Are We Ruining American Politics?

A political scientist argues that college-educated intellectuals are doing politics wrong.

politics outrage shouting

Perhaps apropos of the Martin Luther King holiday, Tufts political scientist Eitan Hersh says people like me and most of you are doing real damage to our democracy.

Many college-educated people think they are deeply engaged in politics. They follow the news—reading articles like this one—and debate the latest developments on social media. They might sign an online petition or throw a $5 online donation at a presidential candidate. Mostly, they consume political information as a way of satisfying their own emotional and intellectual needs. These people are political hobbyists. What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football.

—The Atlantic, “College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics”

He contrasts this with a Querys Matias, a 63-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic who is organizing in her community and lobbying politicians for actual change on issues of importance to her and those like here. Hersh contends,

Unlike organizers such as Matias, the political hobbyists are disproportionately college-educated white men. They learn about and talk about big important things. Their style of politics is a parlor game in which they debate the issues on their abstract merits. Media commentators and good-government reform groups have generally regarded this as a cleaner, more evolved, less self-interested version of politics compared with the kind of politics that Matias practices.

In reality, political hobbyists have harmed American democracy and would do better by redirecting their political energy toward serving the material and emotional needs of their neighbors. People who have a personal stake in the outcome of politics often have a better understanding of how power can and should be exercised—not just at the polls, once every four years, but person to person, day in and day out.

There’s a whole lot more there but you get the drift. Essentially, it’s an argument about privilege: white, college-educated folk can afford to be political hobbyists because we’re relatively satisfied with the status quo.

If that’s true, how is it harmful?

As I argue in my new book, Politics Is for Power, our collective treatment of politics as a sport incentivizes politicians to behave badly. We reward them with attention and money for any red meat they throw at us. Hobbyism also cultivates skills and attitudes that are counterproductive to building power. Rather than practicing patience and empathy like Matias needs to do to win over supporters in Haverhill, hobbyists cultivate outrage and seek instant gratification.

I’ll take a page from my co-blogger Steven Taylor’s most recent post and simply throw this open for discussion. I’ll likely weigh in at some point.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Academia, Campaign 2020, Education, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    James, I was going to post a link to this article, but you beat me to it.

    My comment was to be, Me thinks he’s talking about us! Kidding aside, you both describing a real problem. I do believe that it is worse on the extremes, the Bernie Bros on the left and the vocal Trumpkins who are commenting at places like the National Review and American Conservative.

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  2. Andy says:

    Oh wow, this is my new favorite essay. On a personal level, it puts many themes I’ve tried to explain over the years into a coherent thesis.

    Only if you don’t need more power than you already have could you possibly consider politics a form of consumption from the couch rather than a domain of goals and strategies.

    Truth bomb right there that summarizes the whole piece.

    PS: James, you might want to add a link to the article in your post.

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:
  4. Andy says:

    I do have a significant criticism of the essay though – I think it’s overly focused on white educated liberals. I think the problem is much more widespread than that single group and is occurring almost everywhere but is worst among elites. It’s the atomization of society and the replacement of actual virtue with virtual virtue.

    The result is that most of what passes for political action today consists primarily of sending money to DC-based lobby groups (staffed largely by well-educated elites), complaining on the internet and voting for and accepting more centralized authority when your side is in power.

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  5. CSK says:

    Almost 40 years ago, Robert B.Parker wrote a novel in which the protagonist observes that political reporters for newspapers treated politics the way sportswriters talked about baseball–that the discussion wasn’t about issues but box scores, and who won and who lost. Maybe it’s always been that way.

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  6. Hal_10000 says:

    This is really good. One thing we’ve talking about at OT is how a lack of involvement in politics at a local level is trickling upward to make politics dysfunctional at the national level. When you actually get involved with politics, you have to work with people who disagree with you or have other party affiliations. Not so much on the national level.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Let’s see, I am white and male, but a high school drop-out. I give rather more than the occasional $5. And while I enjoy the game aspects, anyone who thinks I’m dispassionate about politics isn’t reading very closely. Politics runs through everything I write professionally. A significant amount of my political and philosophical DNA lives in Gen-Xers and Millennials.

    There was a backlash to the ending we wrote for ANIMORPHS so we wrote an open letter to fans. I’ll quote the final graphs:

    So, you don’t like the way our little fictional war came out? You don’t like Rachel dead and Tobias shattered and Jake guilt-ridden? You don’t like that one war simply led to another? Fine. Pretty soon you’ll all be of voting age, and of draft age. So when someone proposes a war, remember that even the most necessary wars, even the rare wars where the lines of good and evil are clear and clean, end with a lot of people dead, a lot of people crippled, and a lot of orphans, widows and grieving parents.

    If you’re mad at me because that’s what you have to take away from Animorphs, too bad. I couldn’t have written it any other way and remained true to the respect I have always felt for Animorphs readers.

    I’d also argue that since I regularly cast votes that are to my economic disadvantage, and give money to people promising to take more of my income, and turn my Twitter feed into a running attack on racism and misogyny at the cost of followers who just want to talk books, and turn down paying gigs or changes in text that might benefit heinous causes (I’m looking at you, UAE and China) and have rejected efforts to get me to remove gay characters (Germany, believe it or not) I’m taking it all as seriously as a passionate college student who can only vote to tax someone else’s income.

    So, as to myself, I can say the piece is hogwash. As to the broader question, look, issues play at various levels. The intelligentsia, the media, the pols, the hacks, the middle class homeowner, the working man or woman, the POC. It’s nonsense to single out one segment for denigration. This political shit storm has many parents. All are guilty to varying degrees and with varying effect.

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  8. An Interested Party says:

    One thing we’ve talking about at OT is how a lack of involvement in politics at a local level is trickling upward to make politics dysfunctional at the national level. When you actually get involved with politics, you have to work with people who disagree with you or have other party affiliations. Not so much on the national level.

    At the risk of being accused of being a political hobbyist…with so much self-segregating going on in this country, how often do people (at the local level) really have to work with others who disagree with them or have other party affiliations? And why do so many people seem to have a phobia about national government, when just as many bad things can happen to government at the local level…

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  9. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Definitely hits a little too close to home for me. Something to ponder.

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  10. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The intelligentsia, the media, the pols, the hacks, the middle class homeowner, the working man or woman, the POC. It’s nonsense to single out one segment for denigration.

    I think the point is that being politically active requires more than giving your opinion, spending money and voting. It requires strategy, organization, resources and most of all people who are willing to put skin in the game and do the actual work, not just throw money and cheer from the sidelines. There is way too much of the latter compared to the former.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Let’s see, I am white and male, but a high school drop-out. I give rather more than the occasional $5. And while I enjoy the game aspects, anyone who thinks I’m dispassionate about politics isn’t reading very closely. Politics runs through everything I write professionally.

    Which is why the article may not be about you–and the reason for the term “outlier.”

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  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Sorry…I call nonsense.
    Yeah…politics…

    “…requires strategy, organization, resources and most of all people who are willing to put skin in the game and do the actual work, not just throw money and cheer from the sidelines…”

    But people like me on the sidelines, who throw money, are a fuqing critical part of that ecosystem. I work for a living. I don’t have time to commit to political strategizing, and organizing.
    FFS…if you’ve ever sat in someone’s kitchen while they strategize and organize their local candidacy, you’ll know what I mean.
    My skin in the game is the money I throw.
    The wife of one of my best friends is a State Rep. She cannot carry on a full-time job and represent her constituents…so she can’t be a State Rep. without people throwing money at her.
    Everyone has a role to play, and everyone has particular skill sets.
    Obama was a Community Organizer. Great. But don’t tell me I have no political value because all I did was max out my donation to him.
    The 2018 Blue Wave was brought to you by a bunch of great, involved, and passionate, local candidates. And the 2018 Blue Wave was also brought to you by people like me who donated to those candidates and made their runs possible.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that a volunteer walking a precinct is more useful than every other contribution. My time as an ‘organizer’ is worth minimum wage, tops. I walked a precinct in Vegas for a couple of days and it was pretty much pointless virtue signaling. However, my time as a writer is worth more than minimum wage, allowing me to turn my labor into contributions. Contributions that go to paying and recruiting all those shoe-leather folks and buying ads and paying for the candidate’s flights and hotels. All the moving pieces are required – precinct captains, flacks, people who push out the merch, people who make calls, pollsters, policy people. Every part of a machine is useful, all the gears have to work, and we should each do the thing that is most effective, not the thing that appears most virtuous or most emotionally satisfying.

    My approach is to do the most effective thing to bring about a desired result. ‘Local’ is irrelevant politically in my area. Who am I going to organize? And to what end? I’ve contributed 16k in this cycle so far and will contribute multiples of that going ahead. Given limited available time, should I use it earning so I can write checks? Or should I wander around Silver Lake knocking on the doors of people who all agree with me?

    I want the destruction of the Republican Party. I can sit in some stuffy strip mall office fielding calls, or I can write checks. And 100% of Democratic politicians would rather have people like me writing checks, while 100% of Republican politicians would prefer people like me to be answering phones.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    I see @Daryl beat me to it.

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  15. Kit says:

    Law and order… Stop and frisk… Equality of opportunity… These are dog whistles, whether you recognize them or not. Skin in the game is another one. You typically hear it from property owners, and from those who serve in the military. It’s another way of saying that some people are worth more than others and so deserve a greater say. It’s a way of saying that I count and you don’t. Now democracy is under threat because some people follow politics without devoting their lives to it? Fuck ‘em.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, I had a different takeaway from this than many of y’all. I took it as questioning the level of outrage and anger regularly expressed on political blogs. For instance, this sentence:

    Rather than practicing patience and empathy like Matias needs to do to win over supporters in Haverhill, hobbyists cultivate outrage and seek instant gratification.

    seemed to be the payoff pitch. Posts on social media that are framed as outrage or takedowns – that are combative – get lots of likes, thumbs up, plus ones, and responses. They are very good at getting “engagement”. Lots of people in politics, and not just “hobbyists” will tell you that’s the way to do things.

    The authors, and I’m in their camp, don’t think this is especially valuable. Anger motivates people short term, but not long term. I look to building coalitions and alliances via reciprocity, which is a powerful thing. It isn’t as intense as anger, but it lasts a lot, lot longer.

    Of course, I may just be serving my own emotional needs right now. So be it. I’ll do what’s best for my situations by my lights.

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  17. Fortunato says:

    ..our collective treatment of politics as a sport incentivizes politicians to behave badly.

    – begin edits –
    ..our collective treatment of politics as a sport incentivizes Republican politicians to behave badly.

    ..We MAGAloons reward them with attention and money for any red meat they throw at us them.

    ..hobbyists The Right Wing Entertainment Complex (Frum) cultivate(s) outrage and seek(s) instant gratification remuneration.

    – end edits –

    Granted, the BernieBros (what.. 7% of the population?) share many of the qualities of these MAGAlegions – BUT – this entire argument is awash, bathed, steeped, marinated, infused in a maddeningly FALSE narrative of Both Siderism.

    It is not the ‘elitism’ of informed, politically literate “college-educated white people,” that will destroy democracy as we know it.
    It is in fact the scourge of Both Siderism that is certain to doom us. It’s our inability to identify and excise the cancer that is Both Siderism that bring an end to our experiment in a Representative Republic.
    It is the inability to name, shame and mete out justice to the members of a political party who maintains power by preying on the deliberately malinformed. (an amoral, ethically bankrupt political party that is about to lock arms in unanimously exculpating the most corrupt president in American history)
    It is the creation birthed by Roger Ailes and deftly deployed by odious practitioners of grifting arts such as the McConnell’s, Ryan’s, Rubio’s and Cruz’s – that will in fact usher in the death of Democracy and give rise to a permanent Dollarocracy.

    “college educated white people” – my arse

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    The authors, and I’m in their camp, don’t think this is especially valuable. Anger motivates people short term, but not long term. I look to building coalitions and alliances via reciprocity, which is a powerful thing. It isn’t as intense as anger, but it lasts a lot, lot longer.

    The success of the GOP and the election of Trump argue convincingly that anger is a very effective motivator and has a long shelf life. We’ve had an unbroken stream of rage and vitriol from talk radio and Fox News and they seem to be rather successful at peddling anger.

    As for coalitions, there are factions all through every element of the Democratic coalition and the infighting is often vicious. Coalitions and alliances are inherently unstable as they bring together groups whose interests may be parallel but not identical.

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  19. Guarneri says:

    So here is a decent piece on the subject at hand. Setting aside whether anyone agrees point by point with the authors views, how does this play with the commenters. It far, far exceeds the discourse I have witnessed hear for 10+ years.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/opinion/sunday/smug-liberals-conservative-trolls.amp.html

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  20. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The success of the GOP and the election of Trump argue convincingly that anger is a very effective motivator and has a long shelf life.

    Take 1984, which IMO remains a good manual on how to maintain a totalitarian regime. What was the two-minute hate about, after all, and the cult of hatred for Goldstein, and the frequent rallies, etc.?

    But Mr. Blair missed projection, or at least didn’t emphasize it. it’s not enough to engage in constant outrage-driven anger, but also to accuse the enemy of engaging in outrage-driven anger all the time as well. That is, to claim that’s what the other side does, unlike your side, even while you do that (but never admit it). Doublethink is not easy.

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  21. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I think the point that I made badly, which Jay highlighted, is about the disconnect between rhetoric and action as well as the general lack of risk, sacrifice and actual level of commitment from those who express strong viewpoints, especially online.

    We certainly don’t have any shortage of people being “politically active” on social media and blogs, nor do we have any shortage of money in politics. And I don’t have any gripe at the privileged few who do have the means to throw money behind their words. My view is that such people should not pat themselves on the back very hard.

    Words and (maybe) money is where the commitment ends for most people, regardless of how strong their written advocacy. Reprising comments from earlier threads, actions speak louder than tweets.

    As the resident rich guy, it does make sense for you to focus on money purely from an efficiency standpoint. And it is an advantage that you have the wealth and ability to spend a lot of money on political causes that interest you – an advantage the vast majority of Americans don’t share….

    @Kit:

    Skin in the game is another one. You typically hear it from property owners, and from those who serve in the military. It’s another way of saying that some people are worth more than others and so deserve a greater say. It’s a way of saying that I count and you don’t. Now democracy is under threat because some people follow politics without devoting their lives to it? Fuck ‘em.

    No, it’s a way of saying that everyone’s contribution isn’t equal. It’s the difference between talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk, to use a common cliche’. It’s why we remember Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., the brave people who faced dogs and firehoses and many others on the frontlines but not the privileged white northern supporters who funded and supported the civil rights movement largely from the sidelines. We can certainly acknowledge their contribution, but it simply doesn’t compare to the efforts of those who changed things on the ground, often at great personal risk.

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    In terms of political activism I endorse the idea of from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. (Not my economic ideal).

    But of course you’re right, the ratio of people with strong opinions to people who can explain and defend those strong opinions, is easily 100 to 1. And just between us there are quite a few of those on my side of the aisle.

    I am baffled by people who can advance a proposition and then have nothing – nothing, not even a first pitiful line of defense – to say in support of their proposition. But they will never, ever walk it back, they can’t accept they they’ve got nothing, they’re sure it’s true. I don’t know how people can do that. It’s like walking out of the front door naked, it’s disturbingly revealing.

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  23. DrDaveT says:

    @An Interested Party:

    And why do so many people seem to have a phobia about national government, when just as many bad things can happen to government at the local level…

    This.

    If Trump has any actual accomplishment, it’s that he may have finally made it true (for the first time in our history) that the federal government is more corrupt than state and local governments. Or he may not have; God bless that Deep State.

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  24. Guarneri says:

    “I am baffled by people who can advance a proposition and then have nothing – nothing, not even a first pitiful line of defense – to say in support of their proposition. But they will never, ever walk it back, they can’t accept they they’ve got nothing, they’re sure it’s true.”

    Heh. I recall your full throated support of the topic of the Mueller investigation. And Avanatti, among others. At the time I recall telling you that you had nothing. Nothing. The silence was deafening…………….rich guy.

    Heh.

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  25. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m not talking about people defending their opinions. I’m talking about people who have strong opinions but don’t act on them or don’t act on them commensurate with the strength of their stated view.

    A lot of people demand some action in extreme terms on social media, or issue a call to arms for some change and then…don’t do much of anything different than they normally would. At the very least it calls into question the veracity of their stated views.

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  26. DrDaveT says:

    @Guarneri:

    I recall your full throated support of the topic of the Mueller investigation.

    Again, how have you managed to miss all of the indictments (and convictions!) and would-have-indicted-except-he’s-the-President that came out of the Mueller Report?

    Hint: if you’re getting your info from Fox News, you probably haven’t heard what the report actually said. And did. And continues to do.

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  27. Gustopher says:

    @Guarneri: Can you point to where Michael Reynolds was ever supporting Avanetti as more than a means to an end? Or really anyone who posts or comments here?

    It’s time to stop this tiresome lie, or support it with evidence.

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  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    Oh, you mean cowards and bullshit artists. There’s been quite an outbreak of that and I don’t think there’s as much of a parallel on the left. Lisa Murkowski seems to have temporary possession of the lone Republican testicle. (Next week Mitt Romney might even touch it!) How a creature like Lindsay Graham calls himself a man is a sad mystery. But I suppose that’s an old-fashioned notion of manhood. I’m Generation Duke. I thought we were meant to be brave, fair, strong in the right, defenders of women and protectors of those who needed it. Lindsay Graham is my age. He watched Sands of Iwo Jima and Rio Bravo, he should know better. There is no scenario outside of Graham’s little button head that has him as a hero coming out of this. In the movie he can be played by Andy Serkis, reprising Gollum.

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  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    @Guarneri – tiresome lies = 0.

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  30. Gustopher says:

    I don’t think Hersh makes his/her/their case that this is a property unique to college educated white folks.

    I’m pretty sure the folks who wear the “Fuck Your Feelings” t-shirts to a Trump rally are neither college educated nor carefully examining issues.

    But, Hersh* wants clicks, and clicks at the Atlantic come from navel gazing college educated white folks, so he/she/they is going to spin the story for that.

    ——
    * But Hersh … heh … heh … heh … sounds like Butt Hurt.

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  31. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    “Only if you don’t need more power than you already have could you possibly consider politics a form of consumption from the couch rather than a domain of goals and strategies.”

    Truth bomb right there that summarizes the whole piece.

    Or someone has convinced you that the best you can hope for is crumbs and spite, so you sit on your couch and watch with maniacal glee to see the other side squirm and lose, possibly not even seeing that they are watching you squirm and lose with the same maniacal glee.

    Breaking everything down to spite and political-teams allows people to completely gloss over the lose-lose situation.

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  32. Guarneri says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Clapping Seal #1.

    I guess that’s why Trump is in prison………………oh, wait.

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  33. Guarneri says:

    @Gustopher:

    Clapping Seal #2

    He and Mataconis were making googly eyes at each other what, 12 months ago? that Avanatti was going to be the magic. He’d take that Monster Trump down. You go look it up, lazy boy, its in the thread. They both know its true. But they will lie, just as they claim Trump is a liar.

    Heh.

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  34. Guarneri says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Deny, deny, deny.

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  35. Mister Bluster says:

    its in the thread.

    If it’s in the thread then you can post it right here.

    The Justice Department stated in 1973 and reaffirmed in 2000 that a sitting president can not be indicted.

    “Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional,” said Mueller. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
    Source

    I’m sure you must have read this at the time the Mueller Report came out. Maybe you just forgot.

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  36. @Guarneri: Could you please point out the source of your Avenatti obsession? You hang a lot your grievances on that name, but apart from a vague memory of some chit chat by commenters, I am not sure what you are on about.

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  37. Here is what a search on the name gives me for OTB. It is mostly either Stormy Daniels or Kavanaugh stories plus some stuff about him getting into trouble.

    Why do you keep bringing him up?

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  38. EddieInCA says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In the right-wing world, Avenatti is emblematic of ALL liberals. So the fact that he was a con-man, who has been arrested and will soon face a criminal trial is an indictment of anyone (liberals mostly) who supported him in his crusade as a representative for his client.

    In this world of the upside down, the fact that Avenatti’s actions broke open the Stormy Daniels payoff, and landed the President’s Attorney/Fixer in prison has no currency whatsoever. The only thing that matters is that Avenatti was, possibly, a bad dude.

    It doesn’t make sense in the real world, but in the world of D***, J***s, P**l and the rest, it’s a slam dunk that proves….. something.

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  39. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Oh, you mean cowards and bullshit artists. There’s been quite an outbreak of that and I don’t think there’s as much of a parallel on the left.

    I mean everyone who decries something as existential and views the world in Manichean terms and then proceeds to do nothing special about it.

    There is a lot of vitriol in the rhetoric on social media, there is deep political division that we haven’t seen in a generation, and it’s quite common now to call political enemies traitors, evil and un-American. But that hasn’t translated into expected actions. Political violence is historically low, nowhere even close to what it was in the 1960s.

    Even your previous call (paraphrasing) that Republicans must be destroyed like de-Nazification is counterbalanced by your actions – only $16k in political donations and a lot of online debates. So when you say stuff like that, I don’t take it seriously anymore – I understand it is probably just rhetoric.

    And that seems to be the case generally.

    Why is that? Why is extreme rhetoric, especially on social media, not translating into extreme action? I think that’s an interesting question that is highly relevant to Hersh’s essay.

    @Gustopher:

    Or someone has convinced you that the best you can hope for is crumbs and spite, so you sit on your couch and watch with maniacal glee to see the other side squirm and lose, possibly not even seeing that they are watching you squirm and lose with the same maniacal glee.

    Breaking everything down to spite and political-teams allows people to completely gloss over the lose-lose situation.

    Definitely true for some and it fits with theories on the atomization, social isolation and cultural fragmentation of modern society, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

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  40. Teve says:

    Accidentally downvoted Steven.

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  41. Teve says:

    The skin in the game property argument is such a bullshit argument. People with the least resources have the most skin in the game. If Bill Gates got pissed off at something America was doing, he could get on a jet and be a resident of literally any country in the world tomorrow by late evening. If America does something he doesn’t like he can give America the finger with both hands on the way to the tarmac. A poor person who is stuck in a job because they’ve got a pre-existing condition, and stuck in their apartment because the buses can take them to the job, and who will never make enough money to afford a lawyer if they’re wronged, they’ve got all their skin in the game. Government decisions can be life or death for them.

    I’ve got a friend who was diagnosed with sarcoidosis when he was running a small business that didn’t make a lot of profit, and he couldn’t afford insurance.. He can only get insurance because of Obamacare. If Mitch McConnell and company manage to destroy Obamacare, my friend will likely die. Sam Walton‘s grandkids who were born billionaires don’t have to give a fuck what the government does about Obamacare. They have zero skin in that game.

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  42. Kurtz says:

    @An Interested Party:

    The local thing is a big deal. I would wager there is more corruption at the local and state levels than the national level. I mean, it’s not that there is no corruption in DC. It’s that we sre more likely to hear about it. Local newspapers just don’t have the revenue to do deep reporting.

    Think about the Catholic Priest scandal. The Globehas the patience and willingness to spend time and money to allow the Spotlight team the space to report a story that touched a large portion of the population as well as many in the political power structure.

    It also requires a willingness on the part of the publisher and the editorial team to piss off a lot of people who a.) are sources in other matters, and b.) could potentially leverage their clout to do harm to individuals or the newspaper as a whole.

    Now, I don’t know this for sure, but the Globe probably could have broken the Spygate story. But the incentive to do so probably favored the smaller paper, because the Globe sports journalists had too much to lose.

    Outside of large metros, there aren’t multiple well-funded papers anymore. So the single underfunded newspaper that is likely part of a large conglomerate, doesn’t have the resources nor the incentive to uncover corruption at the local level. Rather, they have an incentive not to dig too deep, because if they come up empty, they have made enemies for nothing.

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  43. DrDaveT says:

    @Guarneri:

    I guess that’s why Trump is in prison………………oh, wait.

    Which part of “can’t indict because…” did you not understand?

    Wait, indeed. Exactly.

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  44. Kit says:

    I’m a bit surprised that no one has brought up the fact that we are a republic, not a democracy. Joe Citizen (and that pretty much includes all of us) does enough if he stays informed and votes. Actually debating and trying to change minds is going an extra yard. Some people devote their free time pushing for some single cause close to their hearts, and they are free to do so, just as the rest of us are free to spend our time as we will, or more likely as we must. Governing is a full-time job, and most of us already have jobs.

    Issues grow more complex and increasingly only addressable at the highest levels, meaning internationally. That’s especially the case with existential threats like climate change. Yes, one can always do more. But pace @Andy, the first and most important step in political activity is educating oneself on the issues and then voting accordingly. An informed electorate is essential to a democracy/ republic, even more so than its institutions, as important as they are. Voting is not playing the part of a sports fan, it is playing the game itself.

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  45. Teve says:

    @DrDaveT: Guano is an Oliver Sachs character. “The man who can’t interpret simple words.”

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  46. MarkedMan says:

    So before I waste my time reading the article, does the author offer any evidence that people have become less engaged on the ground level? Or is it just some hack with an opinion engaging in egotistical scolding*? My instinct is the opposite: it’s always been a small percentage of the people that have engaged at ground level, most often for something that affects them personally, while the vast majority bitch and moan and very occasionally applaud and support some effort or leader. In my opinion nothing has changed other than the forum for these complaints. And college educated white people are no more or less likely to be guilty of this than African American high school drop outs, or Aboriginal American tradesmen or villagers sitting around a lantern in rural Africa (something I actually have personal experience with). Absent evidence, my opinion is worth as much (or as little) as the authors. Did he offer any evidence?

    *Egotistical scolding: “No one in the history of the world has ever been as bad as we are! We are amazingly special in our badness ”

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  47. Kit says:

    So this is the little lady who started this great war— supposedly said by Abraham Lincoln when meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe

    The power of mere words. Just imagine what she might have accomplished has she gotten off her ass and organized a committee.

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  48. MarkedMan says:

    @Guarneri: I saw the link to a legitimate source, then noticed it was you that made the comment and was a bit surprised. So I actually took the time to read the column. Here is her premise of this two year old opinion piece in a nutshell:

    … Conservatives and people of the right value these things as well but have several additional moral touchstones — loyalty, respect and sanctity. They value in-group solidarity, deference to authority, and the protection of purity in mind and body. To liberals, those sincerely held values can look a lot like, in Dr. Haidt’s words, “xenophobia, authoritarianism and Puritanism.”

    The problem with this exercise in bothsiderism is that we now have actual proof as to whether the Republicans value in-group solidarity (absolutely yes – but this is not a virtue, merely another word for tribalism), deference to authority (absolutely not – they defer to authority when it sides with their aims but attack it as soon as the authority disagrees with their world view) and the idea that people who mindlessly champion Donald J Trump value purity is absurd on its face. So the Republicans and other assorted Trumpers have given copious proof of their xenophobia and authoritarism. As for Puritanism, well, I guess if you define Puritanism by the fanatical devotion to the mindlessly superstitious trappings and symbols of religion and the simmering fear and anger that leads them to form crazed mobs dragging helpless old women down to the village square to be burned alive, then yes, Puritans the lot of ‘em.

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  49. Kurtz says:

    I have two issues with piece.

    1.) economic demands make full time political activism a non-starter for most. If building relationships is key to bridging gaps, then part-timing isn’t an alternative.

    2.) one of the hallmarks of democratic-based systems is the discussion. I would argue that when that discussion gets farmed out to organizations, democracy loses one of it’s defining functions.

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  50. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    It’s the atomization of society and the replacement of actual virtue with virtual virtue.

    @Andy:

    I think the point is that being politically active requires more than giving your opinion, spending money and voting.

    @Andy:

    No, it’s a way of saying that everyone’s contribution isn’t equal… We can certainly acknowledge their contribution, but it simply doesn’t compare to the efforts of those who changed things on the ground, often at great personal risk.

    This seems a bit like you are moving the goal posts. No one would deny that some people do much more. I just don’t think that these people can only shine if the rest of us are push down into the mud.

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  51. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: When it’s the only piece of flotsam in a storm-tossed sea, you hold on no matter how small it is.

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  52. Monala says:

    @Teve: This, this, this. Quoting because it deserves repeating:

    The skin in the game property argument is such a bullshit argument. People with the least resources have the most skin in the game. If Bill Gates got pissed off at something America was doing, he could get on a jet and be a resident of literally any country in the world tomorrow by late evening. If America does something he doesn’t like he can give America the finger with both hands on the way to the tarmac. A poor person who is stuck in a job because they’ve got a pre-existing condition, and stuck in their apartment because the buses can take them to the job, and who will never make enough money to afford a lawyer if they’re wronged, they’ve got all their skin in the game. Government decisions can be life or death for them.

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  53. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Could you please point out the source of your Avenatti obsession?

    In his defense, there was definitely a period, early on, where Michael R was generally positive about Avenatti (in a “He might be an S.O.B. but he’s or S.O.B.”) and hopefully he would take Trump down.

    I can’t remember when M.R. jumped off that train, but I knows think it was relatively late.

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  54. @mattbernius: I was thinking maybe MR thought him running was a good idea for a minute or two. OTOH, I understand that there is a beef with MR. OTOH, painting the whole site with Avenatti is just silly.

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  55. mattbernius says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Posts on social media that are framed as outrage or takedowns – that are combative – get lots of likes, thumbs up, plus ones, and responses. They are very good at getting “engagement”. Lots of people in politics, and not just “hobbyists” will tell you that’s the way to do things.

    Thanks for scare-quoting “engagement” — that’s pretty accurate and to some degree a byproduct of the internet (though it can be argued that in mass communications it goes back at least to talk radio, if not the letters page of Newspapers- see Benedict Anderson and “Imagined Communities” for that argument).

    This gets back to, in part, a measurement issue — its easy to measure whats visible. And so in a text based medium that’s comments. So the Facebook “engagement” algorithm for far too long was trained to see any comment as engagement, regardless of content. And the reality is that conflict creates more comments than agreement (part of the “someone is wrong on the internet” thing). So it learned to promote posts that promoted conflict.

    BTW, that’s also in part why people think site readership has dropped when, according to James looking at site logs, it’s been pretty consistent — we lost a lot of regular commenters, therefore readership has to be down (despite the 95%/5% rule about lurking readers versus engaged commenters).

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  56. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Agreed — though in the early Stormy Daniels days, Avenatti got a lot love from commenters here (and elsewhere). Hell, I enjoyed the catharsis for a bit.

    But given certain people’s continued unwavering support of (if not near addiction to) the populist-conservative catharsis machine that is President Donald Trump, I’m not sure they are in a particularly structurally sound location to cast stones from.

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  57. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    This seems a bit like you are moving the goal posts. No one would deny that some people do much more. I just don’t think that these people can only shine if the rest of us are push down into the mud.

    The first two quotes were related to the essay and topic of this post. The third quote is my reply to a different issue, the notion of having “skin in the game.” So I don’t think I moved the goalposts since I was discussing/responding to different things.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I did a couple of cursory searches in the OTB archives and I couldn’t find anything about MR promoting Avenatti as a presidential contender. Instead, it was mostly about how Avenatti was “owning” Trump and his legal team WRT to the Cohen/Stormy Daniels revelations – such comments ended once Avenatti’s own fraud and deceit were exposed.

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  58. Kylopod says:

    @mattbernius:

    though in the early Stormy Daniels days, Avenatti got a lot love from commenters here

    Really? I don’t remember that. Show me some examples.

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  59. @Andy: Thanks.

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