like parrots. They mistake Patriotism for Trumpism.

Anti-Trumpers have a parallel extreme. Some people think Trump is a demonic overlord, primed to overthrow democracy and instill himself as fascist dictator. They believe every Trump supporter is an irredeemable racist or a complete idiot.

These extremes feed off each other. The more Trump loyalists defend indefensible Trump behavior, the more Anti-Trumpers see the apocalypse. Each time an Anti-Trumper cries racism or flips out over Trump’s behavior, the loyalists see triggered leftist crybabies.

At times I have felt worried that Trump is a unique threat to democracy — that the Constitutional powers of the executive were intended to be wielded by an eminent statesmen. Due to modern flaws in the electoral process, that didn’t happen. Additionally, the powers of the president have expanded significantly over the years, making us vulnerable to a would-be tyrant.

So far, though, Trump seems willing enough to play by the rules. Even though he has trashed the court system verbally, he hasn’t attempted to violate any court decisions. He begrudgingly signed legislation that forced his hand on Russian sanctions, a limitation on his power. His attacks on the media are unsightly from a head of state, but nothing about the First Amendment is in danger of being limited. It’s not like he’s signing Sedition Acts to throw people in jail for criticizing the government.

We can use some litmus tests for detecting whether we, or someone we’re talking to, are in the extreme camp.

First. Trump’s honesty. A sure-fire way to detect an independent thinking Trump supporter is to ask them about a blatant lie, contradiction or wild assertion. A reasonable person will grant that, yes, Trump sometimes just makes shit up.

During his Phoenix speech, Trump read sections of his Charlottesville statements to show how noble they were, and to show everyone how dishonest the media was for getting mad about them. Except he didn’t read the parts that made people mad. He didn’t read the “many sides” part, or the part where he said that some people marching with the KKK were “very fine people.”

That’s not even an outright lie. But it’s dishonest. It’s even comical, because his editing job in cutting the controversial parts of his statements is exactly what he complains about when he says “the press treats me so unfairly.”

If you can’t spot the lies and misrepresentations, you need to check yourself.

Second. The media. Let’s be real. The mainstream media does indeed portray Trump in a bad light whenever possible. The other day I read this Op-Ed in the New York Times: Trump is Giving North Korea Exactly What It Wants, arguing that Trump’s direct threats against North Korea validate it’s nuclear ambition.

North Korea has been striving for nuclear weapons for decades. Sure, the purpose of their weapons program is to protect against the Big Bad Americans. But Trump inherited this problem, and whether he threatens or not, they are going to keep developing nukes.

This is a mild example.

No, it isn’t “Fake News.” Most bias emerges not by making up facts, but by how they are portrayed, and which facts are provided. No news is completely unbiased, because whatever you choose to report is automatically an editorial decision.

No, this doesn’t justify characterizing the press as the “enemy of the people.” It’s business as usual in journalism.

But if you read a liberal-leaning newspaper without a critical awareness that you are reading a liberal-leaning newspaper, you may slip into the extreme.

Another litmus test. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who just published a book, Conscience of a Conservative, blasting the Republican party for falling for a candidate who perverts true conservatism by stoking nationalist fears.

Both sides of the political aisle should be celebrating Jeff Flake’s book. Conservatives will find a call back to their core principles — free trade, free markets, limited federal power.

Liberals can applaud a Republican willing to stand ground at great political risk. Someone speaking truth to power instead of bending to emotional whims.

If you can’t say a good word about Flake’s stance, check yourself.

There’s undoubtedly more political turbulence to come. We haven’t been talking about the FBI special investigation much lately, which will continue to unfold. We will continue to see more legislative showdowns like we saw with healthcare. What’s going to happen with the budget, taxes, immigration? How are people going to react to Trump’s extension of the Afghanistan war?

We’ll see how it plays out. In the meantime, let’s stay rational and try to grant some goodwill to each other, between the extremes.

Author: Billy

Teacher and blogger.

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