Sunday, November 4, 2018

When they go low, we pursue justice

The Alt-Right Playbook: You Go High, We Go Low

This was a very challenging video to watch as a liberal, and I encourage all of my friends to watch it and consider. It challenges some deeply held liberal ideals, and that's a good thing. The summary: liberals have come to idolize process over policy. "When they go low, we go high." But instead of defining "going high" as pursuing just and good policies, we've defined it as following the rules and norms that have been summarily smashed and disregarded by Republicans. In doing so, we tell ourselves we're trying to prevent a rulebreaking arms race that will lead to the collapse of the whole system of governance we've relied on lo these many years. That speaks to some deep liberal moral insticts: people are basically good, the good ideas always win out eventually, it would be hypocritical to do what we criticize others for doing, and that maintaining decorum is an end in itself. As Obama frequently liked to quote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" But the universe doesn't bend towards justice unaided. It must be bent, and often quite forcefully. Hitler's defeat was not inevitable. The abolition of slavery in the US required a civil war. The right to vote is contested to this day (see voter suppression in red states/precincts across the country). We as liberals have come to believe that it's a moral victory in and of itself to point at the norm-breaker in chief and say "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" For this week's example: When Trump announced his intent to eliminate birthright citizenship by EO, the response on the left was almost universally "well he can't, the rules say he can't," whereas the response on the right ranged from "hey, that's a good idea; finally someone is doing something about these illegal babies" to the more tepid "it's a fine idea, but you can't legally do it that way." Note that no where on either side of that discussion does anyone say "It's wrong to want to abolish birthright citizenship." The left has largely abstained on the moral argument over the POLICY, in favor of dismissing the issue as outside the PROCESS. Conversely on the right, we likewise see no moral debate over the topic, because that ground has been ceded by the left so they've internally assumed victory in the policy argument, leaving them only to debate how best to go about doing it. That's not to say no one on the left or right is an outlier bucking these trends or that the left generally doesn't think the policy proposal is immoral. The point here is that by leading with the counter that "it's against the rules" rather than "it's wrong," we are unilaterally disarming in the fight over the policy itself. The Republicans have shown us they don't care about the process, they only care about the policy. While we scream at them for the hypocrisy of denying Merrick Garland his SCOTUS seat, they only cared about denying Obama another supreme court pick so they could populate the court with Justices more amenable to their policies. They likewise stole hundreds of lower federal court seats, for the same reasons. If the Democrats' idea of how to fix this is to shame Republicans for breaking the rules, that will fail. Even in the case of the hypothetical EO overturning the 14th amendment, it's within the rules as written for the Supreme Court to outright declare that the President can do that even when it's blatantly obvious that he can't according to the rules. After all, according to the rules, the Supreme Court gets to decide what "according to the rules" means. Continuing to argue about the fairness of the process isn't going to change the policy. Instead, we need to stop letting the GOP pick the high ground we die on for us. Instead of defining following the rules as the moral high ground, define pursuing just policies as the high ground. We shouldn't ignore the rulebreaking entirely, but it also shouldn't be our primary argument against it. To the extend we can use the fact they broke the rules to prevent the bad policy from being implemented, we should. Sue on procedural grounds if that's what will stop the policy from taking effect, but remember that the end goal is stopping the policy not enforcing the rules. Trump went through several drafts of his Muslim ban before it got through the courts, but he still got his Muslim ban in the end. Victory is when we have immigration reform that makes it easier for people to integrate into our society legally and is welcoming of diversity, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. When a GOP secretary of state purges the voter rolls a couple weeks before the election, instead of just suing to force him to let the people vote on the grounds he can't do that, campaign on automatic voter registration that would prevent the possibility in the first place. When the president tries to ban trans people from serving in the military, don't just sue under the equal protections clause, make the argument for why trans people deserve to be treated equally. The constitution, the courts, and the process are means, not ends. We must never lose sight of the ends, because those ends are things like access to healthcare, kids being gunned down in schools, minorities being shot in their own back yards by police, LGBT people being able to marry the ones they love and not be discriminated against in employment or society more generally. Following the process is only as important as the policy outcomes it leads to. That doesn't mean that all means are justified by the ends, but likewise good means don't justify bad ends.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Demographics of Voter Suppression


I posted this challenge to my Facebook feed along with data visualizations from 538:

If you vote republican, ask yourselves why if only non-white people voted in this country only 10% of congress would be Republican? Then ask yourself why republican lawmakers and governors across the country are making it harder for minorities to vote.
Source

In the comments, a challenging question was asked from a non-Republican friend. What if the question were reversed, and Democrats had to answer why the result would be flipped if only white people got to vote, given that many white people in America consider themselves oppressed.

It was a fair question I believe to be in good faith, so it was worth an in-depth response.

So how would I respond?

First, I'd start with the context that white men for the first 100 years of the country were the sole voters and ever since then have been actively suppressing minority votes. So, it's not a symmetric comparison and any discussion we have can't be divorced from that crucial context.

Second, I'd acknowledge that it's understandable to be cynical and say Democrats are only making it easier to vote because it helps them in elections. I don't think that's true, but it definitely makes it a lot easier to see (especially as a white person) the voter suppression and racist history that leads to this, without having to confront as much cognitive dissonance or facts contrary to self-interest. I'd like to think that even if colors on those maps were reversed, I would still be pushing for higher voter turnout and against disenfranchisement.

Third, I don't know how to respond without directly contesting the claim that white people are oppressed (part of the reason I started with the context). It would be challenging to unpack white privilege and structural racism over the course of a single conversation, but that's the root of the issue so there's no way around addressing it. Most likely I'd start with the classic article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh.

Fourth, I'd highlight that it's less about the parties than it is about who makes up the parties. The Republicans used to be the progressive party of Lincoln, and the Democrats the party of the clan that was responsible for putting most of those early voter suppression laws in place. When the parties flipped socially in the 60s-70s, it was explicitly over the Civil Rights Act, and the Republicans took up all of the racist vote that abandoned the Democrats under Johnson. It wasn't a sudden change, but that was more-or-less the capstone of the shift. Now when you look at groups like the KKK, neo-nazis, proud boys, etc they're almost exclusively Trump supporters (except for the ones that believe Jared Kushner is Trump's Zionist puppetmaster).

Finally, isn't the point of democracy to have everyone have a say? This isn't a both-sides issue. One party is trying to make it easier for everyone to vote, and the other is trying to make it harder to vote in demographically targeted ways. Ideally we would all agree that's a bad thing right? Voting rights shouldn't be a partisan issue. The fact that we don't have national automatic registration is shameful.

There's no equivalency between the parties on this issue, but both parties should at least agree that more people voting is good right?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Starting again

This blog has fallen idle for quite a while, primarily because I got a job that took so much of my time and energy I had to cut back somewhere.

I find myself having a lot to say over the last two years though, and my mini-blogs on Facebook and Twitter just aren't sufficient anymore. I need this outlet again.

So I'm going to try to write something as often as I can. With one of the most important elections of my lifetime (to date) coming up in only a week, I suspect I'll be writing about politics a lot.