How Not To Support Your Candidate

How Not To Support Your Candidate

You hear it all the time – “Trumpanzees,” “MAGAts,” “Bernie Bros,” and similar labels.  These refer to followers of a given political personality who exhibit certain behaviors – aggression, rudeness, intolerance for other ideas, and a tendency to shout others down.

As the administrator of a large, partisan page on Facebook, it’s been fascinating to watch people’s behavior over the last few weeks.  Because the page is basically a Barack Obama fan page, a significant plurality – if not a majority – of the readers of that page are supporting Joe Biden in the Democratic primary this year.

And boy, oh boy, do they get mad that I and another administrator are Sanders supporters.  A funny thing happens, too:  these folks will come in screaming about the rude, obnoxious “Bernie Bros,” and then say things like this:

Sanders is a huge ******* baby and would continue to run regardless… we should vote Sanders? **** that.

That was immediately after an article was posted with the headline “Bernie Sanders Says He Will Drop Out if Biden Gets Plurality Coming Into Dem Convention” – the exact opposite of what this user wrote.

I could copy and paste all day to get the word count up, but it would be boring and repetitive.  The point is, these are Biden supporters, and they’re very rude, aggressive, and obnoxious.  “Vote Blue no matter who (except Sanders)” is the prevailing mode of thought.

These are just examples relating to one candidate; anyone could pick any candidate and find the same behavior.  Some Warren or Clinton supporters will jump immediately to accusations of misogyny; some Sanders supporters will start the conversation with accusing other people of being sociopaths lacking empathy; some Trump supporters will immediately go to accusations of treason.

Are any of these people garnering support from their candidates?  Are the candidates themselves responsible for the behavior of their followers?  Are these people even really followers, or are they trolls or other dishonest actors deliberately trying to make the candidate they’re ostensibly supporting look bad?  Let’s get some answers.

Is Aggressive Advocacy Effective?

My (admittedly anecdotal) experience strongly suggests that this is a hard “no.” Furthermore, in many cases I’m not convinced that’s the true purpose of such comments.  Setting aside the question of “bad actors,” I think it’s critical to remember the context in which you see most of this behavior – message boards, social networks like Facebook or YouTube Comments, Twitter, etc.  Social media being what it is, it seems like many of us are more interested in saying things that will gain approval for us within our own echo chamber, than in constructing a compelling argument in favor of their candidate.

This bears out with the Biden supporters on that big Facebook page – not once have I seen “I support Joe Biden because I believe his policies are better for America and this is why.”  It’s just a litany of insults against Sanders or Trump, and if you’re lucky you might get a recycled bullet point or two in favor of their candidate (e.g. “Trump says what he means, no filter and no apologies!” “Biden isn’t a radical socialist who wants to give everyone free stuff!”)  I can’t credit the “first thought” response that most of us will tend to have – “boy, these folks sure don’t know how to make friends, do they?” – because frankly I don’t think most people are that ignorant.

A person engaging in this behavior is not trying to convince the person they’re arguing with that their candidate is superior; rather they’re trying to convince fellow supporters of their own passion for and commitment to the candidate.  That subset of genuine commenters of this nature aren’t engaged in an exchange of ideas; they’re demonstrating how hard they’re willing to fight for their cause, to gain the approval of others who share it.  As a result, it’s probably of little value to point out the self-defeating aspects of the technique; the writer is accomplishing what they intended, it’s just that their intent isn’t what we tend to think it is.

Trolls and More

There’s also the critical question of how many of these comments are legitimate in the sense that they’re made by individuals participating in a conversation and expressing their genuine feelings.  I’m convinced that many of these people aren’t advocates or supporters of the candidate for whom they appear to be lobbying.

In my academic work in communication and political science, much attention was paid to propaganda, disinformation, and misinformation.  Perhaps some of you will be familiar with the “COINTELPRO” scandal of the late 60’s, but for those who aren’t:  “COINTELPRO” (an acronym for “Counter Intelligence Program”) was “was a series of covert and, at times, illegal projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting American political organizations.” (Wikipedia).  One of the key aspects of this program was that the infiltrators themselves were eventually found to be the instigators, not merely participants or observers, of much of the radical and illegal behavior engaged in by the Black Panthers and other groups.

Using this same basic notion combined with the world of political manipulation in the post-Atwater, post-Rove landscape of the US, it’s not hard to imagine the operatives of a given campaign deliberately acting out as though they’re fans of a given personality or political figure, just to perpetuate a negative perception.  This tactic has been remarkably effective, and naturally becomes more so when taking into account the basic reality that any large group of people is going to have a few jerks in it.

This leads us to the question…

Are The Candidates Responsible?

If my readers are engaged in violence or aggression even though I never suggested they should be, is it my fault?  It appears that people think so; Sanders has repeatedly denounced this behavior in public, yet every day I see another story asking why isn’t he doing more to stop them?

As with any sort of public-facing work, it can be challenging to deal with the reality that some people are going to see things in your work that you didn’t put there.  I’ve faced this myself as a musician, writer, and so forth; people tend to see and hear what they want to see and hear, even when that’s not what’s being said or shown.  This is unfortunate, and destructive; one need only consider the case of Nirvana’s Curt Cobain and the psychological impact he felt in realizing that many of the people buying his records and tickets to his shows were the same sorts of people he started off railing against, as he openly discussed in their song “In Bloom” among other places, to begin understanding how frustrating this can be to the people whose work becomes misinterpreted and distorted as a platform for the very things to which their work stands opposed.

It’s very easy and convenient to blame the politician, the songwriter, the actor, for negative reactions to their work.  This is especially true if you have a vested emotional or financial interest in building opposition to that work or that person.  In the end, though, it’s just not logically supportable.  When you can point directly to that work, for instance the constant referencing by Bill O’Reilly to abortion doctor George Tiller, who was eventually murdered, then there’s an argument to be made.  In a case like Sanders, however, this is much more difficult; he hasn’t urged anyone to break things, to be rude and aggressive, and so forth.  Quite the contrary; he seems to avoid verbalizing ideas that could fit with his ideology, like “tearing down” the establishment or “eat(ing) the rich.”

It takes quite a stretch to imagine that anyone genuinely supporting the principles Sanders has espoused of justice, progress, and equality having a genuine appeal to misogynists and xenophobes.  Blaming anyone for the behavior of others simply doesn’t hold up to logical scrutiny in the absence of clear evidence that behavior was provoked by the person you’re blaming.

What Can You Do?

These observations leave us with a final question: as a genuine supporter of a given candidate, what can you do to be truly supportive?

My best advice is to always try to advocate for, rather than against.  If you’re supporting Joe Biden, referring to Sanders supporters as “spoiled children” isn’t going to get you very far.  However, laying out solid reasoning for your support just might.  If someone says Biden has been unsupportive of LGBT rights, for instance, you can counter with the very true observation that he basically forced President Obama’s hand on the issue by publicly supporting gay marriage before Obama did.  If someone says “Bernie Sanders hasn’t done anything,” you can point out that he’s done a great deal but most of it hasn’t been in the form of sponsoring legislation – declaring “Gay Pride Day” in Burlington, VT in 1983 for instance, or being one of the leading voices in the fight to raise the minimum wage – an effort that has been quite successful.

Don’t waste energy talking about what someone else doesn’t or isn’t or how they’re bad; talk about how what you support does and is and how it’s good.  Avoid being argumentative and getting drawn in to personality conflicts; focus on your goal and the positive, affirmative ways you can approach it.  Rise above the rancor and show confidence and strength in your beliefs and your position.  Remember: nobody’s the villain in their own movie.  The people you’re arguing with are just as convinced of their righteousness and validity as you are.

If you keep these things in mind, you can avoid becoming part of the problem, wasting time and energy in pointless argument, and doing more harm than good to your cause, whatever it may be.

Not Just a “Difference of Opinion” or “Politics” #Values #Deplorables

Not Just a “Difference of Opinion” or “Politics” #Values #Deplorables

The first actual Monday of 2020 – I’m not counting the pseudo-Monday of last Tuesday, for those of us who returned to the grind for the longest two-day work week on record – was a chance to catch up and wish everyone a happy year ahead.

After easing into the new year with a short week, 2020 is off and running. I see lots of positivity and kindness resolutions already challenged by social media, especially as government-by-Twitter and the Tweet War of 2020 heat up.

I’d just like to say this, and I hope you’ll read the whole thread:



International Blog Delurking Week 2020

International Blog Delurking Week? What’s that about? I haven’t been lurking…

Wait! No! You’ve been lurking! Yes, you, Dear Reader. At least I think there are more of you than the few loyal friends and family members who’ve subscribed (ahem, nine of you) and commented (all twenty of you). Anyway, it’s the first full week of January, and it’s your turn to take center stage. During the first full week of January, it’s open mic – leave a comment, please, and let me know that you’re here. Blogging is more fun when it’s a conversation, so don’t be shy – join in. I’d like to get to know you better, and to know what kinds of things you like to read.

It appears that International Blog Delurking Week was started by Melissa on the blog Stirrup Queens, in either 2010 or 2011.  I learned about it from Parul Thakur at Happiness and Food.

Commit to Vote Informed

For me, the issue is not about one Party or another, nor is it about tolerating mere “differences of opinion.” I’ve never voted straight ticket in my life, and the world is big enough to allow you to like green while I prefer purple. Choosing a representative government is about core values; it’s about which candidates have a proven track record of acting and voting in accordance with our most important core values, prioritized. None are perfectly aligned with mine, but some are completely misaligned and some are clearly “all hat, no cattle” and will say whatever nonsense gets them votes.

In a discussion, earlier today, I provided the following links, which mostly date back to 2016 and were, I thought, credible and pretty well publicized at the time, but that seem like surprising news to some people, even today:

We’re not uninformed; we’re just choosing to be misinformed and disinformed by other voices when it’s convenient and seems to fit with our world view. Of course we know this is true of other people, but meanwhile, we refuse to look ourselves in the mirror under such harsh light.

It’s intellectually lazy, to some degree, but to be fair, there are people who are very good at propaganda, very determined to divide and demoralize, or to divide and conquer. Whether their end goal is to conquer the nation or to simply divide the people in it for their own amusement is up for debate, but we should all be wary of falling into that trap.

What Does It Mean to Be “Deplorable”?

Clinton made the original remark at a fundraiser Friday evening, saying: ‘To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.’

By Saturday, she expressed regret that she’d said as many as “half” of Trump’s backers fell into that category,  but she didn’t completely back away from the broader sentiment.

USA Today

People don’t like to be called “deplorables.” I get that. It’s hard enough to swallow, being called out for deplorable behavior, but quite another to be made to own it and wear it like a scarlet letter. To make “deplorable” a noun feels defining. It chafes like rough wool.

I’m pretty sure that many of us, even if we supported Trump, would have immediately shrugged and said, “I’m in the other half, I get what she’s saying, but here’s why I’m voting for him…” But the thing is, I askedrepeatedly – in 2016, “Why are you voting for Trump?” The only answer I ever got was, “He’s not Hillary.” Or, “He’s not a libtard.” Or, “Democrats suck.” I heard a lot of, “He tells it like it is,” especially right after he bragged about how he felt entitled to grab women by the pussy. I guarantee you, if Barack Obama had said that, or if Hillary Clinton had bragged that she could walk down 5th Avenue, shoot someone dead, and still get elected, they’d have been un-electable then and there.

“If you don’t like it, go back where you came from!” Much as I’d love to go hang out on Daytona Beach, that’s not going to solve anything. To suggest that anyone who feels our current administration is unqualified or corrupt and unfit to govern is “unpatriotic” is ridiculous. It’s not unpatriotic to question and criticize our government, especially when we do so with evidence and not mere snark and vitriol; in fact, it’s a right enshrined in our Constitution. It’s one of the main reasons we do pledge allegiance to the flag – not to a piece of cloth on a pole, but to the ideals that formed a nation.

Today it is more important than ever to protect our freedom of speech. Too many people have come to believe that discussion and debate are inadequate; they seek a society that squelches dissent with force. In law, government regulations are censoring speech that is “disparaging,” “immoral,” and “offensive.”

In culture, people attack the speaker rather than engaging their ideas. Opponents vilify speakers as “misogynists,” or “racists,” and then attempt to drive them from the public square, or deprive them of their livelihood. In worst-case scenarios, disagreeable speech is met with violence. These attacks on the tradition of free speech are damaging to a free society and suppress uninhibited, robust, and wide open debate.

Remembering why free speech is important, by Wencong Fa.

So let’s look at the definition of that word, “deplorable.” 

WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. S.v.

First, I’d argue that it didn’t “squelch” free speech at all, nor was it meant to – it was deploring specific, enumerated sorts of attitudes and behaviors. While no one should fear jail time or the wrath of the Internet horde, they should not imagine they’re immune from having their ideas judged and found lacking.

Second, I think that the word applies. The very same people who make crude jokes or bandy about ethnic slurs aimed at minorities, who have no trouble slinging around profanity, calling women “bitch” or “cunt,” or who casually threaten others with bodily harm – these people suddenly get offended at being called “deplorable”? They unironically lash out at liberal “snowflakes”? Joke about drinking “liberal tears” in their morning coffee? Don’t make me laugh. They are deplorable. They have “undesirable” and “negative” qualities, deserving of rebuke and censure. That is, by definition, deplorable. The only questionable part of what Clinton said was “half.” She later expressed regret for making it sound like so many, but hindsight suggests her estimation of 50%  was low.

It’s also possible that even these “deplorables” have some good qualities. Maybe they make some tasty scones, or drive their kids’ carpool and never run a red light. Maybe they mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn when needed, or host a blood drive for a coworker in need of a rare blood type. Does that mean they can’t be criticized? 

Criticism shouldn’t mean wiping out all the good things a person is or does. That’s why using “deplorables” as a noun is so hurtful, so wrong, but so tempting because some of the particular things we find deplorable seem to so readily overshadow all the good things – some of which we may never learn about some people, because we want nothing to do with them now. It’s also convenient shorthand when the alternative is a laundry list of things like, “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic…” 

If you can accept general criticism of men or police officers or white people, recognizing that those dishing it are well aware of the many exceptions – the fact that #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter and #NotAllMen are mansplainers and sexual harassers – if you can  understand that when black people say, “Black Lives Matter” or when LGBTQ folk say things like, “Trans Lives Matter” there’s an unspoken “too” at the end, because that “too” is the part too many people don’t seem to understand and respect, then you can accept that many Trump supporters are, in fact, deplorable, and that if you are truly an exception you can count yourself in the other half. Look in the mirror now and then to be sure you’re not being “triggered” by the truth.

Just realize that who you vote for and how they manifest what you stand for is a choice. Your skin color, birthplace, culture, sexual orientation, disabilities – those are not choices. But you are responsible for your choices and the beliefs and values on which you base them.

What’s “deplorable” is when people reveal their deplorable thoughts, their deplorable attitudes towards their fellow humans, then  elect officials who will translate those thoughts and attitudes into action, without first listening and seeking to understand why others consider the thoughts and attitudes so deeply, morally wrong.

What’s “deplorable” is when people put their basest fears on display and prove their quick willingness to ignore the standards by which they judge others – when they readily act exactly like the people and behaviors they claim to despise. Such stunning hypocrisy!

A friend of mine once said that “politics is religion, manifest.” What’s “deplorable” is watching people you once looked up to and respected twist themselves into pretzels trying to rationalize and justify putting their own professed religious doctrines, their own self-touted morals, the ethical standards and behaviors, laws, and supposed principles of functioning civilization aside to lash out, to bully, and to hurt people who’ve done nothing at all to them, in support of demonstrably poor leaders who act only in furtherance of their own profit. It’s very hard to see that in family and friends. Sometimes, anger is really just grief and sorrow, manifest.

Observant: My #OneWord365 for 2020

Observant: My #OneWord365 for 2020

My parents were the first to observe just how unobservant I am.  There’s a reasonable chance that, when my mom said, “Look quick! Did you see the [bear, deer, flying monkeys, velociraptor]?” it was just a feeble attempt to startle my nose out of a good book, so that I would not miss the endless mile markers as they raced backwards through the tempered glass windows of our VW. I imagined the slow respiration of stalwart trees pumping oxygen into the shimmering air as it rose in heat waves from the asphalt. Jarred so abruptly from the pages of other worlds as they took solid form in my head, it’s hard not to notice the sudden nausea brought on from reading in the car. “You’ll get carsick if you keep reading that, you know.” I did notice things, but I may have missed a beady-eyed crow as it flew faster to our destination than vulcanized rubber tires could carry us.

I think I’d had one or two dates with my husband before I noticed whether or not he wore glasses, or sported a mustache. I did notice his intelligence, his kindness, his trustworthiness – those things that matter most, but would hardly count at all in a police line-up. My mother laughed at me, perhaps relieved that I could not mentally reconstruct the tickle of hair against my upper lip. I doubt that I will ever put Sherlock Holmes to shame, but I think I have done, and can do, better than that.

It’s not just that writers need to be able to pick the purloiners of letters from a line-up; writers need to restock the bits and bobs that build imaginary worlds and all the actors in them. They don’t spring up from the void, fully formed; they are lovingly crafted from snippets of conversation; flashes of memory; wiggly things found under rocks; wisps of nightmares. The imagination must be restocked through keen observation and refilled like a muddy trout pond after years of drought and neglect. Laser focus on particular and pragmatic projects can lead to lack of energetic interest and observation when it comes to everything else.

There is another sense of the word observant: that of being diligently attentive to principles. In a sense, that brings me full circle to 2015, when I first discovered this insidious concept of choosing a single word to guide me in the coming year. In “Just ONE Word? You’re Kidding, Right?” I chose the word, “commit.” Last year’s word was, “limitless.” Did I observe time slipping, stealthy, from year to year, while commitment wavered and limits were, more often than not, self-imposed?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

from Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Corinne Rodrigues writes, in “Is The Word Of The Year Practice Stressful?” that it’s meant to be “a visualization of what you want to be during the year. No pressure. No guilt.”  In my mind’s eye, I am hiding behind winter coats in a closet, clutching a dictionary to my chest, silently rocking back and forth. I want it all, I whisper. I don’t want a word. I want a paragraph. Then another, and another. If we’re talking about aspirational goals, and if I could choose more than one word, I’d keep both of those and add a new one: “observant.”

Life is short, and I want to live it, observant; I want to drink in the details, and wrestle loose from ordinary experience the elusive, recalcitrant words. At the end, I don’t want a tombstone with a handful of clichés carved into stone; some day, I want to fly – a billion dust motes sparkling like snow in sunshine, drifting onto the warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean as laughter rains up from a sandy beach into the endless blue sky. There are no words.

Meanwhile, in the interstices between that inevitable “some day” and the experiences of tomorrow and today, there are all the words.