I’m tethered to the logic of homo sapiens
Can’t take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith

David Bowie, “Quicksand”

This piece continues the argument begun in “The Griefing of America

Joker Playing Card
Image by Jeff Trexler. Creative Commons license.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this fiasco of a US election season is that when it is over it still won’t be over.  If Trump wins, there are some pretty likely outcomes: attempts to lock up his political rival, trade wars, economic chaos disproportionately impacting–in a dreadful irony that will probably escape them, as has every other empirical fact up to this point–many of Trump’s “little guy” supporters.  If Clinton wins on Tuesday (or Wednesday, or Thursday, or however long it takes for all the votes to be counted) there’s a better than even chance that Trump won’t accept the result.  Or that his brainwashed supporters won’t accept the result.  And some Republicans in Congress are already vowing to attempt to impeach Clinton as soon as she takes office, to block all her nominees, to take to an entirely new level the Politics of No that have already made the US a laughingstock worldwide.

But here’s the important part: even if  the Trumpet loses this election, he has already won.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Fairytale?

There are three great lies that underpin the US electoral process.  I’m not sure many politicians really believe these things, but in the BOE (Before Orange Era) they had to pretend to believe each of these things, at least when the microphone was on:

  1. The US voter is rational;
  2. The US voter is smart and well-informed;
  3. The news media secures the rationality and information quality of the system by playing an engaged watchdog role.

The Trumpet has called bullshit on all of these.  Let’s look at them in reverse order.

Taking Advantage of a Curious Child

When historians examine the course of this election and try to figure out how we ended up in a situation that never should have arisen in the first place, a larger portion of the blame will fall on the news media.

Now it is true that there have been a few shining moments for the mainstream news media late in the game.  There was, for example, conservative commentator Ana Navarro’s blistering take-down of a Trump flunky who protested her saying “pussy” while discussing the Trumpet’s avowed interest in grabbing women by that same body part.  There was the New York Times telling the Trumpet to bring it on when he did his usual and threatened to sue them.  Most important, to my mind, was the Washington Post grinding out the hard yards on a story about the murky Trump finances.  It was obvious from the start of this election season that a reputed billionaire who bragged constantly about his wealth but who had left a string of failed businesses, unpaid or underpaid creditors, state and local body investigations, and lawsuits in his wake–and who, as a bonus, steadfastly refused to release his tax returns–was probably hiding something.  That’s an awful lot of smoke for there to be no fire.  More recently the AP did some extensive research into Melania Trump’s employment records from her modeling agencies and discovered that she worked for weeks illegally in the US, a fact that not only contradicts assertions by herself and the Trumpet campaign, but casts (yet another, and my god but there have been so many) shade of hypocrisy over Trumpet’s persistent condemnations of illegal immigration.

The time and resources it took for the Post and AP to investigate their stories is also why the techno-millennial fantasy about some plucky journalist startup with a bunch of cellphone equipped “citizen journalists” being able to “do” journalism fundamentally misunderstands the nature of many of the reporting challenges the news media face today.

But these few moments don’t make up for a dismal showing by the news media overall.  Trump has outsmarted the mainstream news media virtually every step of the way because he not only understands what really drives the modern media, but also that media organizations themselves do not understand what they do or even why they do it much less the effect of what they do.

The news media is largely driven by one criteria: novelty.  More specifically, controversial novelty.  This is why, early in his campaign, Trump simply strung together a series of increasingly sensational soundbites.  Megyn Kelley bleeding out of her wherever.  Mexicans as rapists and murderers.  Build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it.  Bomb the shit out of ISIS (or was that Ted Cruz?  After a while all megalomaniacs start to sound the same).  The mainstream media might be critical of these comments, they might be appalled, they might applaud them, but they would report on them.  And you know what guarantees that the news media will write stories about you?  If you start attacking the media!  Claim that they are biased against you.  Ban them from your events.  Criticize reporters personally.  This is more novelty, and the news media will lap it up.  And in a crowded field of Republican candidates where a lot of the early primaries and caucuses were going to come down to little more than name recognition, getting your name out there was crucial.  You would, after all, expect that a businessman like Trump would have absorbed the fundamental lesson that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Hence, as some commentators have pointed out, the news media in their witless pursuit of the new shiny, handed Trump millions of dollars worth of free advertising.  He was laughing all the way to the bank(ruptcy).

But what was the news media to do instead, I hear you ask?

Simple.  Not cover him. Don’t report on him.  Trump has always been a media creature; he needs adoration and exposure the way a Blue Whale needs plankton.  Deprive him of such exposure and he withers and dies.

You will probably think such a view is highly unrealistic.  “There is no way the news media could afford to ignore such a major story.”  But therein lies the problem.  Stories are not pre-existing entities floating out there in the world.  Nothing is a “news story” until the news media makes it one.

One of the ironies of this election is the ongoing charge of the Trumpet and his supporters (and the Republicans hiding behind him who occasionally dodge into view to try and see if they can figure out where they left their balls) is that there is a liberal media.  I heartily wish there were.  But what we have instead is a conservative media, and then a bunch of media outlets that are trying so desperately to be “mainstream” journalism with its obsessions with journalistic objectivity and telling artificially balanced stories (if we get a quote from the Clinton campaign, we need to get one from the Trump campaign) that they can’t effectively counter most of the much more artfully crafted conservative media stories.  The mainstream media thus ends up in a position that is certainly not apolitical, but nor is it liberal; it is politically centrist (and being in the center of the political spectrum is still, contrary to the way most Americans look at it, a political position).  Given how radically skewed to the right the entire US political and cultural spectrum is when compared with most other developed democracies, the mainstream media is basically a center-right institution.

They are also touchingly out of step with how communication works.  Most journalists are trained in journalism as a set of vocational skills.  The curricula of many journalism schools have been updated to cover things like the use of digital tools and, increasingly, “personal branding” and, as a regrettable concession to some high profile journalistic lapses, usually a single course in ethics.  For example, take a look at the course schedule for the Masters in Journalism at Georgetown.  What such programs do not do is immerse students in the rich academic literature about how journalism is received by the public, how our brains process information, etc.  Consider, then: you have people being trained to occupy one of the more influential (still) communication roles our culture has on offer, with no understanding of how communication works on a human level.

The academic literature, as I said, is rich and varied.  There is extremely sophisticated research on bias, for example, a word that people throw around in much too cavalier a fashion.  There are lots of models for understanding the factors that influence people’s uptake of, for example, political information (research into factors such as framing, priming, etc.).  Equally interesting, however, and more troubling for journalism as it is currently practiced, is social science research particularly in the neuroscience and psychology fields.  A good, publicly accessible source for much of this research is Shankar Verdantam’s excellent podcast, The Hidden Brain.  One of the more fascinating aspects of many of the stories that Verdantam covers is that they reveal human beings are not as in control of their thought processes and therefore are not as rational as they would like to believe.

Modern journalist practice, however, is almost entirely predicated upon the belief that people are rational creatures.  So journalists spend a lot of time trying to get their information factually correct, or to bring what is hidden to light, so that people will have all the available information.  (Unless of course you are FOX News in which case you just make shit up, as with the recent apology they were forced to issue for a story claiming Clinton was under indictment; or unless you are the National Enquirer engaging in the practice of “catch and kill” to suppress a story embarrassing to Trump. . .wait, these are both conservative media outlets. . .could it be that there is. . .surely not. . .a conservative media bias?).

But the problem is that forms of journalism predicated upon appeals to people’s rational thought processes are terribly misguided.  To take just one example, the apparently laudable attempt by the media to fact check the Trumpet’s many, many, many, many egregious distortions of reality and outright lies, run up against what is popularly known as the “backfire effect.”  This has been extensively researched by scientists from a variety of disciplines who are trying to explain why it is that a person who holds beliefs based on demonstrably, empirically incorrect information will, once provided with the correct information, hold to their mistaken beliefs even more strongly.  Exhibit A?  Supporters of the Trumpet.

So what, I hear you ask again, is the news media to do?  For starters, our news landscape would be a lot healthier if we had an avowedly partisan press.  But any press outlet that wants to count itself as participating responsibly in a democratic process is going to have to realize that a large part of that responsibility will be simple refusal to cover a story.  Covering a story about something reprehensible may be framed responsibly but it has still ensured that you have encouraged the circulation of the reprehensible information.  It was obvious from the get-go, and it still is obvious, that the Trumpet is a loud-mouthed boor with poor impulse control and a complete lack of understanding of how the US government works and a disinterest in the basic institutions of democracy.  That was evident from the very first moments of the campaign.  Cast your minds back and recall that all of this began with the Trumpet bragging about the size of his dick and went downhill from there.  The responsible thing to do as a news source would have been to conclude that this man was not a credible candidate for the highest office in the land and ignore him.  No coverage of his rallies.  No coverage of his speeches.  Contain the virus. Resist the novelty.  It is not as if the world is lacking in things for you to investigate.

Would this have produced an epic amount of whining among his (considerably fewer) supporters about a liberal media bias?  Oh yes.  But then if they wanted info about the Toxic Avenger, they could always turn to Fox, the National Enquirer and talk radio, which are the only places they are getting their information from anyway.

The Information Revolution

If the Trumpet has by and large masterfully played the news media, he has also based his campaign on the cynical exploitation of one of the fundamental features of electoral politics: the American voter is mind-bogglingly ignorant not just about the factual content of various political issues but about their own government structure and underlying political processes.

This is not “mere opinion.”  Nor is it a new observation.  It is in fact one of the most well-established features of political science research; so accepted as consensus that political scientists have largely confined themselves to trying to figure out what has caused or fostered such staggering levels of cluelessness, how democracy manages to function in the face of such idiocy (and the answer this election has reaffirmed is: not very well, and, increasingly, not at all), and, a few of them, to researching whether such manifest ignorance hides greater cunning and a deeper wisdom.  And yet every election cycle the news media and members of the public discover this as if it was an unheralded truth locked up in a cave in a cliff near the Dead Sea.

If anyone was paying attention, it was obvious that this shit-storm of an electoral mess was coming.  Back in 2008 Rick Shenkman summarized a large quantity of research into US voting behavior in Just How Stupid Are We?  Facing the Truth About the American Voter.  The answer to the question in the title of the book is: even more stupid than you might guess.  A large percentage of Americans can’t tell you how many Senators there are in Congress, for example.  And for all that many Americans love to toss the words “First Amendment” into any conversation, most of them cannot tell you what that cornerstone of our Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms actually says.

And the situation has not improved, as a 2015 quiz by the Pew Research Centers demonstrated (and this was just in their ongoing trends survey; the Pew has in fact dug into the question of political knowledge more deeply, with no less disturbing findings).  In fact, the way the Pew presented the results was almost unintentionally hilarious as it indicated how much they seemed to be grasping at straws, looking for the silver lining, making lemonade out of lemons, pick your preferred metaphor.

The latest Pew Research Center News IQ survey finds that, nearly half a century after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., an overwhelming majority of Americans (91%) are able to identify the civil rights leader from his picture.

What a big fucking hooray for democracy!  The quiz also found that most people could correctly identify what country Kim Jong-un was leading.  But these singular achievements in facial recognition aren’t all that surprising.  One thing US citizens are very, very good at (and in fact have raised to a higher art form) is worshiping celebrities, and the way they receive information concerning foreign leaders and historical figures is often little different in its packaging than the way they get their celebrity fixes.

But when it came down to substantive, useful information, the results were depressing.  Almost half (48%) of respondents couldn’t correctly identify the current partisan structure of the US Senate, despite being shown several graphic options (rather than simply being asked to identify it).  The also bombed the Supreme Court question.  The survey found no noticeable differences across demographics in their relative levels of knowledge.

That last finding is extremely significant.  Because by all available measures we currently have the most highly educated electorate in US history.  We are also living in a time where it has never been easier for anyone who wishes to do so to access reliable information about, well, just about everything.  You might suspect, then,  that a) our current electorate would demonstrate heightened levels of political information compared with previous ones, and b) that so-called millennials, presumably so much more attuned to the information age, would be better informed than their Medicare counterparts.  No, and No.  Moreover, even the Pew’s quiz avoids the really embarrassing outcomes by focusing heavily on international figures and issues which most Americans don’t care about at all.

I recommended Shenkman’s book to a lot of my friends.  None of them, as far as I know, actually read it.  There may be many reasons for all of that, of course, but I suspect that a major factor is implied in Shenkman’s sub-title and is a problem he addresses directly: US political practice up until this point has emphasized not telling the truth about the US voter.  Above all you must avoid telling voters the truth about themselves.

But the bigger problem is that “the voter” is not “those people over there.”  It is us. There is some indication that political knowledge varies both by educational level and by how politically engaged one is.  But not as much as one might optimistically expect, and not for all types of knowledge (Shenkman’s book includes references to several studies correcting for education and income disparities, for example).  I’ve noticed a sometimes barely suppressed strain of superiority in some of my college-educated friends during this season, the belief that it is those “hicks in the sticks” who are profoundly ignorant and skewing the system.  But the research clearly shows it is all of us.  I am betting, for example, that outside the election period, a sizable proportion of my Ph.D. wielding friends would not be able to name the Federal and state voting districts to which they belong, or to correctly identify their elected federal and state legislators.  Moreover, I am betting that more than a few of them wouldn’t be able to do that before they show up at the polls on Tuesday and see those names on a ballot.  If you don’t know a basic fact such as who is representing you in government, why should we take your opinion on anything political seriously?

The Trumpet understands the fact that the US electorate is a Grand Canyon of Ignorance but he took it one step further.  He also understands that most people have zero interest in correcting their state of ignorance.  He has cynically but masterfully exploited both of those characteristics.  One of the most striking characteristics of the Trumpet’s campaign has been that he has been able to tell outright lies–not just “spin” but full-scale whoppers–about what he said in the past, what he said last week, his political foes, government legislation, his businesses, the nature of reality, and no one has cared.  Almost all of these barefaced lies have been exposed by the media, but to a Trumpling that is just part of the vast liberal media conspiracy.  Most of these things could be verified or dismissed by anyone with the ability to type a phrase into Google.  But the Trumplings don’t need to do that; they don’t after all need knowledge because they have belief (more on that in a moment).

The terrible thing about all this is that not a single one of the Trumpet’s supporters seem to understand that he is mocking them every step of the way.  “You are all so stupid,” he is saying, “That I will tell every group of people exactly what they want to hear, even if that conflicts with something I said last Wednesday, and you won’t care.  I will tell outright lies and you won’t care.  I will reveal to you that I know nothing about how government works and you will not mind that at all; in fact you will applaud me for it because my ignorance is your ignorance and that makes me one of you.”

Who are we kidding?

The biggest lie about the electoral process that the Trumpet has exploited so ruthlessly is that US voters makes rational decisions to determine their stand on issues and their support for candidates.

Even the founders understood that democracy would be an imperfectly rational process.  But they nevertheless believed that some kind of rational voter behavior was possible and they sough out mechanisms to try and cultivate that behavior (hence the interest in a free press, to make sure that people had access to the information they would require to make informed decisions).  Over the years students of the US political system have naturally recognized that there are all kind of influences at work on voter decisions–family background, education, civic memberships–that might push voters away from making purely rational decision.  There was, nevertheless, a presumption at the base of it all that if all else failed US voters could reliably be counted upon to vote according to self-interest, and that while one person’s self-interest might look irrational to another person, for the individual concerned they would nevertheless be making a conscious effort to better or to secure their interests.

But there was an additional buried assumption that many observers and political scientists made: that people would vote according to their economic self-interest.  They would make electoral decisions to try and preserve their economic gains or would advocate policies and support candidates that promised to improve their economic lot.  That is often what many voters will claim they are doing when interviewed.  What people are doing, however, and why their behavior often appears completely irrational is that they are voting so as to preserve their psychological self-interest.

A warning of what was to come was sounded over a decade ago in Thomas Frank’s What’s Wrong with Kansas? (2004) where he examined why it was that so many voters were supporting Republican policies even as those same policies systematically degraded their way of life.

The behavior of the Trumpet’s supporters is completely baffling unless you take into account the power and importance of psychological defense mechanisms.  Once someone has invested themselves in a belief system the psychological cost of admitting flaws in that system is enormous, so most people will not do that, even if it leads to decisions which, measured by their real-world effects, are completely irrational.

No one in the modern era has exploited people’s psychological fragility more capably than the Trumpet.  A big part of the reason why the early part of his campaign involved him throwing out as wide an array of positions as possible, many of them contradictory, was so that he could catch at whatever psychological life preserver people were clinging to: that everything was the fault of immigrants, that the world would be better if women knew their place, that corrupt politicians were to blame for everything.  And once invested in the Trumpet and his message(s) nothing could persuade his supporters otherwise.  Proof that his claims about the nation’s economic health, legislation, trade etc. are completely fabricated?  Well that’s all coming from the government, and you can’t trust the government.  Evidence that he lied, that he extorted money out of his many sub-contractors?  All lies from the liberal media.  Documentary evidence that he bragged about sexual harassing women?  Well, who wouldn’t want to be groped by The Donald (not making that one up, unfortunately) and besides all those women who came forward were just lying and were put up to it by Clinton.  Did we mention how much of our psychological well being is tied up with hating Clinton?

And this is why the media’s response has been so inadequate.  Fact-checking cuts no ice with people who are voting primarily out of a need to cling to their psychological security blanket.  In the last presidential debate the Trumpet could have slit the throat of a child on stage and sodomized the still twitching corpse and his supporters would have refused to believe it and would, I’m sure, have dismissed it as a piece of elaborate CGI cooked up by the liberal media.

But there’s something else going on here, and bear with me because I’m about to touch the third rail of US culture.  What we are seeing with Trump’s support is a pattern of thinking characteristic of religious belief.  Many of us probably recall the late night “deep and meaningful” conversations we often had as teenagers, in high school, maybe later in college, sometimes fueled by alcohol, sometimes fueled by nothing more than the pleasure of arguing beyond parental control late into the night.  Occasionally those conversations strayed into matters of faith and would end up in one of those “does God exist” moments or “does prayer work” exchanges.  If you have no religious belief you found out pretty quickly that there was no rational argument that would actually work, because the ultimate rejoinder was always “you just have to believe.”  Anyone who has foolishly tried to argue against a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon who showed up on their door step knows the same thing.

None of this should be surprising.  The US is routinely characterized as one of the most spiritually credulous nations on earth (based on how many of its citizens profess some form of spiritual belief).  But to be very clear, this kind of irrational thought is not exclusive to religious belief.  I’ve had similar conversations with hard-line Marxists that have ended up in a similar place, every rational argument finally refuted with “well you only believe that because you are a bourgeois tool of the capitalist machine.”  Any time that it isn’t possible for an argument to be disproven we are in the realm of what is in essence religious belief.  

And arguing with a supporter of the Trumpet is ultimately as futile as arguing with a Jehovah’s Witness at your door.  Because there is no way you can possibly influence something that isn’t an intellectual disposition but a belief system.  Anything you could possibly say is anticipated in advance and subject to a series of purpose-built safeguards against the revelation of a potentially psychologically traumatic level of delusion.  “Facts” come from a corrupt and lying government.  He never really said what they say he said because the liberal media just mis-quoted him, or took it out of context, or made it up.  It’s just “locker room talk.”

To be even more clear, it is not only the Trumpet’s supporters who have demonstrated this type of thinking.  We saw this same kind of  “thinking” among Sanders supporters.  The behavior of the Sanderites is in fact in some ways even more troubling.  Clearly this kind of belief has some obvious links with Fascism which takes that form of psychological dependency coupled with a belief system impervious to logic and invests it all in the person of a supreme leader.  Many Sanders supporters were clearly opposed to policies of the Trumpet (such as they were/are) that had Fascist overtones (casting the blame on outsiders, etc.).  But they themselves were manifesting the same kind of devoted leader worship (and I use that word advisedly) as the Trumplings had for their Supreme Leader.

I suspect there are more than a few people who manifest all the above behaviors concerning Clinton as well and that points to two very troubling conclusions about electoral politics in the US:

  1. Stripped of all the rationalizations, most Americans, it seems, whatever their political affiliation, desperately want to be part of a cult;
  2. Largely because of 1), the electorate is made up large numbers of people who, by any functional measure, are immune to reasoned persuasion.

When you have an entire electoral system predicated on the rational acquisition of all available information so that someone can arrive at a reasoned determination, we clearly have a very serious problem on our hands.

The Great Pretender

Therefore, much as I loathe the Trumpet and everything he stands for, I also have to admit that he is nothing short of a political genius. Because he is the apotheosis of modern US democracy.

This democracy is deeply flawed, to the point of being broken in many of its processes.  But it has evolved into the creature it is because we, the citizens, all of us (not just “them”) like it that way.  We have a democracy that suits us perfectly.  It doesn’t get in our way.  It doesn’t intrude on our self-absorption and in fact tends to abet it.  It makes no demands upon us, requires no level of responsibility.  We aren’t required to pay attention to anything political at all except once every four years.  (But aren’t there lots of other elections in the intervening period?  Yes, and you can google voter turnout figures for those yourself).  We are able to cast a vote knowing absolutely nothing about anything, and even then to vote in ways that are completely irrational and immune to reason, and we suffer no obvious penalties for doing so.  Our shopping is unhindered.  Our ability to post cat videos or rant at random strangers on Twitter is unimpeded.  Our access to pornography is unparalleled.

Of course we do suffer, in the long run.  We elect an endless stream of doofuses (or worse): climate change deniers, embezzlers, influence-peddlers, people addicted to sexting, and people who are, unfortunately, very much like the voters who elected them in their disinterest in empirical evidence and their reliance on magical thinking.

This is why the Trumpet is so dangerous.  He has laid all this bare.  He has shown ourselves to ourselves, revealed the attenuated nature of our democratic process, demonstrated the fragile psychological dependency on cultish identification that drives much of our voting behavior.  But he also knows that none of this will matter.  That we will blame him.  That we will blame his followers.  That they will blame Hillary’s followers.  No one will look to themselves.  More importantly, no one will learn anything from this sorry episode.  Because we didn’t learn anything from the previous slightly less sorry episodes.  And that even if he loses, it won’t take the next authoritarian wannabe much to improve upon his performance.

Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately one likely outcome of this election is already apparent.  Op-ed pages are already filled with people wittering on about “healing a divided nation” and “coming together.”  This is the typical response of squishy liberalism when it encounters an existential threat to its values.  If I were looking to make a quick buck out of the post-election season I would be investing in percussion instruments because it appears as if there will be a whole lot of people looking to form a drum circle and engage in some pointless chanting.  Equally predictably, my Facebook feed has begun to fill up with plaintive whines of the “when are we going to learn to respect one another” and “why can’t we all just get along” variety.

Because, my soft-brained liberal friend, you can’t play a game with someone who doesn’t agree to the same set of rules as you do.

I am as cynical as they come but I still believe that the United States is a nation founded upon tolerance and inclusivity.  It hasn’t always lived up to those ideals.  Those ideals have often been defined in a way that was in effect intolerant and exclusive.  It is, nevertheless, the attempt to live up to these values that has made the US such a potent force on the world stage. Despite frequent two-steps-back-to-one-step forward periods, the nation has steadily lurched forward in that direction.  That is not simply “my opinion.”  That is demonstrable historical fact.  We no longer enslave African Americans.  Women can vote.  We no longer ban immigration from China.  People from the same sex can marry.  Despite the extraordinary ability of many conservatives to deny empirical evidence they too accept this movement as a historical fact.

Which is why they reject it wholesale.

How can there be a meeting of the minds,  “respect,” “getting along” with people who believe in, and vehemently articulate their support for, intolerance and exclusivity as the basis for the nation’s identity?  These people share the same geographical boundaries as I, but they are living in a completely different country.

But as I have shown, there is an even greater difficulty confronting us than this two-nation problem.  There is now no real possibility of trying to convince people playing different games to agree on the rules for playing the same game.

The backlash against Clinton calling the Trumpet’s supporters “deplorable” revealed something important: the fact that large numbers of people don’t understand how the kind of public discourse countenanced by the Constitution is supposed to work.  Large numbers of racist, bigoted, misogynist folks felt aggrieved and “victimized” by being called out as racists, bigots, and misogynists.  They were, therefore, confusing the constitutional guarantee that I need to respect someone’s right to hold an opinion, with respect for that opinion.  The Constitution of the United States mandates that I need to respect the right of a neo-Nazi Holocaust denier to hold that opinion.  It does not mandate that I shouldn’t regard that opinion as a pile of shit.  Nor does it mandate that I should respect the holder of that opinion and not criticize them in the strongest possible terms.  Yet there are, apparently, large numbers of people in the US who seem to believe that the Constitution guarantees the right to have their opinion taken seriously, even if it runs counter to democratic ideals, and even if it is based on manifest ignorance and willful denial of reality.

That last point gets at the real reason why the squishy liberal group hug approach to making this problem go away will not work.  And it is why Clinton, in committing the cardinal sin of telling the truth about the US voter, got it right with the second half of her criticism when she referred to the Trumplings as “Irredeemable.”   Functionally, you have a massive segment of the US population that is immune to reason.  They cannot be persuaded out of their cultist beliefs.  Appeals to logic and evidence have no effect.  Appeals based on character have no effect.  Emotional appeals only work to the extent they reinforce existing prejudices.

This is the hard truth that liberals, it seems, do not want to face.  You cannot maintain that someone who believes that it is OK for someone to sexually assault other people “has a point.”  You cannot argue that someone who understands the world exclusively in terms of elaborate conspiracy theories is operating in the same persuasive universe as you are.  And there should be no common ground with anyone (whether government official or private citizen) that believes that the institutions of your democracy don’t apply to them (the elections are rigged!  we refuse to confirm anyone you appoint!).

I don’t have any idea how the US will get itself out of this dilemma.  But I do have some ideas for making it less painful and more enjoyable!

Coming up. . .Gaming the System