Friday 3 March 2017

The Baseball Disconnect

There is a lot of understandable anger directed at Trump voters just now. Charles M. Blow writes in the New York Times:

This is why I have no patience for liberal talk of reaching out to Trump voters. There is no more a compromise point with those who accept, promote and defend bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia than there is a designation of “almost pregnant.”

This is rather extreme. Even Hillary Clinton only put half of Trump's supporters into the infamous "basket of deplorables". If we take Blow's words at face value, every single Trump voter is beyond redemption: Bearing the mark of Cain, forever exiled from the progressive Eden for their act of kinslaying.

E pluribus unum?

It makes no logical sense. It's a statistical certainty that many voted for both Obama in 2012, and Trump in 2016. A minority of Trump voters to be sure, but a significant one; more than his margin of victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, even Ohio. Have these erstwhile Obama voters really fallen so far, it is not worth even trying to speak to them?

As I've previously argued, Trump voters are not fundamentally different from their friends and neighbours who voted for Clinton, or some other candidate, or didn't vote at all. With a turnout of 59%, "none of the above" comfortably beat either of the main candidates.

That's a commonplace statistic, but it's worth dwelling on for a moment. Say what you will about the 2016 election, it wasn't boring. In the epic slugfest between Clinton and Trump, more than 4 in 10 Americans didn't offer an opinion. Voter suppression is very real and I don't wish to downplay it; but a great many of those 4 in 10 simply didn't want to make the effort.

The boundary between the not-bothering and the minimally-bothered is fuzzy. Plenty of voters trudged down to the polling station and cast a vote for Trump, or indeed Clinton, with very little engagement in the issues at hand.

Charles Blow is clearly a politics nerd. I recognise the type, because I am one myself. I follow the news closely and keep myself informed.

If somebody of this frame of mind voted for Trump, Blow's reaction would be much more reasonable. On any well-informed assessment, Trump is a howling void of ignorance and hate, unfit to serve on a local school board let alone as President of the United States. All of this was perfectly clear during the election campaign.

Anyone who knew it, and decided to vote for Trump anyway, is indeed deplorable. Whether they rather like Trump's bigotry, or were prepared to overlook it for the sake of tax cuts, is irrelevant. There is no point trying to convince Reince Preibus or Steve Bannon of the error of their ways; and if there is a hell, they surely belong there.

Bannon and Blow disagree vehemently on practically everything. Blow seems a basically decent individual, and Bannon deserves to be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail. But they have one unusual feature in common: Both are passionately interested in politics.

This is not true of most American voters. Many follow politics to the same extent I follow baseball.

By HerSilverHammer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I sort of like baseball, and I'll watch it if a game happens to be on and I have nothing more urgent to do. I've got a rudimentary grasp of the rules, and I notice which teams are in the World Series. That's about it. Ask me about controversies, scandals, remarkable events, or important players, and I've got nothing.

There are plenty of baseball nerds who will be shocked, hurt, and baffled that I feel this way. How can I possibly go through life knowing so little about the sport they love so passionately? They might understand intellectually, but emotionally, they don't get it.

I know baseball is a game and politics isn't. In an ideal world, the voting public would recognise this and take steps to educate themselves. We do not live in that ideal world.

Voters have a responsibility to inform themselves; but the wider culture does not make it easy. Large segments of the news media are inane and superficial, while others push disinformation or outright falsehoods. Some blame must fall on the producers of this poor excuse for news, as well as its consumers. In our garish and tawdry media landscape, Trump's campaign fit in perfectly. Empty slogans and vague promises to shake up Washington were just enough to put him over the top.

Trump voters are citizens of the United States who made a mistake. No more, and no less. We don't have to sugar-coat that. We don't have to pretend Trump is less monstrous than he is, or compromise on important values. On the contrary, I think noisy, determined, uncompromising resistance is exactly the right response to Trump. This pugnacious piece has the right kind of balance.

In opposing Trump, it would be wise to avoid insulting all Trump voters as a group. It's not justified, it's not necessary, and on a more cynical level, the resistance will need some of them.

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