Fire All Trump Voters Into The Sun

I’ve been a fan of Rachael Maddow for years. She’s a consummate pro, and hosting a live show for a decade has given her a deft ability to handle interviews and distill down complex talking points on the fly.

So when that polished exterior breaks down on live TV, you know you’re in for some heavy shit.

PZ beat me to this one, but it’s important enough to put on repeat. Trump and his cronies are literally using babies as pawns for political and financial gain. Anyone who voted for him is complicit in this, because you knew what you were voting for. This is on you, and if you have even a crumb of humanity in you, I expect you to stop supporting the party of Trump. If you do not, I will hold you responsible for their actions, including the mass incarceration of babies.

Police and Pride Parades

Deja vu: the Edmonton Pride parade halted in the face of a brief protest, and after considering the protester’s demands the organisers decided to ban police and RCMP from marching with them. Something similar happened in Calgary last year, when protesters convinced Pride organisers to block police/RCMP from walking with Pride while in uniform (inadvertently causing our local CFI affiliate to implode and rebrand, which was for the best).

I’m not a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, but I can understand the sentiment.

Not wanting to lose the momentum gained from Stonewall, the newly empowered LGBT rights leaders in several different cities began mobilizing, trying to answer the question “Now what?”

On November 2, 1969, at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations in Philadelphia, the first pride march was proposed by way of a resolution. The Christopher Street Liberation Day march was then held in New York City on June 28, 1970, marking the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street and a march covering the 51 blocks to Central Park. […]

In 1970, walking in broad daylight with a sign saying you were a homosexual was not only terrifying but could prove deadly. Many of the marchers in those first Pride events were genuinely scared they might not make it to the end of the route. They had no idea where they were going to finish or if anyone would show up to march with them or if they would even make it halfway down the street without being mobbed by an angry, violent crowd.

Pride parades began as a protest against police violence, as well as a defiant show of existence. The pageantry that arrived in later years was a natural consequence.

The oft-echoed reason for the necessity of a parade is that there is still work to be done. There is still a lack of equality and there are still people who are afraid of coming out. The jovial and unrepressed nature of a parade can be inspiring.

Another reason? It’s just fun, writes travel blogger Adam Groffman. In a movement that is so frequently grabbing headlines for issues such as marriage inequality and bullying against LGBT youth, it’s even more imperative to balance that out with an image of “fun and cheer.”

In a time when the rights of LGBT+ people are under increasing attack, it was also natural that the protest side of Pride parades would reassert itself. And let’s face it, the police have a very bad track record with this community. In 1967, a Calgarian named Everett Klippert was branded a “dangerous sex offender” and served four years in prison for being gay. In the 1970’s, police demanded the university records of gay students at the University of Calgary and set up “sting operations” to catch them hooking up. On December 12th, 2002, Calgary police raided the Goliath bathhouse. Despite finding no evidence of wrong-doing, it took three years for the charges to be dropped, and even then the police thought they’d done nothing wrong.

“Prior to December 12, I would’ve said that Calgary Police Service is not a homophobic organization,” said [Steven] Lock outside the courthouse. “Post December 12, I don’t have that view anymore.”

That sort of thing leaves a mark.Mix in the increasing activism from people of colour and the First Nations about police brutality, and you’re more than justified from excluding uniformed police from marching in Pride parades.

Identity Whistling

I’ve seen a few editorials along the lines of this one or this one:

An expanding working class may have dealt the final blow to the Kathleen Wynne Liberals, whose support has now become concentrated among upper class Ontarians and a shrinking middle class. For now, Doug Ford’s PCs hold a strong hand with working class voters—nearly double the support of either the Liberals or NDP. If Ford can sustain his working class support until June 7, he will sweep to a majority government.

It’s eerily similar to what we were hearing about Trump, isn’t it? And in Trump’s case, we’ve got a growing body of evidence that it wasn’t about economics, it was really about identity threat.

Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 campaign for the U.S. presidential election has defied the expectations of many Americans. This study is the first to demonstrate experimentally that the changing racial demographics of America are directly contributing to Trump’s success among Whites by increasing perceived threats to their group’s status. It is also the first to show that White Americans’ responses to increasing racial diversity depend on how identified they are with their ethnic group.

Major, Brenda, Alison Blodorn, and Gregory Major Blascovich. “The threat of increasing diversity: Why many White Americans support Trump in the 2016 presidential election.” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations (2016): 1368430216677304.

The most obvious finding in Table 1 is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, there is little to no evidence that those whose incomes declined or whose incomes increased to a lesser extent than others’ incomes were more likely to support Trump. Even change in subjective assessment of one’s own personal financial situation had no discernible impact on evaluations of Trump or on change in vote choice. Likewise, those who lost a job between 2012 and 2016 were no more likely to support Trump. […]

Mass opinion changes on status threat-related issues were not, by themselves, the driving force in increasing affinity for the Republican candidate. Instead, increasing relative distance from the Democratic candidate on threat-related issues, such as immigration and China, consistently predicted Trump support in a positive direction, whereas decreasing relative distance from the Republican candidate on trade and China also predicted change in the direction of voting for Trump. These consistently significant coefficients indicate that change over time in the candi dates’ perceived positions relative to those of individual respondents had a significant impact in increasing support for Trump. The pattern in Table 1 makes it clear that it was change in how the candidates positioned themselves on status threat-related issues combined with smaller changes in public issue opinions that predicted increasing support for the Republican candidate in 2016.

Mutz, Diana C. “Status Threat, Not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 19, 2018, 201718155. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1718155115.

Ironically, a lot of the people banging on about the evils of “identity politics” are engaging in it themselves; people who identify with a privileged group are paranoid about losing those privileges, and will lash out at anyone who’s arguing for a more level playing field. But they recognize that “white people are inherently superior” and similar assertions are monstrous, so they need to hide behind some sort of coded language or flimsy argument. They aren’t part of an identity, oh no, so they can’t be engaging in identity politics! It’s not about a loss of privilege, oh no, it’s about working class voters feeling disenfranchised! It’s not about racism, oh no, it’s about immigrants taking our jobs!

You can see how this could explain the Ontario election: Ford was a horrifically unfit candidate, but identity-threat dog whistles could make him highly valued by a white majority that felt they were under threat, valued enough to transcend his flaws. The missing piece is whether he actually blew those whistles.

Earlier this month, the leader of the Ontario PCs generated significant controversy when he brought up the issue of immigration on the campaign trail, suggesting Ontario should “take care of our own” before worrying about immigrants. On a Google Hangout recently streamed by figures on the far-right linked to several Canadian hate groups, white nationalists appeared thrilled at the prospect of Doug Ford becoming Premier of Ontario. One avowed white nationalist even bragged that Ford was directly communicating with white nationalists using a “dog whistle” – ‘dog whistling’ refers to the use of coded language to disguise racist ideas to a general audience while signalling to racists themselves.


His recent attacks on Toronto “elites” and the media seem like conscious evocations of the bully-boy rhetoric Trump used to great advantage in his 2016 campaign. And his crude style – he once pledged to give his own party an “enema” – hasn’t backfired on him, yet. […]

In recent days, for example, he went out of his way to shun a planned leaders’ debate hosted by a Toronto-area black organization. Over the weekend, he drew boos during a speech to a Somali group during which he promised to reinstate an anti-gang police task force that had been intensely criticized for over-policing poor neighborhoods with large black populations (the Liberal government had pulled the plug on the task force).

Roger Keil, a York University urban geographer who studies politics and planning in Toronto’s suburbs, adds that when Ford was running for mayor, he didn’t exactly race to defend an opponent, a longtime local and federal politician named Olivia Chow, who came in for nasty racial attacks – just one of several that marred that election.“He never made an attempt to put himself between the racist and sexist overtones,” says Keil. “The real Doug Ford is a mean, clever strategist who has demonstrated time and again that he knows exactly what he’s doing.”

All signs point to yes. The best counter-argument isn’t to deny he made those whistles, it’s to argue Canadians are too savvy to fall for them. Click through on that last link and you’ll see what I mean; it goes to great lengths to point out that Toronto is very diverse, and that other conservative groups who used identity-threat dog whistles have been punished for it in the polls. All of them happened before Donald Trump, though. Trump may have shoved the Overton window so far that we’ve grown tolerant of certain whistles. Ford was also one of the first Canadian politicians to have a major press organization blast out and legitimize his whistles, much as Fox News did for Trump.

We need more data up here to be sure, but I suspect identity-threat dog whistles were enough to push Doug Ford over the top. Either way, they’ve become a major player in the North American political landscape.

Ugh.

Remember that post about the Ontario election? That trend in the polls continued, putting the NDP and PC’s in a dead heat. Meanwhile, Doug Ford was sued by his late brother’s wife, was recorded trying to sell fake party memberships to guarantee he’d become the PC leader, broke election law while fundraising, and on and on. Between all the lying and even promises of a blind trust to hold off allegations of nepotism, he’s about as close as Canada gets to a Donald Trump, which should have made an NDP minority a slam-dunk.

Led by Doug Ford, Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have secured a majority government, ending nearly 15 years of Liberal power in the province. The NDP will form the province’s Official Opposition, while the embattled Liberals were handed a substantial rebuke from voters, losing the vast majority of their seats at Queen’s Park.

“Dead heat” in the polls, alas, didn’t take into account our first-past-the-post system; the vote distribution ensured the PCs held a seat advantage, though unlike the US this wasn’t due to gerrymandering. And there was a last-minute surge in support for the PC’s, so what was originally a 36-37% share of the vote grew to 40%. Ontarians just didn’t see the problem with electing a Trump clone.

On the plus side, Ford doesn’t have access to nuclear weapons and a military.

Yes, I’m reaching. *sigh*

pseudo-Socratic Politics

Read that Atlantic profile of Stephen Miller yet? This part in particular jumped out at me:

That night was the culmination of a well-organized campaign of campus disruption. It had begun when Miller formed a chapter of Students for Academic Freedom—a national conservative pressure group [David] Horowitz had launched to expose the leftist “indoctrination” taking place at America’s universities. As the head of the Duke chapter, Miller was sent a 70-page handbook that provided detailed instructions for orchestrating a campus controversy. It included guidance on how to investigate faculty members’ partisan biases (special attention should be paid to professors of women’s studies and African American studies, the handbook noted); tips for identifying “classroom abuses” (“Did your professor make a politically-biased comment in class about the war in Iraq?”); and advice for drumming up publicity (“Appearing as a guest on your local talk radio station is probably easier than you think”). The handbook also urged students to invite controversial speakers to their schools, adding that if the administration declined to fund such visits, students should “issue a press release … questioning why they have refused your request to increase the scope of intellectual diversity on campus.”

The playbook was in many ways ahead of its time, but Miller recognized its merits—and executed flawlessly. After inviting Horowitz to speak at Duke, he seized on the pushback from some professors as evidence that the university was trying to stifle free speech. He wrote an incendiary op-ed in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, titled “Betrayal,” in which he claimed that “a large number of Duke professors” were determined to “indoctrinate students in their personal ideologies and prejudices”—and then presented a series of anonymous student testimonials as proof.

Amazingly enough, you can grab a later edition of that document for yourself. On the surface it seems quite innocuous:

Students for Academic Freedom is exclusively dedicated to the following goals:

  • To promote intellectual diversity on campus.
  • To defend the right of students to be treated with respect by faculty and administrators, regardless of their political or religious beliefs.
  • To promote fairness, civility and inclusion in student affairs.
  • To secure the adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights as official university policy, and the Student Bill of Rights as a resolution in student governments.

For a thorough treatment of our mission, please see the red Students for Academic Freedom booklet, pages 4-12.

That resembles the language of contemporary progressives, right? If you dig into the history and context, however, a sinister side starts to appear.

The proposed Academic Bill of Rights directs universities to enact guidelines implementing the principle of neutrality, in particular by requiring that colleges and universities appoint faculty “with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.” The danger of such guidelines is that they invite diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession. Measured in this way, diversity can easily become contradictory to academic ends. So, for example, no department of political theory ought to be obligated to establish “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor of Nazi political philosophy, if that philosophy is not deemed a reasonable scholarly option within the discipline of political theory. No department of chemistry ought to be obligated to pursue “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor who teaches the phlogiston theory of heat, if that theory is not deemed a reasonable perspective within the discipline of chemistry.

These examples illustrate that the appropriate diversity of a university faculty must ultimately be conceived as a question of academic judgment, to be determined by the quality and range of pluralism deemed reasonable by relevant disciplinary standards, as interpreted and applied by college and university faculty. Advocates for the Academic Bill of Rights, however, make clear that they seek to enforce a kind of diversity that is instead determined by essentially political categories, like the number of Republicans or Democrats on a faculty, or the number of conservatives or liberals. Because there is in fact little correlation between these political categories and disciplinary standing, the assessment of faculty by such explicitly political criteria, whether used by faculty, university administration, or the state, would profoundly corrupt the academic integrity of universities. Indeed, it would violate the neutrality principle itself.

The first attempts at pushing the “academic freedom” line were clumsy and gave the game away too easily; for instance, Rick Santorum’s attempt in 2001 used much of the same language but mentioned “biological evolution” as a topic of controversy. But by 2003 it was clear that basic tactic of appropriating progressive language and concepts to push regressive ideas was powerful, the American far-Right just had to tune the messaging to appear as neutral as possible. By 2010, the date of the revised handbook, you either have to be quite adept at decoding dog-whistles or the patience to dig in deep to spot what was really going on. On page 31, well away from the lofty goals, you’ll find the giveaway alluded to above:

As you complete this process, you may begin to get a sense of which professors are particularly partisan in their teaching. If you know that a student is taking a class with one of these professors, make sure to ask whether they have encountered abusive actions in the classroom. Some departments are known for their ideological and partisan leanings. These include Cultural Studies, American Studies, English Literature, Women‘s Studies, African-American (or Black) Studies, Chicano/Latino/Hispanic Studies, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Studies, American-Indian Studies, and Asian-American Studies. Fertile ground is also found in the Political Science, Sociology and History departments, although to a lesser degree than the departments mentioned above.

The end goal of all this is confusion and frustration. They want progressives arguing with one another about what “diversity” and “inclusion” means, as it makes them susceptible to a re-framing of those terms via emotional pleas, conspiracy theories, and well-funded think tanks. The messaging has become so finely crafted that without the history you’d have no idea it was created to teach Young-Earth Creationism in schools.

Universities ought to be the arena in which political prejudice is set aside and open-minded investigation reveals the way the world works. But just when we need this disinterested forum the most, academia has become more politicized as well – not more polarized, but more left-wing. Colleges have always been more liberal than the American population, but the skew has been increasing. … The proportions vary by field: departments of business, computer science, engineering, and health science are evenly split, while the humanities and social sciences are decidedly on the left: the proportion of conservatives is in the single digits, and they are outnumbered by Marxists two to one. Professors in the physical and biological sciences are in between, with few radicals and Virtually no Marxists, but liberals outnumber conservatives by a wide margin.

The liberal tilt of academia (and of journalism, commentary and intellectual life) is in some ways natural. … A liberal tilt is also, in moderation, desirable. Intellectual liberalism was at the forefront of many forms of progress that almost everyone has come to accept, such as democracy, social insurance, religious tolerance, the abolition of slavery and judicial torture, the decline of war, and the expansion of human and civil rights. In many ways we are (almost) all liberals now.

But we have seen that when a creed becomes attached to an in-group, the critical faculties of its members can be disabled, and there are reasons to think that has happened within swaths of academia. In The Blank Slate (updated in 2016) I showed how leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. In a recent manifesto, Tetlock, together with the psychologists Jose Duarte, Jarret Crawford, Charlotta Stern, Jonathan Haidt, and Lee Jussirn, documented the leftward swing of social psychology and showed how it has compromised the quality of research. Quoting John Stuart Mill – “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that” – they called for greater political diversity in psychology the version of diversity that matters the most (as opposed to the version commonly pursued, namely people who look different but think alike).

Pinker, Steven. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Penguin, 2018. pg. 377-378.

In practice, the tactic comes across as a pseudo-Socratic politic: on the surface it advances no unique ideas of its own, instead borrowing from other movements in an attempt to embrace, extend, and extinguish, but the “extinguish” bit gives away that there actually is a unique vision buried under layers of obfuscation and plausible deniability. Read the section on tabling on pages 43 to 46, for instance, and you’ll find the SAF advises their student groups to avoid debate, and instead focus on pushing a standardized message to recruit new members.

The tactic has a strong resemblance to trolling, hence why that Atlantic piece was subtitled “Trump’s Right-wing Troll.” And unfortunately, it’s just as effective.

 

An Unexpected Non-Surprise

Shoot, are you Canadian or not? For those not, I’ll give a one-paragraph primer on Canadian politics.

There are two main parties on the federal level: the Liberals (centre-Left) and the Conservatives (centre-Right), who swap power every five to ten years. There are also a constellation of lesser parties, of which the New Democratics (Left) have enjoyed the most success in recent years. Each province has localised versions of the federal parties, though their ideological relations can vary widely from place to place; for instance, Alberta’s New Democratic Party is currently fighting with their British Columbia counterparts over an oil pipeline, British Columbia’s right-wing party are the Liberals, and Quebec…. they’re off doing their own thing.

Ontario, our largest province, tends to follow the federal system quite closely. The Ontario Liberal party has been in power for nearly fifteen years, and as you’d expect that’s led to corruption scandals. Given that centrists hold an electoral edge, and the two Left-ish parties split the progressive vote, the most likely outcome would be a switch from the centre-Left Liberals to the centre-Right Progressive Conservatives during this year’s election.

Except, mere months before the election, the PC leader stepped down over sexual assault allegations. This triggered a scramble for a new leader, which turned ugly when the disgraced leader tried to regain power, only to bow out again as the negative press mounted. Nonetheless, that wasn’t enough to tank the PC’s poll numbers and their success at the polls seemed much more likely than not.

So you can imagine most people’s disgust when a Trump clone by the name of Doug Ford managed to win the PC leadership in a mysterious upset. Oh joy, a “belligerent bully” who wished to run government like a business on policies that made no sense would be in control of our largest province. I was in a state of despair.

Then, unexpectedly, the least surprising thing happened.

CBC's Ontario poll tracker, showing a PC nosedive and an NDP rise.

The controversial leader generated controversy and acrimony, which has led to a dip in popularity for the PC’s (official colour: blue). Rather than switch to the scandal-plagued Liberals, though, PC voters are switching to the cleaner NDP (official colour: orange). Fearing a split of the progressive vote could put the PC’s into power anyway, Liberal voters (official colour: red) are shifting over to the NDP too. (Green party voters are off doing their own thing).

That movement hasn’t been enough to assure an NDP victory, as CBC’s Poll Tracker still figures the PC’s have a 95% chance of a majority or minority government. But with two and a half weeks to go, no shortage of new PC scandals, and press coverage that’s overjoyed at the change in fortunes, this could create a bandwagon effect that puts a coalition of two Left-ish parties into power.

I’m hoping the Ontario political landscape follows the usual rules of politics, and rejects the typical Liberal-Conservative tango.