Re: The Land of Centrists


My sainted father once said something about having learned by dealing with cultists in the '70s that "Why do you think that?" is the wrong approach, and the proper response is the more difficult, awkward, repeated "No. You are wrong. You neither need nor are entitled to threaten people with an assault rifle." Which is probably about as much fun as it sounds.

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 5:10 AM
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The cults in the 70s were more hardcore than I remember.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 5:12 AM
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I'm extrapolating.

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 5:15 AM
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Heebie - I e-mail you an Ask the Mineshaft Guest Post


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 5:21 AM
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Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 5:21 AM
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After Only Fans took away the market for feet pictures, Instagram has really dived into lower-grade content.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 6:16 AM
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Sharon McMahon makes me realize that if we can't learn to listen to each other with sympathy and understanding, there is no hope.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 8:24 AM
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3: Cry, cry, extrapolate, cry.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 10:58 AM
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It seems to me this is clearly a good thing, but the problem is her appeal is limited. It occurs to me that she provides a service similar to what the evening news anchors would give us, back before they became part of the nefarious MSM.

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 11:07 AM
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I have the same mixed feelings. Obviously there's an immediate benefit to turning the temperature down generally, but treating dangerously insane bullshit as just a different but valid opinion in order to keep the peace is a large part of how we got to this unpeaceful place.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 11:08 AM
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9 & 10 capture my feelings fairly well, and despite my mixed feelings I think it is clearly a good thing.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 11:18 AM
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Despite all my rage, she has more views on her page.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 11:42 AM
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I do think it's good to be able to talk to people, even people who are wrong to the point of believing genuinely evil things -- that was part of how I got here in the first place. On the the other side, I firmly believe that anyone who says they believe that there are people making some important, good points on both sides in current American politics is insane, stupid, or lying. I don't know what I think about this specific woman -- I'd have to pay attention to her for a while to form an opinion, and I really can't deal with Instagram.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 11:46 AM
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13: believing genuinely evil things -- that was part of how I got here in the first place.

Who was it that believed genuinely evil things? (it was ogged, right?)

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 12:03 PM
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10: Yeah. I'm extremely practiced at sussing out the defensible in different positions, but I sometimes think that half the problem with politics is that people are willing to pretend racist uncle so-and-so just has some weird-but-defensible opinions to keep the peace instead of calling bullshit. (Not that I expect it to work. The dynamic in my family is that someone says something crashingly stupid, I say "but that's not true", and I'm the troublemaker, not the jackass fomenting a race war.)

Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 1:31 PM
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13: There were plenty of people who thought starting the Iraq War was justified, right? I'm not going to say those people are all genuinely evil, but I'm comfortable calling that a genuinely evil position.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 2:17 PM
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I wonder if there is a statement of principles these centrist can't-we-all-get-along people could state up front that most people would accept and that acceptance could be used to wall off the most destructive opinions. I worry it would inevitably be rejected as too liberal though. Something ruling out elimination of opponents, clear definition of what's considered a conspiracy theory, etc.

Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 2:26 PM
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The centrists want a small race war.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 3:00 PM
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If analogies weren't banned one could look at segregation and especially how its boundaries were enforced as the small race war that went along with the centrist position on the end of Reconstruction.

Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 3:13 PM
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I think McMahon is terrific. Seriously.

The single most pressing problem with American discourse is that nobody is willing to address the underlying issues -- and those issues are not directly questions about whether we want to be racists or whether we want to overthrow the government.

Pontius Pilate knew the right question: "What is truth?"

McMahon gets it. Until you establish some kind of bedrock epistemology, political conversations are meaningless.

McMahon, a former teacher, is trying to establish the existence of -- and a preference for -- factuality. The Atlantic writer (Godfrey) is so steeped in bullshit that she says this:

As a reporter whose job is to be skeptical about people's motives, and to call out hucksters when I see them, I found McMahon's secrecy unsettling. We aren't used to people with such large platforms being so tight-lipped about their politics.

Are you fucking kidding me? Leonard Downie, the former Washington Post executive editor, wouldn't even vote because doing so, he said, would compromise his objectivity. Has Godfrey ever heard Dean Baquet discuss his newspaper's methods?

And yet somehow, I don't think Godfrey has the NYT or Downie in mind when she refers to "hucksters," so she doesn't quite get what McMahon is up to. Godfrey describes McMahon thusly:

She's been clear that the 2020 election was not stolen, and has condemned the January 6 riot at the Capitol as an attack on democracy, putting her fundamentally at odds with former President Trump. When 19 children and two adults were killed in the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, McMahon encouraged her followers to call their senators and ask them to support background-check legislation, and she said she opposed arming teachers. "Some things are just so important that there is not a justifiable flip side," she said in an Instagram Story.

It's too bad that the NYT has already picked its next editor.

If McMahon is nonpartisan about Trump vs. Biden, so what? She is pro-fact, and also seems to have a bias in favor of decency. Maybe the NYT likes Biden, but if the newspaper takes a balanced approach to truth vs. falsehood, who cares? Once you start asserting the existence of WMD in Iraq or calling torture "enhanced interrogation," it doesn't mean a goddam thing if you are personally sympathetic to Al Gore or John Kerry.

If Americans in sufficient numbers start supporting factuality and decency, the political results will follow.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 4:11 PM
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I came to the conclusion that just being effectively estranged from all of my Republican relatives was a net quality-of-life improvement. Maybe they'll come up out of the fever swamp eventually, but I'm probably done seeing any of them except at funerals, so doubt I will even know if they do. [shrug]

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-13-22 5:43 PM
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20: Where I get stopped in that train of thought is that I find a person who is "pro-fact" and has a bias in favor of decency and is genuinely non-partisan about either Trump v. Biden or ever Democrats v. Republicans completely implausible, for all the obvious reasons. At which point I don't understand her project or how it works.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 3:21 AM
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I think lots of people don't like Republicans but have a view of Democrats based entirely on what Republicans have said about Democrats. Advertising works.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 4:52 AM
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20: pre COVID, do you think there were any people who were kind of pro fact and decent but completely checked out of politics, didn't watch the news, didn't vote etc., who really have no opinions about any of the politicians? The ultimate low information voter.

Posted by: Bostonaingirl | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 5:16 AM
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Sure, but people like that aren't running political-information Instagram accounts. Once you're paying attention at all, the crazy on the right is so obvious and so disproportionate to the crazy on the left that I don't understand anyone who purports not to see it.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 5:45 AM
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25: Agree completely about that. The more interesting question to me is how you can engage the people who are completely tuned out.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 5:53 AM
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25: It may not be a stable equilibrium; she hasn't been running a political-information Instagram account for that long.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 6:04 AM
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Slightly on topic: Jamelle Bouie doing what he does.

In "The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics," Cowie argues for an interpretation of the United States in the 20th century that treats the New Deal era, from the administration of Franklin Roosevelt to the 1970s, as a "sustained deviation from some of the main contours of American political practice, economic structure, and cultural outlook."
The Great Depression and World War II may have "forced clear realignments of American politics and class relations," Cowie writes, "but those changes were less the linear triumph of the welfare state than the product of very specific, and short-lived, historical circumstances." [...]
I think you can apply a similar "great exception" analysis to the decades of institutional stability and orderly partisan competition that shaped the current generation of Democratic leaders, including the president and many of his closest allies.
They came into national politics in an age of bipartisan consensus and centrist policymaking, at a time when the parties and their coalitions were less ideological and more geographically varied. But this too was a historical aberration, the result of political and social dynamics -- such as the broad prosperity of the industrial economic order at home -- that were already well in decline by the time that Biden, Pelosi, Feinstein and others first took office.
American politics since then has reverted to an earlier state of heightened division, partisanship and fierce electoral competition. Even the authoritarianism on display in the Republican Party has antecedents in the behavior of Southern political elites at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Millions of Democratic voters can see and feel that American politics has changed in profound ways since at least the 1990s, and they want their leaders to act, and react, accordingly.

The Traister profile of DiFi was excellent too.

Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 6:59 AM
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25, 26: In the future, influencers will use news events to strengthen their brand. Retweets or insta stories from someone funny or "attractive" are the new chyrons-- we already have Trevor Noah and John Oliver in place of straight news, this will be more of that but with lower production values and no fact checking.

Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 7:05 AM
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22: I think Godfrey shares your perspective, which I would characterize thus: McMahon's pose of objectivity is either dishonest or ridiculous, but maybe we can cut her some slack because we sympathize with her goal of polite dialog.

My admiration for McMahon comes from an entirely different place: McMahon understands the proper use of objectivity as a pedagogical method. Godfrey seems to lump McMahon with "social media personalities," but the correct category is "professional evaluators and purveyors of information."

And in that context, there's nothing at all peculiar or suspicious about her studied objectivity. Remember that she's a former teacher of government to high school students.

Teachers, journalists, judges and umpires all adopt a pose of objectivity and yeah, on some level, it's all bullshit. John Roberts is not just calling balls and strikes, and umpires themselves have been plausibly accused of bias.

At first, I suspected that Godfrey was in on the scam -- that she deliberately didn't call out McMahon because Godfrey herself has adopted a professional pose of objectivity. It would be like a magician exposing the methods of another professional. But no, I think Godfrey really doesn't get it.

McMahon has adopted the Socratic Method. That's all. This is hard to recognize for two reasons: We don't give her credit for being a teacher; and she does her job so much better than most of our allegedly objective professionals that we can't recognize that she's doing the same job.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 7:41 AM
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If you're doing the Socratic Method, you should dress like John Houseman.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 8:01 AM
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30: I would believe that -- that her non-partisan positioning is a professional stance rather than a sincere representation of her beliefs. But I'd have to actually follow her myself to form an opinion about whether she does it in a good, productive way, rather than slopping over into the horribly unfortunate "Shape of the Earth: Views Differ" that we get from a lot of nominally objective news media.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 8:35 AM
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What these kind of people and institutions want is for both "non-partisanship" and "fact-based" to be defining principles. In many cases that's fine, you can uphold both of them. But sometimes they're in direct contradiction and you have to decide which one is more important, and what seems to usually happen (e.g. with the NYTimes) is that they'll always pick non-partisanship over truth. The problem is that in the age of Trump they're just so often in direct contradiction. You simply can't be fact-based and take any other viewpoint other than that Donald Trump is singularly unqualified to do anything except host reality TV, is a crook, and is a serial rapist.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 8:41 AM
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McMahon seems like the good kind of centrist, if that makes any sense at all, to the extent that I can make such a strong claim based on one article...

The article has no examples of false equivalencies she's drawn or culture war bullshit she's bought into, and several examples of partisan facts she's on the right side of. She's not a centrist in the sense of trying to be above it all, seeking compromise on substantive issues for its own sake, or buying into the delusional belief that both sides are the same or equally bad in some not-reality-grounded sense.

People often seem to use "centrist" to mean "nice", or as an antonym of "partisan". It's a weird linguistic quirk and often used disingenuously but if it's sincere, it seems harmless enough. If this kind of thing works to reach people leaning towards fascism but not totally unreachable, I wouldn't have the temperament for it myself but I'm glad someone does.

Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 8:43 AM
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32: Sure. I also have nothing beyond the evidence of the story. But Godfrey -- who examines McMahon's objectivity -- somehow fails to find McMahon's support for any Trumpist position while plainly showing her opposition to Trumpist views.

In my experience, you never have to look far when a supposedly objective observer actually wants to give cover to both sides. Look at basically any NYT front page. Today, for example:

Panel Lays Out Case That Trump Created and Spread Election Lies

Well yeah, but the panel didn't just lay out a case. The panel demonstrated that Trump created and spread election lies. The headline on the linked article does better: Jan. 6 Panel Tracks How Trump Created and Spread Election Lies.

The Godfrey article seems pretty well researched and written, and I'd be really surprised if Godfrey failed to notice the ways that McMahon gives cover to Trump. But maybe! I'll never find out, because I don't have any particular use for the lessons McMahon is teaching.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 9:17 AM
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I don't have any particular use for the lessons McMahon is teaching.

This makes me think of the classic Adlai Stevenson quote ("I need a majority.")

I think, based on the article, she's doing a good thing, and deserves credit for apparently doing it well. It also seems like the sort of thing which will always be a small part of the overall political ecosystem -- but that's okay! Not everything needs to scale indefinitely!

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 9:22 AM
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34: I don't think "centrist" is the word you want here. I've been using "objective," which has its own problems. But as I think you understand, the evidence of the story makes her an explicit liberal. The conversion story in the opening paragraphs is clear:

"I personally believe in the sacredness of life," Shelley Smith, a conservative participant from California, told me afterward. But "something that was important for me to learn was [that] my personal beliefs shouldn't trump someone else's body autonomy."

If Godfrey had a countervailing anecdote -- say, someone who used McMahon's methods to discover that souls are embodied at conception -- then it would have been journalistic malpractice not to offer that story. There's nothing like that in the story.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 9:25 AM
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but that's okay!

That's what I think. Peep@9 is certainly right about her limited appeal, but Moby@12 is also correct to point out that we have no business denigrating her for that.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 9:34 AM
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I was more demonstrating that I still remember Smashing Pumpkin lyrics.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 9:43 AM
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Going back to the OP, I think H-G is looking for a bank shot that may not exist. That is, these followers aren't focused on a peace-keeping role, they're low information voters who view themselves as reasonable and fact-driven, but also don't enjoy following politics, so they're genuinely unclear on a lot of these disputes. As pf notes, a casual MSM consumer is going to be fed 100 both-sides stories for every one that tells it like it is, so I'm not sure why we're so quick to blame people who think that both sides have plausible positions.

We all know that the GOP is 100% committed to doing bad things, and that more or less every reasonable-sounding talking point is BS cover for unreasonable policies. But regular people don't really know this, and the talking points resonate.

So the value of this sort of presentation by Sharon is to avoid completely the partisan-sounding language and framing, which her followers I think reject instinctively, and substitute the dispassionate analysis that does appeal to their sensibility.

Now, granted, she seems to concede too much to treating reasonable-sounding stuff as actually reasonable, but I think it's more valuable--for this audience--to be perceived as an honest broker who can then credibly rule out certain claims. I mean, we evidently can't defeat fascism only with reliable Dem voters; we're going to need votes from people who really hate paying taxes and think that their school library shouldn't have anything suggestive in it. If Sharon can convince some of the latter group that fascists are beyond the pale even when they're appealing on those latter issues, that's doing God's work.

Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 12:24 PM
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I'm not sure why we're so quick to blame people who think that both sides have plausible positions.

Because the Republican crazy stuff (Hilary Clinton is molesting children in the basement of a pizza place; the result of the 2020 election was flipped by election fraud) is right out there in public -- I don't believe in the existence of anyone who's paying attention to political news at all who hasn't been exposed to the self-evidently crazy stuff. If they believe it, they're very stupid. If they don't believe it but also don't treat it as discrediting to the people who say it or associate with the people who do, they're either very stupid or culpable.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 12:43 PM
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And I don't mean to say that blaming them in public is politically effective. We need to find some way to keep them from burning the world down, so pretending they're innocently and reasonably deceived may be necessary. But it's bullshit even if it is necessary.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 12:45 PM
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40: I want to explicitly disclaim any opinion on whether this method works as persuasion. I like McMahon's approach because she has identified the key issues and addresses them honestly and honorably. She engages the nuts on their level, and can thereby conduct a genuine conversation.

I've got no problem with punching Nazis or ridiculing assholes, but I think other interesting interactions are possible.

Slate has an interesting story about one of the Sandy Hook deniers. I'd like to see how McMahon handles a case like that.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 1:07 PM
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41: But most Republicans aren't Qers, and normal people believing election conspiracy stuff isn't unusual or partisan. Lots of Democrats believed conspiracy theories about the 2004 election. Most people have some conspiracy theories they believe. What's different about the parties is that *Trump* encourages the conspiracy theory stuff. But there's significant differences among Republicans about the conspiracy theories. I have no problem with someone who is like "of course conspiracy theories are bad, and so the Republicans who promote conspiracy theories are bad, but that's not what the reasonable Republicans are doing." The problem with this approach is that the "reasonable" Republicans still fully back Trump.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 1:49 PM
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Right. And the "reasonable" "innocent" Republican voters see the "reasonable" Republican politicians backing Trump, and don't treat it as discrediting. At which point I think they're either very stupid or culpable.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 2:17 PM
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45: David French would argue that it's all FOX news' fault:

Here's one thing I understand--one thing that's directly relevant to the prime-time hearings about January 6: Rank-and-file Republicans are shockingly ignorant of Trump's misdeeds. It is simply not the case that they understand everything that Trump has done and support him anyway. They have far, far more knowledge of Democratic misconduct and media malfeasance than they have of anything Trump has done.


Bring up Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and they're mystified. They simply don't know that the president threatened Georgia's top election official with criminal prosecution and demanded that he "find" the votes necessary to change the outcome of the state's presidential election.

I could go on and on. They don't know about Trump's effort to create a slate of shadow electors. They don't know anything about Steve Bannon's "Operation Green Bay Sweep," the plan he developed with Peter Navarro to leverage the objections of more than 100 GOP members of Congress to delay election certification.

Instead, the narrative runs something like this: The election had lots of problems, and it was legitimate for Trump to bring his multiple legal challenges to the outcome. There was no reason to trust the reported vote totals from heavily Democratic counties. The riot on January 6 was wrong, but the reaction to it has been extreme. The riot never presented a real threat to the election outcome, and the government is treating January 6 protesters far worse than it treated violent Black Lives Matter protesters after the wave of riots that swept American cities in 2020.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 2:33 PM
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after the wave of riots that swept American cities in 2020.

... and left many as smoking ruins.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 2:56 PM
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And nobody has a word about the police station they burned up.

Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 6:16 PM
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Sorry it was me.

Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 6:16 PM
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43: It's been a while (partially because of curation on my part!) since I read anything that vile.

Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06-14-22 7:33 PM
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50: Yes. I found myself deflated after reading that. The networks of vile crazies finding and amplifying each other. And the fucking victims victimized again and again.

I did think a massive media (and populace) fail in 2016 was not treating Trump's cozying up to Alex Jones as more despicable than they did. One of my most vivid rage memories from 2016 is Chuck Todd decrying a "race to the bottom" after HRC gave a detailed speech about all of Trump's ties to white nationalist/Alex Jonesy types and Trump replied with essentially "no, you're the racist."

Also, Vivid Rage Memories Considered Harmful.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-15-22 3:53 AM
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Apropos the lack of a check-in thread, does anyone know what happened to Jacmormon?

I am sure somone will quote Obi-Wan on not having heard a name in a long time, a long time, but what is Unfogged for if not idle curiosity about imaginary friends. (Well, that and vergeblicher Streit.)

Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 06-15-22 4:11 AM
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At which point I think they're either very stupid or culpable.

I mean, I think "very stupid" is correct for certain definitions of stupid*. But as Adlai Stevenson knew, we need stupid peoples' votes too.

The way I'd put it is that these people don't like people who are loud about politics: they don't like Q people, they don't like BLM, they don't like Carlson or Maddow. They want the people in charge to be calm adults (this is part of why Trump never had positive ratings--some chunk of people whose default position is respecting the President disliked his affect), and they think that politics should be reasonable people talking reasonably.

This is all childish bullshit, of course, but it's nevertheless a huge chunk of people. These are the people who don't like cities even when they're not full of Black people, who don't find suburban life stultifying, who drive boring-ass crossovers, who consider garlic spicy, Olive Garden authentic. And on politics, they instinctively reject the idea that both parties aren't right about some things. And your only hope of getting them to vote against crazies consistently is to meet them where they are, which Sharon does.

*I mean, first of all, we are mostly talking about less intelligent people (AB's stepmother is part of my mental model for all this; she went to William & Mary, but I'm not aware of any form of intelligence she possesses), but I also want to remind you that most voters are desperately ignorant about politics. Trump says something outrageous, McConnell says something vaguely disapproving, and they think "at least McConnell isn't crazy like Trump." And then they go back to scrapbooking or whatever. That's stupid, but also really, really common and arguably normal.

Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-15-22 5:39 AM
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50, 51: Heard David Folkenflik this morning on NPR talking with Seth Rich's parents. Also horrifying, if you don't have enough horror in your lives.

I found this part particularly poignant:

In Jewish tradition, babies often are named after loved ones who have died. "Seth would have been so proud to have a child named for him," Mary Rich says. That can never happen, she adds.
"If you had the name Seth Rich, you would be harassed all through your lifetime," she says. "Even if you were a baby and didn't know crap about any of this, you would endure the harassment."

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-15-22 6:03 AM
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meet them where they are

That's right. If McMahon were doing this exact thing with high school government students, no sensible person would have a problem with it.

By Godfrey's standard, Joe Rogan is a stand-up guy.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-15-22 6:07 AM
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45, 46: Just back from a visit with parents, both of whom are intelligent people, and 46 rings very, very true. Most of their information is from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, but they understand themselves to be thoughtful and reasonable because they discount the really crazy stuff and rely on the people at those outlets who aren't actively foaming at the mouth. Put that together with a lot of strange rural cultural grievance (bet you out-of-touch urban types have NO IDEA how big a concern predator control can be when you have too much time on your hands) and you can get intelligent, well-meaning, community-minded people signing on to a really toxic political party.

Posted by: DaveLHI | Link to this comment | 06-15-22 5:20 PM
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bet you out-of-touch urban types have NO IDEA how big a concern predator control can be

That's silly, I just watched this trailer.

Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-17-22 10:45 AM
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