Why (Many) Republicans Get Defensive When People Attack Nazis

My Facebook feed is loaded with conservatives posting angry memes defending confederate statues and attacking those who marched against the Nazis in Virginia and Massachusetts. This, of course, follows three responses from Trump, one of which was clearly scripted, and the other two of which focused more anger on the protesters than on the Nazis.

In other words, conservatives saw people protesting Nazis, and they became extremely defensive.

This is strange, to say the least. One becomes defensive when attacked. So the question becomes, why did these folks see attacks on Nazis as attacks on them?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking… and I think it’s wrong. Sure, many of those Nazis were clearly Trump-ites, but that doesn’t mean the reverse is true—that many of the Trump-ites are Nazis. That logic doesn’t work. (Consider: all motorcycles are vehicles, but only a small fraction of vehicles are motorcycles.) Plus, I know many of these Facebook folks. I disagree with their politics—deeply, profoundly, in some cases—but they’re not Nazis. They’re wrong, and sometimes horrible, but not Nazis.

So what’s going on?

There are two broad ways we can be driven to become members of a community—and I mean any community, from Yankees fan to Southern Baptist to runner to liberal/conservative/Democratic/Republican. First, we can positively identify with the people and ideas of that community. In other words, we share some positive elements, characteristics, loves, beliefs, understandings of the world, etc. But we can also become members of a community by sharing an opposition to something with other members of that community.

In other words, you can be a Democrat because you think Obama was great or because you support a higher minimum wage or universal health care. But you can also become a Democrat because that community, like you, hates Trump or opposes the Iraq war or something like that. Burke (Kenneth, that is) called this identification by antithesis. A simplified view of this is below:

Political Identity_2_no narrative


The thing is, the modern Republican party no longer stands FOR much of anything; the green side of the picture above is largely empty but for a few items like guns, the military, police. However, the red side is jammed because Republicans are mostly AGAINST things. What things? Immigrants. Government. Taxes. “Urban” people. Welfare. China. Europe.  That list goes on for quite a while. But mostly, they stand against “The Left.” Hating liberals (progressives, Democrats, whatever you want to call them) is far and away the most significant element of modern Republican/conservative identity. If the left is for it, they’re against it. Update daily.

So what happens when a bunch of liberals go out and protest Nazis? Republicans find themselves in a bind. They hate liberals, but liberals hate Nazis, and they sure can’t agree with liberals. The answer, apparently: attack “both sides.”

There’s always more to it. And in this case, some of the obvious answers are obviously correct. Republicans have, since the 60s, become the Southern party, and so have a knee-jerk defense of anything related to the South. They also identify with guns, and it was the Nazis who had the guns. Plus, to be a member of a community is generally to rally to the side of others in the community, even when they do something horrible. Like excusing Nazis.

But in the end, I think many of my conservative Facebook acquaintances would have been happy to condemn Nazis… If only liberals hadn’t done it first.


(By the way, for those still paying attention, this notion of identification by antithesis also means that no, we can’t just get along. Hating the left is what defines much of the right, so the left can’t just adopt moderate stances and win these folks over. The hatred isn’t based on the stances. They hate the left for the same reason that Yankees fans hate the Red Sox, which is to say, for no logical reason at all. It’s just part of being a member of that community.)


Peggy Noonan Hates Trump… And Women

Or, How the Right Will Turn on Trump

I don’t know exactly when, or even if, conservatives will finally turn on Trump. But I know what it will look like. Indeed, longtime conservative and current Wall Street Journal editorial columnist Peggy Noonan gives us a preview.

In her August 3rd column, she writes of Trump:

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen.

Strong stuff, but look more closely at how she characterizes him: “whiny,” “weepy and self-pitying,” “sobbing,” “drama queen.” In each case the goal is not merely to show Trump as weak, but to undermine his masculinity. For Noonan, Trump is the worst thing one can be: feminine*.

This runs throughout the article. She describes his tweets as “plaintive, shrill little cries.” And who is “shrill” but the nagging wife of stereotype fame? His attacks on “fake news” are “whimpering” according to Noonan. His speech to the Boy Scouts, she asserts, shows he is driven by his emotions. Then, of course, Noonan slips into the standard conservative lament about how masculinity has changed from the good old days of the “strong silent type” like “Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda,” leaving us with men who are “nervous and chattery.” She doesn’t need to add “like a girl” to that last line for the meaning to be clear.

Sure, she admits Trump may not be smart as he doesn’t understand things like the health care policy he is pushing, but it’s clear she’d happily accept this ignorance if only he’d be the head-breaking brute he pretended to be on the campaign trail. Stupid is fine. Weak is terrible. But female is unforgivable.

Remember, apart from the other issues the right had with Obama, the one that seemed to make Fox News hosts most apoplectic was that he insisted on “talking like a professor” instead of a WWE wrestler. In other words, he was weak, one of those “chattery” modern men who are hardly men at all. And then Democrats had the gall to run an actual female human in the next election!

So when Noonan begins to attack Trump as weak and womanly, what’s really happening is she’s beginning the process of casting him out of the conservative club. “He’s not one of us,” she’s saying. “He never was.” And that’s what they’ll all say eventually.



*at least “feminine” according to her stereotyped view of the term


White Collar Privilege

Come Tuesday I’ll have been sidelined from running for two weeks, and from tennis and any other activity that uses my right shoulder for one week. And it’s made me realize how profoundly lucky I am.

These are both overuse injuries, made worse by the fact that 48 year old bodies don’t heal like 25 year old bodies. So I have to lay off strenuous exercise for a couple weeks.  Annoying, but nothing more than that.

Imagine, though, a 48 year old making a living doing the sort of physical labor (landscaping, for instance) that I’ve done in the past. Overuse injuries would be inevitable. And what happens when this person can’t lift a shovel, or bend down to pick up a roll of sod. Missing work for a few weeks isn’t an option; these jobs don’t pay enough to give the financial cushion for that sort of thing. And sick leave? Nonexistent in most such professions.

So I’m profoundly lucky that my injury has no impact on my earning. Everyone should be so fortunate. Really. I mean we need to work to make sure our nation ensures everyone has the same comfort of knowing that a pulled muscle isn’t going to mean their children go to bed hungry or they can’t make the next rent payment. This starts by maintaining the systems we have: workers’ compensation and social security disability coverage just to name a couple. But they aren’t enough, so the work isn’t finished.

The Narrative–Political Continuum

narrative & politcal continuum

Liberals are predominantly comic, but there is a significant minority that is essentially melodramatic (the Bernie Sanders element in the latest election). Both narrative elements are represented in liberal media.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are dominated by melodrama, so much so that there is essentially no comic-conservative media. This, I suggest, is the “missing right”–a group that likely exists but lacks media representation, and to a great degree political representation as well.

Beyond Left & Right: Melodramatic or Comic?

Political identity is not merely about the people and policies you support or oppose, but is also about the narrative lens through which you view the world. The two basic narrative world views are described below:

narrative characteristics_2

Examples will follow in later posts, but this is the foundation.

Statistical Nonsense: No, Democrats Did Not Lose Support Among Hispanics or Women (probably)

Just a quick comment to point out that all the analysis of how Democrats or Republicans gained or lost among populations in the last election is largely bunk.

In general, it is extremely difficult to accurately compare different elections because you are not looking at the same sample group. So, right off the bat, if you see any comparisons between the party support among demographic groups in 2012 and 2014, ignore them. Apples to oranges. Comparing 2010 to 2014 is better, but still problematic. Consider: Republican support among Latinos went up from 2010 to 2014. So, did some Latinos who supported Democrats in 2010 switch to Republicans in 2014, or did those who supported Democrats in 2010 simply not vote in 2014? Both cases would show up as rising support among this population.

Now consider that turnout for 2014 was the lowest since World War 2. This suggests the second of the possibilities—Democratic voters staying home—is more likely: Republican voters were simply more committed, and so those Republicans in all groups were a larger percentage of the total electorate. So what really happened was not that Republicans gained among Latinos, but that Democrats weren’t motivated enough to vote. In fact, this is largely what happened (in reverse) in 2006, when Republicans stayed home. Regardless, this is a somewhat different issue, and should not be confused with fundamental changes in support. It’s a fundamental change in turnout, likely stemming from a fundamental change in motivation, and while that deserves study, we have to be certain we’re studying the right thing.

(And by the way, I would suggest that motivation comes from having a well-defined enemy more than a well-defined hero, so the out-party will always have an advantage there.)

UPDATE: fivethirtyeight.com weighs in, making a similar point. When turnout is high only in Republican states, overall turnout will look very Republican. A turnout problem, then, not a change in support among key demographics.


Do Policies Matter to Voters? Not post-partisan: post policy.

The recent midterms have led to much talk of how even mid-term local elections have become nationalized, leading to a partisan sorting, where there are few red elected officials in blue states, or blue officials in red states. No politics is local now, it seems.

Setting aside the very legitimate question of how much can be drawn from a single midterm election, and one that looks to have the lowest turnout since WW2, I would suggest that a kin to this nationalization is that policies are not foundational elements of voting patterns. (The question of how much they ever were key elements of voting patterns has to be left for someone with more historical knowledge than me.) That is, I argue that politician’s support for or opposition to actual policies has very little effect on voter support. This, of course, raises the issue of why we do vote for anyone in particular.

The most obvious example is that, while voters even in very red states strongly backed raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana, they also strongly backed Republican candidates who were opponents of both these policies. However, one can also look at polling on issues, and find that Democratic policies consistently poll very well and have widespread support even in conservative areas (often more than Republican policies, in fact). So the most obvious conclusion is that policies aren’t the primary basis by which voters select candidates. But let’s be a bit my systematic about the whole thing, and review some possible explanations for these results.

  1.  This election was an anomaly, and the low turnout skewed the electorate. But, for this to explain the whole thing, one would also have to explain why Democrats stayed home. And perhaps the particular policies in question simply didn’t motivate them enough. But there’s surely more here.
  2. Voter ignorance. There is likely something to this. Poll after poll shows voters know far less about candidates, policies, and even current events, than the fanatical followers of politics would imagine. For instance, few people recognize that employment is up and the deficit is down under Obama. (poll about what people thought unemployment rate is)
  3. Candidate “spin.” Candidates are often masters of saying what the audience wants to hear, or at least not saying what it doesn’t want to hear. One clever way to do this is to speak in terms of values rather than policies. The classic example here is the right’s focus on “small government.” Indeed, when asked, most people will say they favor a smaller government. However, when asked which government agencies or functions should be cut, the only one that is consistently on the chopping block is foreign aid (less than 1% of the budget). So voters can like the value, but hate policy that would flow from the value.
  4. Good enemies. I personally suspect politics is not primarily about who you support, but who you oppose. The President is always the face of the party, and being a single person can be easily attacked. Thus attacking Obama is easier than attacking some unknown Republican, and furthermore, in doing so, it feels like one is attacking the whole of the Democratic Party. There is no comparable out-party attack that can be structured. The out-party folks just aren’t sufficiently well known.
  5. Pavlov rings the bell and then gives the dogs food. After a while, the bell alone is enough to make the dogs salivate because they have been conditioned to associate the bell with dinner. It may be that the parties have been sufficiently associated with particular issues that the issues themselves have dropped away. Candidates no longer need to mention the issues very often, and can in fact propose policies that run contrary to the issues and not receive blame or praise. So Obama cuts a trillion dollars from the deficit and presides over the first reduction in the size of the federal workforce since the end of WW2, and Republicans (and many Democrats) still believe he’s increased the deficit and expanded the government. We’ve been trained to think tax & spend Democrat. No need for dinner; we still salivate.

Like any complex situation, there may be a variety of causal factors, and it may likewise be that policies work better with some groups than with others (perhaps Democrats are still receptive to policies, but simply didn’t show up to vote because they didn’t have anyone to vote against, for example). Anyway, enough musing for now.