After having watched the final Democratic debate before the 2016 convention recently, few people could deny that the tone of this one was the least cordial of any Democratic debate in recent history. And don’t even get anyone started on what the GOP has managed to do to itself in terms of incivility during the seemingly interminable course of this primary season.
The so-called surrogates of each candidate are equally inclined to be in full battle mode when it comes to getting their candidate’s point of view out there and knocking down the reputation of the opponent. Social media allows supporters and fans of every candidate to push the agenda of their guy or gal and slam anyone who doesn’t see things their way — and to do it in the most colorful terms possible. With virtually no consequences beyond being blocked or unfriended.
Earlier today I had an interesting interaction with a person who happened to be a Hillary Clinton supporter — although this same dynamic could have occurred had the situation been reversed I think– with me being the fan of HRC and her the Bernie person. Exactly what we were discussing isn’t even all that relevant. It was the dynamic of the conversation that struck me.
Every time she made what I thought was a factual error, I would post a link to a potential correction of that error. Then she would make a negative remark about my level of intelligence. (She was very articulate and could be very cutting in a sort of effortless way.) Or she would say that what I had posted was proof of my “naivete.” Finally I reminded her that although we were debating on an allegedly factual basis, in the whole course of the conversation, I had never once questioned her intelligence nor her level of sophistication.
Instantly she collapsed.
Much to my surprise, she apologized immediately. Said she hadn’t meant to make me feel bad. (I can’t deny that this gave me a bit of a laugh because calling someone stupid and/or naive is hardly calculated to make someone feel good, is it?) But she was serious. She said had meant to say that she thought my ideas were stupid/naive, not me. And she really seemed to feel bad about it.
Okay. I’m not a grudge-holder. (Usually.) I told her I appreciated that. And thanked her. Wished her a good weekend. (Because I had to leave the house shortly.) Said: “Take care.” She came back and said: “I really hope there’s no ill-will between us. I really am sorry.” I answered that she was very gracious and — once again — I really did appreciate that graciousness. Thanked her again. A number of people hit the “like” button on the exchange between us. I was surprised how many people had been “watching.”
It dawned on me then — how much people need to feel that they are decent human beings. This woman didn’t mind being seen as very aggressive in supporting her candidate, but it bothered her to be perceived as mean. And I think — in some ways — that’s a very hopeful thing.
The other day, I read an article that implied that the content of Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman-Sachs isn’t all that earth-shaking. Although the transcripts of them haven’t been released, some people who had attended these speeches have been interviewed. A few of them have said that basically the content of the speeches was that — when it came to the Crash of 2008 — it wasn’t Goldman’s fault.
Is it possible that Goldman paid a powerful mother figure over $600,000 to tell them that they were not bad people? I’m beginning to wonder… People have quoted her as saying: “We all got into this together. [Did we??] And we’ll all get out of it together.”
Clearly, huge numbers of Americans hated Goldman Sachs at that point. And a fair number still do. Is it possible that the Masters of the Universe needed Mom to tell them that they weren’t monsters? That they were just “good people who had made bad choices?” Whether or not it was true?
I have my doubts about electing a candidate who wants to ease Goldman’s guilty conscience — if it has one. But what struck me was the fact that — conscience or no — they were bothered by being seen as villainous. For whatever reason — they just were. Even multi-billionaires seem to have this instinct.
So I’ve been mulling over what this all might mean. Would it be worth it — even simply as a pragmatic measure — to ratchet down the strident tone of political discourse at this point? To tap into that human desire to be seen as decent? To call people to heed their better angels? But without being total pushovers in the process?
What seemed to produce a state of reconciliation and balance in the conversation today was not backing down or abandoning a position I held sincerely. But simply stating that position without attaching any personal value judgments to it. And then calmly pointing out what was happening when the other person resorted to personal insults. And finally being willing to accept an apology and reconcile.
I’m not saying this would work in every circumstance. When someone’s a true troll, they have no interest in resolving anything. In fact, quite the opposite. And I don’t mean to be self-congratulatory. This woman was certainly willing to meet me halfway, after she became aware of how I felt. So at least half the credit should go to her.
But it was a revelation to have a sharp conflict that ended up so positively. And I just wanted to share it. She had been really quite nasty to some other people on that thread prior to this point and consequently other people were returning fire to her just as aggressively. This seemed to help defuse the situation. Underneath all the belligerence was a person who — at heart — really didn’t want to be the bad guy.
And that’s potentially a good thing.
Hey Homie! Isn’t it a real pleasure when conversation of a polemic nature turns out the way your recent one did? You may just have gotten that person to think anew about people she obviously didn’t have a very high opinion of. She may rethink her views on the people who support Sanders.
I love to argue. I also really enjoy intelligent discourse, but I do not suffer foolish people gladly. I always try to keep personal opinions, ones that may be negative about a person I’m having a discussion with, to myself. I don’t always succeed, and I’m not really proud of it. I can be somewhat of a smart ass at times, and I’ll usually make some sort of snide joke about a person who has no interest in real conversation and only wants to insult and condemn those with differing views. In other words, trolls. I have no patience at all with people like that. Sometimes I get frustrated with people who seem to have no capacity for reason and logic, and operate solely on raw emotion. There’s really no getting through to those sorts.
I especially lose patience with people who say they’ll never vote for Hillary if she is the nominee. I understand the ideology of this political revolution, but the world and our lives in it, often times requires pragmatism, even if it means siding with someone we know is pretty flawed in some ways.
Sanders himself has said that he thinks Hillary is miles above any of the GOP candidates, and I think he’s right. He also has said he will support her if she gets the nomination. I just don’t understand how some people still say they will refuse to vote for the dem nominee if it’s Hillary, when their political hero has clearly stated that he would.
I voted for Bernie in Ohio’s primary. I will certainly vote for him if he is the nominee. But if it’s Hillary, I will vote for her. She’s the old guard and Bernie is the new. I would like the new to get a shot, for a change, but out of necessity, I’ll accept the old, if that’s the only choice. I know that at least Hillary won’t destroy all the progress that our president has fought so hard for, the last 8 years. She may even accomplish a few progressive things along the way.
No matter who the dem president turns out to be, if the dems win the general, that person is going to face the same obstructionism and implacable petulance as president Obama has had to face. There are no magic wands.
Our best hope is to make some major changes in the house and senate. That is going to take time.
The political revolution that Bernie is calling for, is basically the same thing president Obama called for, active participation in our own democracy. The call to vote in every election and not just every four years (sorry for preaching to the choir). This saddens me in a way, because what is now considered revolutionary was once simply referred to as doing one’s civic duty. How far we’ve fallen, eh?
I really hope, by some miracle, that Bernie not only wins the nomination, but the general as well. It’s time in America for a more FDR like president. But if it’s Hillary, I’m perfectly willing to give her a shot. Who knows, she may surprise all of us.
There is simply far too much to lose by allowing the republicans such power. Real people will be harmed by the republicans. Far more so than by anything Hillary would do.
End of brief essay! 😉 Thanks for the post Homie.
KT, If I had my way – and wishing for the sun, moon and stars – ordinary people would: know a lot more about the organization/structure of politics; be a lot more interested; keep informed much more than they do; many more ordinary people get actively involved; actually get out and vote; and, run and get elected.
Actual participation is low ( county organizations do not have many participants); voting rates are very low; political parties do not have very many people who actually want to run for office.
I think that all that accounts for the lack of quality in political discourse; the lack of quality in political candidates.
Thus, we have, across the board, an appeal to the least common denominator.
I think that is obvious this election cycle; in both parties.
PBO was correct. A cure would be much greater active participation by ordinary people in the political process. If that happened, we would be able to make way.
Oh I’m sure of it agrippa. We get the politicians we deserve. If we keep electing lunatics and swindlers and egomaniacs, the only direction is down.
Is civics actually taught in high school these days? It’s embarrassing that so many people in America, people who were born and raised here, have little to no clue how our government and our political processes work. Not even the basics.
I also think there are so many distractions for younger people, that any valuable knowledge that needs to be attained, gets lost in market place. But in a way, that’s a cop out.
I’m not a paranoid person by nature, and not really a conspiracy theorist, but sometimes I can’t help thinking that this is by design!
“Those that know the least, obey the best.” Farquar
I make the joke that the “average politician is mediocre”.
It would be a significant improvement if the small number of ordinary citizens who pay attention and are well informed were doubled in numbers ( for example from 1% to 2%.)
It would help if people doubled the amount of time they spend, in a week, on public affairs.
There is a ladder of participation; from the ordinary citizen being informed up to and including getting elected to office. Every step of that ladder needs far more ordinary people participating.
Above is an article about civics education in the USA,
In a way, it is by design. The US Constitution is for a Republic. The legitimacy of a republic rests with the people. But, there was, then, a fear of democracy. The writers feared both ends – a fear of tyranny and a fear of democracy. The constitution was written with those two fears firmly in mind.
You may think of the writing of the Constitution as a second American revolution.
The Civil War was a third Revolution.
Hey, Homie! Oh have I been there too. I have also been the one who resorted to snark and sarcasm when I sensed that the person on the other end of the conversation was a troll. I was mortified a while ago when someone filled me in on the fact that the person I thought was a middle-aged Bundy-type Libertarian jerk who was trying to bait me into an argument was actually just an 18 year old kid whose parents were going through a divorce. Ouch! I felt terrible. I had really pulled out the sarcasm guns and was clobbering him, then I felt about 1″ tall when I learned the truth of the situation. By then he was already gone, so I didn’t get a chance to apologize to him. Which I most certainly would have done.
I think that was the beginning of my feeling that I might need to rethink the tone of my rhetoric this campaign season.
I think I can get where the “Never Hillary” people are coming from. They’re really at the absolute end of their ropes and they see her as being centrist — which they feel they’ve had enough of. But as undesirable as centrism is — it’s better that RW extremism.
I also voted for Bernie in the Ohio primary and would be thrilled if he became the candidate. But the numbers are not especially encouraging at this point. (Haven’t abandoned all hope, though.) And I feel that I’m very likely to vote for her in the general. The only other scenario I could envision might be if she were — say — thirty points ahead of Trump (or whoever) in the polls. That might give me the lee-way to do a “conscience vote” for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Her values line up with mine much more than Hillary’s do. But if the race is even remotely close I wouldn’t take that chance.
I’m not at all impressed with Hillary’s close ties to AIPAC, and little tricks like stating that VT is the gun supplier for NYC’s gang guns do not endear her to me in the least. She was also very, very late to the dance when it came to LGBT rights.
She is not crazy Inquisitor Cruz who wants to “abolish the IRS and made the sand glow in the Middle East.”
Nor is she “Kill the Families of the Terrorists” Trump. The man who never met a water-boarder he didn’t love.
Now we’ll just have to wait and see what sorts of flattery and bribes the DNC offers us Bernie supporters as November draws nearer! Are ya holding your breath? 😀
With worms on my tongue! Baited Breath! 😉
Kes, you handled that encounter perfectly.
Bernie has tried to do the same. Unfortunatly Bernie has been mistreated by HRC, the DNC, and DWS.
Bernie, on the other hand, has been too nice to her.
There is too much in her past that is questionable. Too many flips and flops on the issues. I’ll mention only one which bothers me. Her standing there and taking credit for the $15 minimum wage in NY. She stood on the debate stage when Bernie called for $15 and argued that $12 was better.
The thing that just pissed me off the most and has me convinced that I can’t ever vote for her is the lie she told about Vermont running guns to NY! There is no way Vermont is doing anything like that!
I wish you peace as always, Kes. Excellent post, too.
Thanks so much for those kind words, Nirek!
I read an article from an objective source (I think it might have been Politifact) that gave “3 Pinocchios” to the claim that VT was was a “gun-running” state. The Feds have a tracking system for guns and they keep records on which state supplies which guns that have been used in the commission of crimes. I think VT ranked #49 in the nation for being the source of crime guns!! So — yes — that statement was totally false.
That did not set well with me either.
I will vote for the Democratic Party nominee. With no difficulty.
It is virtually axiomatic that people invest a great deal of emotion in their political views. This certainly applies among “friends” and “allies”; because they, frequently are “friends” and “allies” in name only.
People frequently have to realize who their enemy actually is – it is those people over yonder. That can be hard to accept.
Why? Because is not really about policy or ideas. It is about honor ( which does exist, although many want to deny it), prestige and position.
This means the that the argument over policy is not about that at all. It is about honor, prestige and position.
In 2016, there is very little difference between Sanders and Clinton on matters of policy. Partisans of both do not want to accept that. So be it.
All this not only applies to the contestants, it also ( perhaps, even more!!) to the “friends” of the rival candidates.
They, to, have honpr, prestige and position at stake as well.
Either Sanders or Clinton will be nominated. And, “the enemy is that way, son”.
“We must all hang together – or we shall all hang separately”.
The partisans of the losing side have to decide what they will do.
I know what I shall do.
Here I stand I can do no other.
agrippa, I’m with you in that there has been too little thought given to “what happens next.” No matter who takes the nomination for the Dem Party (well — the GOP too), that person is going to need the votes of the former opponent’s supporters!
There’s a difference between an opponent and an enemy, and extreme partisans forget that to their own peril, I think.
That is what the GOP will do.
Will the Democratic Party effectively engage and send them off?
Kes, this is a very timely and incisive article, well done!
I think you nailed it, even those we may see as having the most egregious beliefs likely see themselves as good people.
And the other factor you point out is that it is now the modern version of political debate to disqualify, demonize and personally attack those opposing the politician or party they support. Some even freely torture the truth in the process even though it contradicts their own stated principles in the process.
Tolerance truly is a lost art lately in political conversations. As is putting the truth above personal opinions. In fact, it’s become so backwards now that opinions are now used to disqualify inconvenient truths and cherry pick affirming info even if it is from a flawed or dishonest source.
Every four years, each party experiences this to one degree or another, where members within the same party declare fellow members opposing their candidate as traitors, ignorant, naive, or worse. We remember how horrible the Obama/Hillary civil war was in the 2008 primary, worse than this year’s Bernie/Hillary conflicts if that’s any consolation.
It’s difficult to disarm these conflicts in some cases because the truth can’t be agreed upon. Customized versions of the truth seem to be the coin of the realm often, people latch onto propaganda that a candidate, party or MSM outlet has planted and adopt it as “truth” despite the facts because they feel it validates them and their choice of candidate.
The Hillary supporter you conversed with was able to break through the control of that mindset (that supporters of all candidates are vulnerable to engaging in) because despite everything else, her conscience matters to her and as you say, she sees herself as a good person fighting the good fight. When that subjective view of oneself runs into a brick wall of conscience, that one isn’t being a good person, the truly good person puts down the sword.
I would say though that this doesn’t work with people lacking any perspective or conscience. The Trump mentality dictates that conscience is for wimps, that being unapologetically awful to others in pursuit of one’s fervent goal makes them “good”.
So appealing to the conscience of some Republicans is futile but until one tries, one may not know.
As for the finger-pointing between fellow Dems, if it could be based solely upon facts and truth, it would be a positive thing in the end. That’s my main complaint against those who express that they are Progressives but then act identically as Tea Party Republicans, having blind faith in their chosen candidate and ignoring truths that challenge that. Not to mention, the approach of demonizing the opposing candidate and anyone supporting them.
Think about the PUMAs from 2008 that were so hostile, there was no getting through to them, they vowed to vote in McCain AND Palin if Hillary didn’t win.
But what happened in the GE? Hillary supporters were not represented by the that tiny minority of PUMAs and voted in Obama in 2008 and 2012.
So the last aspect I might add into the mix is that the most aggressive supporters of a Dem candidate (not so sure about Trump supporters) only reflect a small minority of that candidate’s supporters. Most I have ever seen interviewed or those I’ve had personal conversations with are not absolutists and don’t portray Dems supporting the other candidate in a negative way.
It is seductive to go into that kind of elitist and hostile mode, who doesn’t like feeling righteous? But it is more important to be right than righteous and I think that the Hillary supporter you described deserves props for displaying that value.
Adlib, tolerance is not a virtue. It is a necessity.
People seem to forget that.
People do not seem to realize, in this hyperventilating world of politics and elections, that others have their own opinions and take their own decisions. Neither one of which requires the approval of others.
One must, also,have a thick skin; this is, after all, politics. People say and do things. Those other people will be there facing you after the contest is over.
Mind your words and deeds; the bad conduct of others have little to do with your own bad conduct.
The contest between Clinton and sanders is not about policy; it is about something much basic than that. It is about: honor, prestige and position. That is why it is so intensely emotional.
Sanders or Clinton will be nominated. After the convention, comes the GOP; and, the GOP, will, most certainty, beat the long roll.
If the Democrats are not in battle order, the GOP will drive the Democrats from the field in disorder.
“The enemy is that way, son”.
agrippa, so true, in a functioning society, tolerance is critical.
It’s easy to get seduced into copying the self-righteous and disrespectful behavior of others when it comes to political discourse, kind of like the 5-year old mentality of hitting a kid back then justifying it by saying, “He hit me first!”
Bad behavior doesn’t become good behavior just because it’s practiced by someone who believes they’re good. Wrong is wrong, generalizing about all the supporters of any candidate isn’t fair.
I criticize Trump’s racist supporters but always mention them as a portion of Trump supporters. I know there are decent people supporting him who don’t espouse racism or attack supporters of other candidates.
There are however very hostile supporters of every candidate but they are usually a minority.
I’m not concerned that the Dems won’t be prepared to trounce Trump. In fact, I think we’ll see that the best GOTV tool for Dems is Donald Trump campaigning for President. I foresee very strong Dem and indie turnout (and even Repubs for the Dem candidate) in the GE which could not only elect a Dem as President by an electoral landslide but sweep in a Dem Senate and possibly even a Dem House.
I live in a state where Democrats are in a permanent minority. I do not know any Democrats, never mind progressives/Sanders supporters. Not very many old white men voted Dem in Texas.
I hope that people come around and that GOTV is effective. Both need to happen.
And, you cannot go by the internet. Political websites on line tend to be an echo chamber; and, where they are not, anonymous poison pen letters are endemic.
I, definitely want to see much more – and much better – participation by ordinary people. If that happened, I think that we would get better politics.
Many years ago, I participated in organized Dem politics at the county level. There were few participants and most ordinary people did not care.
AdLib, I like your comment so much more than I do my own post! It’s so eloquent and well-thought out. Thanks very much.
I agree that when you’re dealing with a person sans conscience, no amount of good will can break through the psychopathy. Trump is that sort of person I think. And he’s a lost cause at this point.
Oddly, though, I don’t think all of his followers are. Granted, some of them are just straight-up racists who love the way his rhetoric seems to give them permission to let their KKK inner-self burst forth in public — without their having to don the inconvenient, sweaty and itchy white sheet and pointy hat.
But I think what may be overlooked is that there’s also a subset who are “regular people” who have been pushed to desperation by huge global changes that they can’t control and don’t really understand. They’re poor, not college-educated and they’re angry (because anger is almost always rooted in terror and they’re terrified). Many have lost jobs and homes and have fallen off the middle class cliff. They feel like objects of ridicule (and in many cases they’re not wrong — I plead guilty to having made fun of Trumpistas myself) and contempt. Which only serves to make them angrier.
I wonder if this might be the subset that is still reachable. If I recall correctly, the Planet’s own choicelady once commented that the Democratic Party made a huge mistake when it distanced itself from (and felt very superior to) white working class voters in the 1970s.
I think the sons and daughters of auto-workers in Michigan or coal miners in West Virginia and not too stupid to know when they’re being mocked. After all, the internet exists even in flyover country. Trump’s (admittedly waning) appeal was based on the fact that — if nothing else — he took them seriously. He gave them a whole Pandora’s box of wrong solutions to their problems — but at least he recognized that they were having problems.
These people are winnable yet! I think if we really, truly hear them. Hear their stories and show them a little respect — for the first time in a while — they can open their minds to alternatives to Trump.
I love your sentence: “It’s better to be right than righteous.” Even though the word “humility” is out of date and misunderstood in the 21st century, that’s what it might take to pull back from short-sighted Tea Party tactics and rhetoric.
I suspect that — for the Democratic Party — the alternative is extinction within another generation or two.
That’s so kind of you Kes but your post is inspirational. We can be better people when we talk politics, we can be more tolerant of the views of other people with good intentions who support opposing candidates and your post affirms all of that.
It’s hard to walk the tightrope on not sounding elitist on this but it does seem to be true that there are some good people who support Trump because they are only seeing him as a vehicle to express how upset they are at our government and put on the blinders to all the awful stuff pouring out of Trump’s mouth.
I’ve seen Trump supporters like that, ears plugged up with denial and rationalizing away Trump’s horrible statements (“I don’t think he really means it!”) to give themselves permission to support a toxic candidate because they see him as voicing their frustration.
So are they bad people deserving of attacks? No, I don’t think so. They do frustrate me because I think it is self-destructive to be co-dependent like that towards an egomaniac but they aren’t doing it out of hatred.
As for the Dem Party establishment, they are not exempt from a revolt either, in fact, that’s what Bernie’s success as a candidate is.
Hillary should have had a coronation, she should have been running away with the nom and sealed it up early against a hardly-known, Jewish, 74 year old Democratic Socialist who is an Independent Senator from Vermont.
The fact that Hillary is virtually tied right now with Bernie in national polls makes a strong statement that Progressives and many independent voters are not content to support another business-as-usual, Democratic Elite/Establishment candidate.
If Hillary does win the nom and is elected, that won’t be the end of the Progressive revolution against the Democratic Party Establishment, I woould suggest that it will continue to grow over time and especially if Hillary moves back to the center right and a corporate-friendly position.
Hillary has the institutional advantage in winning the Dem nom and the Presidency but I think she would have plenty of good reasons to be concerned about winning a re-election if she shows further poor judgement and a lack of transparency as President.
With negatives well over 50% and voter enthusiasm behind Bernie instead of her, missteps as President could magnify opposition to her (which is not what I’d want to see).
I sure hope she learns a degree of humility from this unexpectedly close race with Bernie if she wins and not think that once she wins, the winner can do as they wish…because a President will need to keep voters believing in them to win a second term.
AdLib, I love the way you worded that comment on Trump supporters:
And I think you’re absolutely right in saying that Bernie’s brand of Progressivism isn’t going to go away after November. Recently the NY Times published this article — which I have the almighty nerve to think is completely wrong!
No. I don’t think Trumpism and Clintonism are the future. Quite the opposite. I think there’s a fairly strong possibility she’ll be a one-termer. I think the Democratic Party may already have lost a generation of young voters. I think 1990s style politics is in terminal condition.
And I think what may come after Hillary is a loss of the center — altogether. And a split between Socialist/Green Party younger voters and Trumpish/Corporatist older voters.
But then… my crystal ball may be in need of a reboot… We shall see!
Homie, some of Trump’s supporters ARE bad people. Very nasty human beings. That guy that sucker punched a protester is not a lone wolf.
The old man who shot pepper spray into a teenage girls face, because she was a protester.
Trump encourages this, and there are those, that have long awaited a guy like Trump to validate their hatred and violence. It’s scary and quite real.
Oh believe me, Homie, I would never say that all Trump’s supporters are decent but desperate low income folks. Some of them are not-even-in-the-closet racists and xenophobes. But I do think there’s also a “persuadable” element there that might be worth reaching out to.
Wonderful analysis of human nature, kes. The fact that you were able to convey the rudeness of the other person without paying her back in kind, goes to show your maturity, good manners, and well honed social skills. Though how someone would not know that they are insulting the other person by calling them “stupid”, is beyond me.
It reminds me of a commercial running here on cable by a non-profit organisation.
Two men are crossing a busy zebra crossing at the same time in opposite directions. The younger man is not paying attention to where he is going and bumps the shoulder of the other man as he passes. The younger man turns his head to glare angrily at the other but is shocked to find the other man bowing while apologising.
The message is that it costs us nothing to be considerate of others. In a land where I have routinely apologised for things that were not my fault over many years, it felt good to see a Japanese organisation teaching the art of good manners and important social skills.
The republicans are hostile because it’s second nature. The Dems were mostly goaded into it by unscrupulous networks trying to make a buck with putting on a prize fight.
Kudos to you for turning around a probable toxic situation without missing a beat, and thank you for sharing it with us.
Thanks so much for the kind words, Kalima! I guess what struck me about this situation is that it rang a bell. I’ve been part of a non-violence committee for about a year now. And one of the things they emphasize is that words can be used in violent ways. And can be as painful as physical blows.
But more recently this committee has been mentioning that it’s one thing to put an end to an episode of violence. It’s another to have the last part of the interaction be — reconciliation. To have reconciliation be the final step is part of what they refer to as “Kingian Non-violence.” (Drawn from the writings/philosophy of MLK.)
When that actually happened in “real life,” I was impressed and — frankly — surprised. “Hey, this stuff works!” 😀
I guess those Gandhi and King guys were on to something!