Sunday, 4 September 2016

Believe me, the GOP needs to open itself to rational debate

Major Tom (Coming Home)
Peter Schilling

4, 3, 2, 1
Earth below us
Drifting, falling
Floating weightless
Calling, calling home

Second stage is cut
We're now in orbit
Stabilizers up,
Runnning perfect
Starting to collect
Requested data
What will it affect
When all is done?
Thinks Major Tom

Back at ground control,
There is a problem
Go to rockets full
Not responding
Hello Major Tom.
Are you receiving?
Turn the thrusters on
We're standing by
There's no reply

4, 3, 2, 1
Earth below us
Drifting, falling
Floating weightless
Calling, calling home

Across the stratosphere,
A final message
Give my wife my love
Then nothing more

Far beneath the ship
The world is mourning
They don't realize
He's alive
No one understands
But Major Tom sees
Now the light commands
This is my home
I'm coming home

Earth below us
Drifting, falling
Floating weightless
Coming home
Earth below us
Drifting, falling
Floating weightless
Coming, coming
Home, home

Much better German original
Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)
Peter Schilling

...Völlig losgelöst
Von der Erde
Schwebt das Raumschiff
Völlig schwerelos

Die Erdanziehungskraft
Ist überwunden
Alles läuft perfekt -
Schon seit Stunden

Doch was nützen die
Am Ende
Denkt sich Major Tom

Im Kontrollzentrum
Da wird man panisch
Der Kurs der Kapsel der
Stimmt ja gar nicht

"Hallo Major Tom
Können Sie hören
Woll'n Sie das Projekt
Denn so zerstören?"
Doch, er kann nichts hörn'
Er schwebt weiter...

...Völlig losgelöst
Von der Erde
Schwebt das Raumschiff
Völlig schwerelos

Die Erde schimmert blau
Sein letzter Funk kommt:
"Grüsst mir meine Frau!"
Und er verstummt

Unten trauern noch
Die Egoisten
Major Tom denkt sich
"Wenn die wüssten -
Mich führt hier ein Licht
Durch das All
Das kennt ihr noch nicht
Ich komme bald
Mir wird kalt."

Völlig losgelöst
Von der Erde
Schwebt das Raumschiff
The Grand Old Party has created a monster and now it has turned on them.

It would be tempting to simply call the monster Donald Trump, but the unnamed monster has many aspects: Trump, conservative media, anti-science, rejection of adult debate, corporate corruption, climate change denial, racism, fear.

One reason to call the monster Trump would that Trump has taken the syndrome to such extremes. A second is that Trump made many prominent conservatives realize that the monster threatens their party. This threat becomes visible in the list of positions Trump is able to sell that are far from Republican and Trump has started attacking conservative politicians directly.

To solve the problem the GOP will have to return to rational debate, rather than ending every second sentence with "believe me". Conservative readers, did you notice that "believe me" did not work when you thought you should believe me? It is just as stupid coming from your side. Give people reasons to accept what you are saying.

The GOP had rational debate in the past, like non-US conservative parties do. What makes rational debate hard is that US politicians now take position based on what the donors want. The incoherent mess a politician then has to defend cannot be defended rationally. Rational debate thus needs to be replaced with misinformation. To make the misinformation palatable politicians need to stoke fear to suppress critical thought and fuel tribalism.

John Ziegler, a nationally syndicated conservative talk show host, points to the role of conservative media in this. Initially conservative media was a comfortable way for conservative politicians to spread their talking points without getting critical questions. To increase market share conservative media has convinced its followers that other information sources are biased against conservatives. Ted Newton, former communications adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said:
"What it became, essentially, was they were preaching this is the only place you can get news. This is the only place you can trust. All other media outlets are lying to you. So you need to come to us."
That now makes it hard for conservatives to contain Trump and point out his lies. The term "lie" may not even be appropriate for Trump. To be a lie you have to be aware that what you are saying is wrong and for a conman like Trump right and wrong are irrelevant, what counts is whether a message sounds convincing.

When what Trump finds convincing does not fit to the GOP platform, its politicians cannot point to fact-checkers or The New York Times because conservatives have been convinced these sources are lying. Reinforced by Trump tweeting about "The failing New York Times" or the "the disgusting and corrupt media".

John Ziegler naturally searches for the problem in conservative media:
"We've ... reached the point, I say, we've left the gravitational pull of the rational Earth, where we are now in a situation where facts don't matter, truth doesn't matter, logic doesn't matter. ...

The conservative establishment that needs to be gotten rid of is the conservative media establishment. Sean Hannity needs to go. Bill O'Reilly needs to go. Sadly, Rush Limbaugh needs to go.

Here's what I'll be very disappointed in: If Trump does lose, as I am very confident that he will, and let's say it's not super close, if he loses by a significant margin and Sean Hannity and people like him have not experienced some significant career pain, if not destruction, because of their role, then it's over. It is over.

Because if there is no price to pay for conservative-media elements having sold out to Donald Trump, then guess what? It's going to happen again and again and again. ... If that doesn't happen, then I think we're done. It's over."
I am not sure how much purging specific persons would help. The system needs to change. The media is nowadays financed more and more per view, per click. This pushes the system to scandal and rubbish, to emotion, fear and exaggeration. Europe benefits enormously from a public media system, that may be more boring, but normally gets the facts right and this forces other media sources to also deliver higher quality.

The population also has an important role in keeping the media and politicians honest by doing their due diligence, giving feedback and selecting credible sources. I think twice before I click on a link to a Murdoch publication because every click converts misinformation and vitriol into cash. Due diligence is hard in a culture where people have little time for citizenship because of the stress society produces and a focus on working long hours over working effectively and creatively.

"I think the conservative media is the worst thing that has ever happened to the Republican Party on a national level,"
John Ziegler, conservative radio host

There is a movement to newspapers, magazines and video news and entertainment that is supported by members. This will lead to more partisanship and a splintering of the media landscape. Still, members will likely be people interested in quality. Thus hopefully the partisanship will be limited to having a clear point of view and finding certain stories interesting, but the facts will be right. If the quality is right that would be progress. If the quality is right, the splintering of the media does not have to lead to a splintering of society because there would be a common basis that makes communication possible.

Next to the [[Fourth Estate]], the media, also science is important for creating a foundation of knowledge that makes civilized debate possible. I would call Science the Fifth Estate. This role of science is as important as sending people to the Moon or designing a non-sticking frying pan. Physicist and philosopher of science John Ziman focuses on this aspect when he argues:
Objectivity is what makes science so valuable in society. It is the public guarantee of reliable disinterested knowledge. Science plays a unique role in settling factual disputes. This is not because it is particularly rational or because it necessarily embodies the truth: it is because it has a well-deserved reputation for impartiality on material issues. The complex fabric of democratic society is held together by trust in this objectivity, exercised openly by scientific experts. Without science as an independent arbiter, many social conflicts could be resolved only by reference to political authority or by a direct appeal to force.
I would expect that it is no coincidence that modern science and nation state were born at about the same time and larger nation states only came up when science had spread. You need to be able to talk with each other.

Anti-science sentiments in the USA are thus worrying. We should also not freak out. Scientists are still one of the most trusted professions and even the enemies of science typically claim to be friends of Science. In Canada even literally. This shows how strong science still is culturally.

Still when scientists speak truth to power, it is worrying how easy it is for US corporations to hit back, via think tanks, FOIA harassment and bribing politicians. Republican politicians are the best investment for corporations because conservatives tend to follow the leader more. Corporations are not charities, those campaign contributions are investments with high rate of return. Also for the sake of the economy corporations need to compete on the market again.

The New York Times reports that congressional Republicans are unwilling to help communities in Florida to cope with the consequences of sea level rise and block the Navy from adapting to the ongoing changes. When America is invaded during high tides, I hope that Republican congressman Buck of Colorado will repeat his claim that the military should not be distracted by a "radical climate change agenda". There was a time when national defense was one of the highest priorities of the Republican party, now corporate brides make them weaken national defense and ignore communities in need. Even communities in swing states.

The good news is that Republican voters are just as fed up with the corrupting influence of money on politics as Democrats. The bad news is that the current politicians got into their positions because they are good in finding donors and do not want to disappoint them. Still begging for money is no fun and many politicians got into politics for good reasons. So together with some people power, it should be possible to reduce the influence of money.

Accepting the money and misinforming your constituents gives a short term boost, especially for the incumbents. In the long term you cannot do anything without trust and you lose contact with the ground.

The American political system is more vulnerable for bribery because the voter does not have much choice. If the special interest can convince party A that they can also convince party B with a generous contribution, there is no downside for any of the parties.

Furthermore, because of the two-party system your vote nearly never matters. That makes it less motivating to pay attention what happens and whether politicians do a good job. If no one is looking, it is less dangerous to do the bidding of the donors rather than the voters. Here the crisis in the media also returns because less journalists also means that less people are looking.

whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.
Thomas Jefferson

I prefer parliamentary democracies, but if you want to introduce more competition between the parties within the district system used in the USA, you could introduce Preferential Voting, like Australia does. Here the voters are required to indicate their first preference, but they can also indicate the order of preference of the other candidates. Free-market Republicans could thus vote for Gary Johnson as first preference and vote for Trump or Clinton as second preference to make sure the vote does not go wasted. Similarly Bernie Sanders supporters could indicate Green party candidate Jill Stein without the risk of this causing a Trump catastrophe.

Time is running out for the Republican party. If the best case scenario for American and the world comes true and Trump is defeated a discussion about the future of the Republican party will break out. NBC News sees four options:
1. The Republican Party remade in Trump's image,
2. Refined Trumpism (Trump without the bigotry),
3. The Party Establishment Wins and
4. The Stalemate.

Without a return to rationality, this process is going to be very messy. I will not call it likely, but I would not even be surprised if the Republican party would fall apart like the [[Whig party]] did over slavery. The GOP did not have a real leader for years. The party spans a broad coalition, many groups of which have radicalized suffering under a black president, but because their politics were limited to blocking everything, there was hardly any discussions about the political program. Add to this the frustration of losing and bad future prospects due to demographics, which Trump made a lot worse, and you get a dangerous situation, especially when you cannot negotiate and debate rationally.

The GOP meddling in private lives of consenting adults, their xenophobia and anti-science stance will make their demographic problems with young people below 45, science enthusiasts and non-whites larger and larger. There is no need for that. What people do in their bedrooms could just as well be seen as a private affair than as something the Washington should police. Immigrants are on average quite conservative and most would likely vote conservative if the conservatives would not reject them. Conservative parties outside of USA embrace science, scientists used to be proud conservatives and in Europe a large part of the faculty, if not the majority, is conservative.

A debate is not possible when the only response to inconvenient facts is "Lying Ted" and insults. Already the body language of the Trump supporter indicates that he will defend Trump no matter the argument. The same attitude I encounter when I visit the mitigation skeptical blog Watts Up With That. They are determined not to have a productive debate.

Related reading

Joshua Green at Bloomberg wrote a very favorable bio on Breitbart's Steve Bannon: This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America

Washington Post on the 2013 Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project report: GOP autopsy report goes bold.

Media Matter on the new book "I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean it Up": New Book Explains Media’s Role In Today’s Toxic State Of Public Discourse

Sykes on Morning Joe: GOP Made Itself "Hostage" to Trump

National Review: Conservative Scams Are Bringing Down the Conservative Movement

Experts worry Trump’s war on America’s democratic institutions could do long-term damage

Charlie Sykes: Have We Created This Monster? Talk radio and the rise of Donald Trump

Conservative media reaches a large audience: U.S. Media Publishers and Publications – Ranked for July 2016

* Caricature at the top, Donald Trump - Riding the Wrecking Ball by DonkeyHotey used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Dinosaur Birthday Cupcakes by abakedcreation used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.


  1. Some sort of party reformation seems to me inevitable, very possibly involving the Democrats as well. Note the interesting situation now coming to pass in California, with both candidates for US Senate being Democrats and powerful interest groups that once gave only to Republicans now supporting conservative(-ish) Democrats.

  2. If the GOP goes down, anything can happen in a two party system. The next big party could just as well be on the left of the democrats given how much they have drifted right.


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