The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Scalzi's thoughts on the election

Author John Scalzi posted two missives on his blog over the weekend that sum up a lot of what I'm thinking lately. He concludes the second one:

Trump is a virus and he infected our body politic, a body that the GOP spent four decades lowering its immune system so that it could receive just the sort moral and political sickness that Trump personifies. And it worked! We got very sick, and we’re very sick still.

But it turns out our antibodies were stronger than suspected. We rallied despite the best efforts of the virus. And now we have the opportunity to get better. It’s not a done deal; the GOP is still out there trying to get us sick again, and our viral load is still regrettably high. But now, at least, there is a chance to rout it and get our body politic healthy again. That works for me, today.

Yes. And he has some particularly choice words for the 70 million people who voted to re-elect the president.

The view from a rural county in Ohio

Science-fiction author John Scalzi (Red Shirts, Old Man's War) lives in Darke County, Ohio, population 52,000, 97% of them white. He does not exactly fit in with his neighbors politically, as he describes:

Four years ago in Bradford, the town where I live, there were Trump street signs, like the one in the picture above. Here in 2020, there are multiple signs per yard, and banners, and flags, not just with Trump’s name on them, but of him standing on a moving tank whilst screaming eagles fly alongside him, and no, those flags are not being flown ironically, they really mean it. There are occasional Biden signs, mostly of modest size, but anecdotally they are outnumbered by Trump signs by at least twenty to one. The 2020 Darke County Trump tank is deep and perhaps a bit frantic. If Trump is hoping for “shy voters” to suddenly spring up to take him to victory, he’s not going to get them here. Darke County Trump supporters may be many things, but shy does not appear one of them.

A whole bunch of the voters are being fed shit from social media and questionable news sources and either they don’t know it or they don’t care. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the epistemic capture in the US of (not only, but in particular) poor and working class whites by conservatives, billionaires and propagandists is one of the great social engineering success stories of the last half century. This includes an informational ecosystem that’s easy to get into and hard to get out of because it simultaneously stimulates fear and anger responses, degrades one’s own ability to reason, and breeds mistrust in outside sources and political points of view. In other words: cult conditioning.

Now, it would unfair nonsense to suggest the people of a county that hasn’t gone for a Democrat since LBJ would not be reliably voting for whomever the GOP candidate was every four years. But it’s not unfair nonsense to say that convincing a historically large percentage of these folks to vote for someone who four years ago was clearly not competent to be president, and in 2020 has a nearly four-year record of venal graft and malice, is the fruit of a decades-long effort to get into their heads and make them resistant to actual facts that are right in front of them. It’s not coincidence that QAnon is metastasizing through conservative and GOP circles at breathtaking speed; having a millions-strong corps of voters willing to lap up even that level of rank bullshit is in fact the goal.

Meanwhile, Jamelle Bouie picks apart the nonsense of "constitutional originalism," which to me seems no better than any other fundamentalist religion.

VP debate tonight

While I'm waiting for Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris to face off at 8pm Central, I have other things to occupy my thoughts:

Also, it's sunny and 20°C this morning, going up to 23°C this afternoon, so I'm taking half a day off work. We have perhaps 3 more days of nice weather this year, and it's the first day of a sprint (so no deadlines quite yet).

Not all political

Today's lunchtime round-up only had one article about current politics:

Finally, I came across an interview actor Michael Shannon gave Playboy in 2018 that's worth the read.

The Reagan Test

Author John Scalzi asks the question Reagan asked 40 years ago, and concludes he's worse off than he was in 2016:

In 1980, which is now — Jesus — 40 years ago, Ronald Reagan asked a question of the American people: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Reagan asked this question because he was running for president against Jimmy Carter, and it was in his interest to make the election a referendum on the incumbent. And while it would be inaccurate to say the question won Reagan the White House, it is accurate to say the question was a particularly useful framing device for Reagan: It took the election campaign and set it on personal terms for every voter, in a way they could easily quantify and apply to their own lives.

Now it’s 2020, and Donald Trump is president and running for re-election, and aside from any over-arching political issues with, or my own personal opinion of, the man, I think it will be interesting and useful to apply Reagan’s question to my own personal life: am I, in fact, better off today than I was four years ago?

My income has been stable for the last four years, thanks mainly to contracts signed more than four years ago. Like the economy at large (until the coronavirus struck, at least), my generally robust economic condition was a continuation of Obama-era practices and strategies, rather than new conditions.

Four years ago, I could leave my house without wearing a mask (I mean, I guess I could leave the house without one, if I was an asshole who didn’t care about the health and safety of others as well as myself, but I’m not, so I wear a mask).

Four years ago I could go to a restaurant or see a movie or go to a party or get on a plane without worrying about possibly contracting a disease that could put me on a respirator, kill me or give me serious, chronic, long-term health issues.

Four years ago I didn’t worry whether my access to the services and function of the federal government, in an emergency or at all other times, would be contingent upon whether the president had decided someone in my state state was his friend or his foe, or had flattered him enough that he felt inclined to do the job that he was in fact required to do, by law and by the Constitution.

If one of the most successful writers in America is worse off today, how are you doing?

How long is this going to take?

I'm sitting at my desk waiting for my work laptop to finish updating, a process now in its 24th minute, with "Working on updates 25%" on the screen for the past 5. Very frustrating; I have things to do today; and if I'd known how long it would take (I'm looking at you, help desk), I would have started the update when I left this evening.

So, all right, I'll read a few things:

My laptop has rebooted three times now and appears to have gotten up to 83% complete. I may in fact get something done today.

Re-reading the ur-text

Italian author Umberto Eco lived through the last half of Mussolini's reign, and through the fall of Communism in Europe. In 1995 he wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled "Ur-Fascism," which seems like a timely read as cities around the country (but not Chicago, I'm pleased to report) looked a lot like police states this past weekend. It's worth a re-read:

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. ... In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

He lists a total of 14 characteristics. In the Trump-dominated Republican Party I count...hmm...14. Well, that's comforting.

Some other points he makes:

[B]y a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

...

Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

...

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

In this vein, Matt Ford says American police forces "have become the standing armies that the Founders feared."

How would Aaron Sorkin write the Democratic Primary?

For one thing, he'd make it interesting, as he says in an interview with the New York Times' David Marchese:

Given your inclination toward politics and idealism, is there a Democratic presidential candidate who’s connecting with you? No. It’s funny. I was emailing with a friend about this topic. There are grand gestures out there to be had, and no one is going for them. We’re drowning in timidity.

I’m sure you have thoughts about what those grand gestures could be. Mm-hmm. As long as we’re crystal clear that I understand the difference between the real world and “The West Wing”?

T.B.D., but go on. Fair enough, T.B.D. Here’s what would happen on “The West Wing.” Joe Biden would say: “You know what? If it’ll get John Bolton testifying to the Senate under oath, swear me in too. I’ll answer any questions you’ve got.” Suddenly all the attention would be on him. It’s a “Mr. Smith” moment. He gets to sit in front of hostile Republican senators and show us how well he can handle them. If he did it right, if he was performing a “West Wing” script where I got to decide what everybody else says too, it propels him right to winning.

Sorkin also answers questions about his anti-heroes, the conflict beteen Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden, and of course, writing.

100% agreement with one of my favorites

Author John Scalzi (The Old Man's WarAndroid's Dream, the Interdependency Trilogy) posted this morning a summary of his political beliefs. I agree completely with everything he said:

1. The president is the worst president of my lifetime, who is ignorant, bigoted, incurious, corrupt, has almost certainly engaged in criminal conduct before and after he was in office, is either a complicit or unwitting tool for the Russian government and its goals, never should have been in a position to become president, and now that he is president, should be removed from the office, whether through a Senate trial or simply by losing the popular (again) and electoral vote later this year.

2. Per the previous, the president amply deserved to be impeached by the House of Representatives, and amply deserves to be removed from the office he holds by the Senate. That he will not be removed, and that the vote for removal will not be anywhere near to close, is proof that the current iteration of the Republican party is complicit in the president’s criminality and has become little better than a criminal enterprise in itself.

It's nice to find new reasons to admire someone I already admired.

Unlike Scalzi, I post so often about politics that I doubt any readers have questions for me. That said, later this week, I'll post a list of the media outlets I get my news and opinion from and financially support.