Is Nuance Still Possible in American Politics?

Damon Linker writes, "Millions of people disagree with your political views. That doesn't make them moral monsters."

argument-cartoon-yelling

Damon Linker had a post at The Week yesterday that encapsulated my frustrations commenting on this election from the standpoint of an erstwhile Republican who simultaneously thinks Donald Trump obviously unqualified for the presidency and yet finds Hillary Clinton uniquely flawed. His headline is also his thesis: “Millions of people disagree with your political views. That doesn’t make them moral monsters.

After a setup about how he’d been called a “Fascist” back in 1991 after taking a nuanced stance on the Gulf War, he notes that it would not be the last time.

The most recent instance came a few weeks ago in response to a column titled, “What Trump gets right about immigration.” What Trump gets right, I argued, is that borders matter, citizenship matters, particularistic forms of solidarity matter — and that efforts to dissolve them will have the paradoxical effect of strengthening the hand of nationalists. Which means that the best way to contain nationalism might be to stop treating nationalism as if it’s always and everywhere morally unacceptable.

That was enough to inspire a left-wing friend of mine to momentarily lose his cool on Facebook and call me an apologist for fascism. Strangers made less restrained versions of the same claim on Twitter.

In case you had any doubts, I am not a fascist and never have been. But it doesn’t matter. In the high-stakes hothouse of the 2016 election, committed partisans on the left view any affirmation of nationalism as an expression of the most extreme, inhumane, cruel, anti-liberal form of nationalism in human history.

The same dynamic plays out in the opposite ideological direction. In recent years, libertarian-minded conservatives have frequently denounced me as a communist or a “statist” because I favor some government regulation of the economy, some redistribution of income and wealth, and some provision of social services by the state. For those who oppose nearly all such government action, a defense of a modest amount of it is indistinguishable from the most extreme, inhumane, cruel, anti-liberal form of statism in human history.

I’ve had similar experiences in the comments section here. As a longtime conservative Republican who has grown increasingly frustrated with and ultimately disowned that party in this space, I occupy that middle ground that pleases essentially no one interested enough in politics to comment on political blogs. Most recently, in a Twitter exchange a couple nights ago, I responded to the perfectly reasonable point by Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Greider, “I’d ask Republicans to think about this, too: if y’all hadn’t spent years dismissing all criticism as ‘bias’, Trump wouldn’t be your nom[inee]” by noting, “Probably true. Also: If Dems hadn’t painted the likes of Romney and Bush as stupid and racist, criticisms of Trump would be more potent.” In addition to nuanced pushback and name calling, I also got direct confirmation of my point from a “Professor Lucas,” who commented, “Trump’s no worse than either of those clowns & certainly not as dangerous as W proved to be.”

I’m amenable to arguments that Trump’s rise is at least partly rooted in the “Southern Strategy” and related attempts by previous Republican nominees to appeal to the baser instincts of disaffected rural whites. But the notion that Trump is simply Mitt Romney or George W. Bush without a filter is not only absurd it’s decidedly unhelpful in persuading Republican leaners.

As Linker explains,

This tendency of extreme naming is poisonous. It’s also deceptive, distorting political reality and intensifying the centrifugal forces that encourage the polarization of our politics. Calling me a fascist or communist, identifying the single respect in which my position shares a commonality with totalitarian ideology while ignoring the multitude of ways in which they diverge, clarifies nothing. On the contrary, it distorts the truth, making it harder to understand where I’m coming from by assimilating my views to those much more extreme than my own.

It simply isn’t true that everyone situated to your right is indistinguishable from the most extreme right-wing position. The same holds for those situated to your left.

But it’s actually worse than that. It not only fails to “clarify” it actively pushes people who might otherwise be persuaded to agree with you into a defensive corner.

This goes beyond ideology. I can assure you that it’s possible at one and the same time to be a severe critic of Hillary Clinton and to think she’s clearly a better choice for the presidency than Donald Trump. I know it’s possible because that’s my position. Why do so many liberals assume that my Clinton criticisms imply that I favor Trump? And so many conservatives that my qualified Clinton support makes me a Hillary shill?

While I get that there’s a certain “team sports” and “tribal” aspect to the whole thing, it’s a frustrating stance. And, again, a counterproductive one if your goal is to convince people who supported John Kasich and Jeb Bush but are queasy about Trump that it’s okay, just this once, to support the Democrat.

Hardest of all might be the effort to maintain a modicum of fair-mindedness about Trump and his supporters — to concede that Trump is unsuited to the presidency in all kinds of ways and that a loud faction of his admirers is clearly motivated by racial and other forms of animus while simultaneously acknowledging that the Trump phenomenon as a whole can’t be reduced to the moral status of a KKK rally.

As we careen toward Nov. 8, Trump’s countless critics in the media increasingly show no interest in having their race-driven narrative disrupted — and display outright hostility toward anyone who would encourage such disruption. What besides indifference or blindness toward racial injustice, they wonder, could explain the stubborn refusal of some to acknowledge that Trump’s candidacy is obviously (and just about entirely) an expression of hatred toward people of color?

This is a somewhat different kettle of fish but one that I’m also familiar with. While I supported George W. Bush in both 2000 and (with less enthusiasm) 2004, I actively opposed many of the sillier claims against Al Gore and John Kerry. The 2000 election preceded my blogging career but I frequently defended Kerry from the slanders of the Swift Boaters, the notion he somehow faked his Purple Heart injuries, and even the silliness of those calling him effete for windsurfing. In 2008, I thought Barack Obama was simply too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief but nonetheless defended him from not only the Birthers but all manner of relatively minor charges that I considered unfair. And, while I supported John McCain from early in the primaries, I earned all manner of enmity from—and drove away much of—my conservative readership by taking the early, frequent, and vigorous stance that Sarah Palin was an ignoramus who undermined McCain’s entire message. In 2012, in response to an Atlantic Council edict that the senior leadership of the organization, including myself as the managing editor, were prohibited from endorsing political candidates, I responded that, given the nature of my blogging profile here, that I would be morally required to violate said policy if the Republican Party were to nominate “any of the non-Mormons” running for their presidential nomination. Thankfully, they picked my second favorite Mormon, saving me the dilemma.  (Amusingly, my preferred Mormon, Jon Huntsman, became the Council’s chairman shortly after I moved on to my current position.)

In 2012, in response to an Atlantic Council edict that the senior leadership of the organization, including myself as the managing editor, were prohibited from endorsing political candidates, I responded that, given the nature of my blogging profile here, that I would be morally required to violate said policy if the Republican Party were to nominate “any of the non-Mormons” running for their presidential nomination. Thankfully, they picked my second favorite Mormon, saving me the dilemma.  (Amusingly, my preferred Mormon, Jon Huntsman, became the Council’s chairman shortly after I moved on to my current position.)

This cycle, despite having been anti-Trump from essentially the moment of his announcement—and, indeed, being in essentially the position I was in last cycle, of being unable to support any but a couple of the contenders in a very large field—I nonetheless occasionally defend Trump from silly attacks. Not because I think Trump should be president or think his many outrages are “okay if you’re a Republican” but because of my longstanding positions that 1) we should employ relative honesty in campaign debates and that 2) employing dishonest and silly arguments actually serves to undermine the legitimate ones.

Indeed, like the proverbial blind squirrel scratching for acorns, Trump occasionally stumbles onto reasonable critiques of Obama administration or longstanding bipartisan consensus policy positions. Even then, he usually does so inarticulately and perhaps without fully understanding even why he’s right. But I tend to presume the best version of the argument is what is meant and defend them on that basis. (Alas, because of vagaries of time and enthusiasm, I’m doing a lot more of that on Twitter than I am here these days. And I’m not on Twitter nearly as much as I was here in my heyday.)

At the same time, despite reluctantly concluding that a Hillary Clinton presidency is the lesser of the two available evils, I’ve nonetheless continued to argue that her use of a private email server to shield her government business from scrutiny and her use of her position as Secretary of State to leverage donations to her private foundation were unseemly. I don’t find those positions mutually incompatible.

Linker concludes:

One thing is certain: A little over a month from now, the election will be behind us. What remains to be seen is whether the centrifugal forces that have gripped us so severely throughout the past year will weaken somewhat, allowing us to back away, if only for a time, from our entrenched, polarized positions.

That’s one possibility.

Another is that our quick-tempered tendency to think the worst of those who disagree with us will continue to deepen, with everyone on the other side of the partisan divide looking ever-more like moral monsters. In that unhappy eventuality, the political contest of 2016 may soon seem tame, as our politics devolves even further into a metaphorical act of slamming doors in each other’s faces.

 

I’ve recently expressed similar, if darker, fears here.

Now, this isn’t purely a case of “both sides do it.” The version coming from the right—and especially from Trump and his most ardent supporters—is far more sinister and noxious than that coming from the even the Bernie Sanders die-hards, much less the relatively Establishment Clinton quarter. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t real danger in writing off Trump’s supporters as simply racists, misogynists, and morons.

Healing this divide after what I presume will be a Clinton victory a month from now will be extremely difficult. Even in an extremely polarized period, she’s an outlier in her ability to alienate. Not only does she lack her husband’s phenomenal ability to emote, she doesn’t have Barack Obama’s soaring oratory skills or even George W. Bush’s ability to relate to the ordinary Joe. She’s more akin to Bush the Elder in that regard: a competent insider who would be far better suited to be a prime minister than a president.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Politics 101, 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. Pch101 says:

    The most recent instance came a few weeks ago in response to a column titled, “What Trump gets right about immigration.” What Trump gets right, I argued, is that borders matter, citizenship matters, particularistic forms of solidarity matter — and that efforts to dissolve them will have the paradoxical effect of strengthening the hand of nationalists. Which means that the best way to contain nationalism might be to stop treating nationalism as if it’s always and everywhere morally unacceptable.

    Hitler had some good ideas about building roads and he liked dogs. Stalin increased industrial output and contributed to the defeat of the Nazis. So is it my understanding that it would be rude and coarse to be repulsed by Hitler or Stalin, since they weren’t entirely wrong about everything?

    No, I didn’t go Godwin there — I am not claiming that Trump is a mass-murderer. However, the point is that some figures have crossed a line that makes them irredeemable, and Trump has certainly crossed such a line with his unapologetic use of slurs against various minority groups. Short of a full retraction and denunciation of what he has said and done previously, Trump is beyond all redemption.

    It’s easy for white guys to blow off this stuff. But not everyone is a white guy.




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  2. An Interested Party says:

    If Dems hadn’t painted the likes of Romney and Bush as stupid and racist, criticisms of Trump would be more potent.

    How’s that? Trump can be judged solely on his own words and actions which are stupid and racist…that has nothing to do with Romney and Bush…along those same lines…

    But the notion that Trump is simply Mitt Romney or George W. Bush without a filter is not only absurd it’s decidedly unhelpful in persuading Republican leaners.

    Who is making that argument?

    But that doesn’t mean there isn’t real danger in writing off Trump’s supporters as simply racists, misogynists, and morons.

    Sadly, a significant portion of his supporters are racists, misogynists, and morons…how can any compromise or common ground be reached with such people…




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  3. Andrew says:

    At this point a political Ferber Method may just be what we need in this country. Giving light to ignorance, hate, and stupidity just seems to cause an even bigger divide.

    Asimov should be remembered, and those that want their own facts should be ignored. Why should people who actually take the time to educate themselves have to sit around and argue the sky is actually blue and water is wet, with people who flat out want to live their lives fingers in ears, and screaming about imaginary problems?

    We are not all equal in the presence of facts and history. And EVERYONE needs to realize this.




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  4. Jen says:

    I’m not sure Twitter is where anyone should seek nuance, particularly in political discussions.

    I think we have a multi-fold problem that has been decades in the making. Yes, the Southern Strategy plays into it, but it’s a more than that.

    Romney, Jeb, Kasich, Huntsman–they are all Republican leaders with reasonable, nuanced visions and understand compromise. They’ve had to, they were all Republican governors of states that had varying degrees of Republican voters.

    What I have found frustrating, as someone who used to work in Republican politics, has been the refusal on the part of party leadership to recognize the country is changing. It’s what made me leave the party. The purity tests have gotten worse and worse, and as a result, leaders like the four I’ve mentioned are put in a bizarre and uncomfortable position of having to either cave or apologize for doing what is right. All of them have been called RINOs, and right there, that’s the problem. Any Republican who has worked to compromise (Romney Care, Kasich taking Medicaid expansion) or is reasonable (Huntsman saying he believes in evolution and climate change) is verbally drawn and quartered–by other Republicans. This is not a Democratic-created problem. It’s a Republican problem.

    Coddling the racists and religious right (I’m specifically thinking of those who resist gay rights/gay marriage, looking at the change in public attitude on these topics) by placating them in the hopes that they’ll just quietly vote and keep their thoughts to themselves is part of what has caused this backlash that has led to Trump. As long as the party continues to try and hold on to these folks, base voters or not, the moderates are going to flee, disgusted, and call themselves independents. This takes the pressure off of the party to change, but it leaves the angry ones who feel their voices aren’t being heard. So they yell louder, causing more to flee. It’s a death spiral.

    I’m not sure what the answer really is. The GOP can’t win without their votes, but they can’t win with them guiding policy either.

    And as far as nuance is concerned, we have a different sort of death spiral. Those who are horrified at just about everything Trump does or says aren’t receptive vessels for “he’s right on borders”–because what immediately pops into mind are his statements about how we should ban Muslims, or build a beautiful wall are what come to mind–because that’s what the candidate has emphasized. So nuance gets lost, because it’s been trampled to death by the party’s nominee and standard bearer.




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  5. MBunge says:

    @Pch101: However, the point is that some figures have crossed a line that makes them irredeemable, and Trump has certainly crossed such a line with his unapologetic use of slurs against various minority groups.

    Hillary Clinton voted for a stupid war that killed hundreds of thousands of people for no good reason. She continued to defend her vote for that war for years, even long after virtually everyone in her own party recognized the war as a complete disaster.

    George W. Bush authorized the actual torture of human beings during his Presidency. He didn’t just advocate it. He had it done.

    Neither of those people are considered “irredeemable” in mainstream politics. If you actually believe “slurs against minorities > the wholesale slaughter and debasement of human beings,” you are a perfect example of what Mr. Joyner is talking about.

    Mike




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  6. Tillman says:

    I can assure you that it’s possible at one and the same time to be a severe critic of Hillary Clinton and to think she’s clearly a better choice for the presidency than Donald Trump.

    It’s possible, but it doesn’t make you popular.

    Why do so many liberals assume that my Clinton criticisms imply that I favor Trump? And so many conservatives that my qualified Clinton support makes me a Hillary shill?

    Because, as several commenters here told me once, politics is war and we are soldiers.

    Indeed, like the proverbial blind squirrel scratching for acorns, Trump occasionally stumbles onto reasonable critiques of Obama administration or longstanding bipartisan consensus policy positions.

    He was at one point further left on Israel than Clinton was. I don’t know if that holds true or if it was part of his usual bloviating, but it was the kind of thing that made one nervous if foreign policy was their election issue.




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  7. C. Clavin says:
  8. C. Clavin says:

    @MBunge:
    Those mistakes, while stupid, were made in the interest of the common good. They thought they were doing good, despite being colossally fvcked up.
    Trump is just a terrible human being. He is truly iredeemable.
    And this latest thing will finish him.
    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/trump-lewd-comments-women-2005-hot-mic
    And Pence knows it…
    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_57f80a99e4b0e655eab43381




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  9. dxq says:

    If Dems hadn’t painted the likes of Romney and Bush as stupid and racist, criticisms of Trump would be more potent.

    Excusing the dog-whistled racism, and the anti-intellectualism, is part of how you conservative dummies wound up in this position.

    Now why don’t you powerful intellects continue to discuss subtlety and nuance, while the rest of us replay the tape of your nominee discussing where he grabs women.




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  10. dxq says:

    If Dems hadn’t painted the likes of Romney and Bush as stupid and racist, criticisms of Trump would be more potent.

    Sen Mitch McConnell blames Obama for bill that Obama vetoed and McConnell repeatedly voted for




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  11. Andrew says:

    Sen Mitch McConnell blames Obama for bill that Obama vetoed and McConnell repeatedly voted for

    In regards to how the Republicans look right now…I am pretty sure I am seeing the political equivalent of someone punching themselves in the face on purpose.
    And then blaming someone else for making them punch themselves in the face.




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  12. francis says:

    “If Dems hadn’t painted the likes of Romney and Bush as stupid and racist, criticisms of Trump would be more potent.”

    Nutpicking. Also, Endorsing the Heckler’s Veto. I can go back to the Carter Administration (my earliest political memories) and find mountains of evidence of political activists calling the other side’s leadership stupid, racist, fascist, communist etc. So what?

    Whose job is it, precisely, to control the extremists? How much effort has the Republican Party put into tamping down the influence of Rush Limbaugh, for example?

    So, when you write that current criticisms of Trump would be more potent (for whom, one wonders. What a timely use of the passive voice) had a previous generation of activists been nicer, the only possible response is “Oh Bullshit!”.

    Don’t go blaming your fellow party members’ stupidity on the opposition. It’s unseemly.




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  13. dxq says:

    @Andrew: it’s never their own fault. It’s always the dems. It’s not mitch’s fault he overrode obama, it’s obama’s fault. It’s not the GOP’s fault they nominated trump, it’s the dems’ fault for improper criticism. It’s a desperate attempt to keep avoiding the big obvious insight they should have come to grips with long ago.




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  14. dmichael says:

    I read the Linker article “What Trump gets right about immigration.” It’s garbage. First, he concedes all of the racist fear-mongering and falsehoods from Trump but somehow claims that we need to pick through all of his sputum to find the nuggets of truth that Linker claims are contained in Trump’s eruptions. Then he sets up a classic “straw man argument” going so far as to claim that HRC believes in some form of “internationalism” that will inevitably result in loss of our nationhood. His evidence? HRC’s willingness to consider increasing the number of desperate Syrian refugees by a few thousand into this country after vetting. No one is proposing open borders and his article is a joke. No wonder he took some criticism from it.




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  15. Slugger says:

    I promise to give the new President a reasonable honeymoon no matter who wins. I do recognize that good citizenship requires getting along with my fellow citizens while keeping an open eye on all public officials especially the ones of my party. We should all reject those who put party over country.




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  16. Tillman says:

    @francis:

    Whose job is it, precisely, to control the extremists?

    The people who share their label, if they want that label to be free of extremist taint.

    I would figure this is obvious. Encounter a troubling attitude in your circle of friends? Confront them over it. Or I suppose you could take the coward’s way out and just say nothing. Lord knows I’ve done that plenty of times. It means I have a few who say they’ll “never” consider Clinton even though they’re turned off by Trump, and will instead vote third party or not vote for president at all. In NC, which is a goddamn swing state now if all the #&$!ing ads are worth going off of.

    This sort of “category decay” happens to any group that fails to reign in members with crazy ideas. We’re seeing it with Republicans now. It happened with Christian political activists over the last thirty years when the Christian Right coalesced. The Republicans have ironically demonstrated an inability to engage in collective action this time around, and woe be to them and the country. Oh well. There’s certainly a debate to be had whether someone qualifies as “in-group,” but in my experience such accusations are made with a political goal in mind (e.g. “Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat”) and not in a spirit of honest inquiry.




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  17. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    Has nuance been possible in American politics in our lifetimes? What was the last nuanced argument which has held up against an assault from hardline interest groups on one side or the other? Or do they all end up like Bush the Elder on raising taxes and Bill Clinton on welfare reform? In every case I can think of going back at least as far as Jimmy Carter, a politician who supports reasonable compromise has been denounced as a traitor to his side.




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  18. Andrew says:

    @dxq:

    The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.

    – P. J. O’Rourke




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  19. dmichael says:

    To James: I certainly hear that you are frustrated by the criticisms you receive, but I believe that it is misplaced. I don’t know what goes on in the Twitter universe, don’t have an account and don’t wish to. However, I don’t recall anyone in comments to your posts here, calling you an “apologist for fascism” or a “moral monster” or anything similar. I disagree with your continuing concerns about HRC’s private server or her foundation(s) but won’t revisit it. But you seem to want credit for recognizing the dangers of Trump. That would be damning you with faint praise. Ultimately, I don’t care about your choice in this election. What I am very concerned about is that Trump will receive 40+% of the votes in this presidential election. Being nice to the people who vote that way is not going to cause them to suddenly be rational or use logic in their most important decisions.
    Peace (I love saying that to a military guy).




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  20. Senyordave says:

    The birther issue. Where were the responsible Republicans to nip it in the bud when it sill was considered a little over the top? Hardly a peep from the party leaders, some actively encouraged it, others would say things like “I believe Obama was born in the US”. No, “What a load of BS, stop it right now”.

    So now more than 50% of the Republicans believe there is doubt as to whether Obama was born in this country.




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  21. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    I would love to live in a world where reasonable people could disagree reasonably. Now explain to me how we get there when the starting point is, “Abortion is murder.” Your side – the GOP, conservatives, decided to call my side murderers. I am partly responsible for one abortion, your party calls me and my wife murderers, and then what? Then we all sing kumbaya? Peace doesn’t generally start with blood libel.

    The Republican Party, for reasons of fundraising, for political power, drew a big red line through American society, deliberately making dialog impossible. I don’t think the anti-abortion position is inherently indefensible, I think that’s a classic case where reasonable people can disagree. Until one side calls the other murderers. And then starts a campaign of intimidation and in some cases terrorism against women doing what the law allows them to do.

    I disagree with my party on many, many things. Had your party provided any possibility of a home I might well have jumped. I mean, heck, I’m white, male, straight, make a nice living, a bit of a hawk, I drink single malts and smoke cigars. I drive a Mercedes for God’s sake. I was raised in a military family. I’m 62. I could be the poster child for the GOP demographic.

    So why – aside from the whole murderers thing – am I never tempted to join the GOP? Because I cannot be an American citizen and yet believe that my fellow Americans who may be brown, black, female, gay, Muslim, atheist, whoever, are less entitled than I am to the blessings of liberty. I mean, cut through it all, and your party simply offends my innate human sense of justice. I don’t want rights which are denied to my fellow citizens because that makes me complicit and it deligitimizes my own rights, but mostly it’s just something I can’t stomach.

    The GOP actually works – in fact, spends millions – trying to keep American citizens from voting. Do you think you do something like that – I mean deliberately undercut the essential function of a citizen in a democracy – and have any claim to legitimacy? Is there anything a Republican actually believes other than ‘fwck liberals?’ You want a nuanced conversation? Try getting your party not to lie about everything they claim to believe. Because I’ve just watched free trade, small government, the First Amendment, private health care, nuclear non-proliferation, a strong defense, NATO, respect for women, common decency, basic competence, caution, the very essence of conservatism, chucked out the window by this baboon and the whole lousy party nods along, “Yep, yep, we’ve never believed in a single goddamned thing but lovin’ guns and hatin’ neeegroes.”

    See, we Democrats actually believe most of what we say. We don’t just say we believe whatever will piss Republicans off. Doesn’t mean we’re right, and sometimes we’re just stupid, but we do not lie about it all. I’ve been complaining about this since forever. Conservatives never, ever said what they really meant. Until now! Turns out what conservatives believe is that “You can grab ’em by the pussy.” That’s the guy the GOP will overwhelmingly support. That’s the reality of the GOP. The party of Lincoln believes that if you’re rich and famous you can grab ’em by the pussy. That’ll be great chiseled on the wall of the Trump Presidential Library. Republican fathers with daughters are going to vote for that man.

    So, tell me: how do we have a nuanced conversation when one side speaks in code and dog whistles? What were we supposed to have discussed? Which of the deeply-held beliefs Republicans abandoned at the first Mexicans = Rapists tweet should we have been wasting our time trying to work through? “What do you believe, Dr. Jekyll? And you, Mr. Hyde?”

    As for overusing ‘racism,’ I agree, a little. I’m sure as a father you’ve had the experience of telling your kids 9 times to something and on the 10th time getting back some version of, “I know-uh, g-a-a-h!” We’ve been trying to get it through thick Republican heads for 50 years now – 50 years! – that they had crawled into bed with the devil on race. Again and again and again. And it has taken this imbecile Trump to get even a tiny fraction of the GOP to sort of admit, “Hmmmm. . . I think some of our members are racists.”

    Yeah. It’s our fault because we had to tell your side something 5 billion times before it penetrated.

    Look, I am all about redemption. I’ve needed quite a bit of it myself. But it starts with a realization that you’ve done wrong. You start with confession of sins. The GOP is nowhere near confession. The GOP is supporting a racist, misogynist, dangerously unstable ignoramus who loves him some dictator.

    Hopefully we in the Democratic Party will save American democracy from your party. Because that’s what’s happening right now. That’s what you and every other decent Republican (maybe as much as 5% of the party!) is hoping we do. It’s what the whole world outside of Moscow is hoping we do. If and when we save American democracy, we should absolutely have a nuanced conversation about policy. Assuming of course that three months from now the GOP has figured out what it believes, because all I know for sure that they believe in is, “Guns, white power and grabbing ’em by the pussy.”




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  22. Tillman says:

    @dmichael:

    However, I don’t recall anyone in comments to your posts here, calling you an “apologist for fascism” or a “moral monster” or anything similar.

    I can think of at least one commenter by handle who does, and several more guesses based on a flawed memory. Not the exact words “apologist for fascism” or “moral monster,” surely, but our host has certainly been accused of enabling horrible things, and been equated with orchestrating those horrible things by proxy, by more than one commenter.

    It seems to rise and ebb like a tide depending on whatever political horror has lately occurred. We tend to associate the closest approximation with the real thing we imagine in our heads, and James Joyner gets the brunt of that here.




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  23. steve says:

    Great article James. I certainly understand that it hurts to admit that Trump is right sometimes. While he did first support the Iraq War he did later oppose it and now says it was a mistake. That puts him way ahead of many on the right who still think it was a great idea. He doesn’t reflexively criticize the Russians. He points out that we trade at a disadvantage when other countries play by other rules. Really, it is hard to be wrong about everything. That said, he is so wrong about so many other things, and by temperament is totally unsuited to the job.

    Even with all of that, I can understand someone deciding that either of these candidates is so bad, you have to vote for the other one. There are SCOTUS seats at risk. There is a very real possibility that Trump will essentially leave governing to everyone else. I think you can rationalize a vote even of someone like Trump and not be a mental midget or morally depraved, just wrong.

    Steve




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  24. Andy says:

    James,

    What you and Mr. Linker write isn’t exactly a new problem. It’s one of the reasons I only comment in a handful of online forums anymore. OTB is one that got (mostly) scratched off the list mainly because I grew tired of having to correct and defend against mischaracterizations by partisan commenters. Not that there’s much point since there seems to be precious few who can be convinced of anything outside a narrow worldview.




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  25. Davebo says:

    @Tillman:

    I’ve certainly accused James of supporting things that I abhor but the fact is, he does. This post is a perfect example.

    I’m amenable to arguments that Trump’s rise is at least partly rooted in the “Southern Strategy” and related attempts by previous Republican nominees to appeal to the baser instincts of disaffected rural whites.

    Amenable to the arguments? Partly rooted?

    Give me a break. Donald Trump is the GOP. He says nothing that hasn’t been said before, he just says it clearly.




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  26. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jen:

    And as far as nuance is concerned, we have a different sort of death spiral. Those who are horrified at just about everything Trump does or says aren’t receptive vessels for “he’s right on borders”–because what immediately pops into mind are his statements about how we should ban Muslims, or build a beautiful wall are what come to mind–because that’s what the candidate has emphasized. So nuance gets lost, because it’s been trampled to death by the party’s nominee and standard bearer.

    THIS!




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  27. Zachriel says:

    Is Nuance Still Possible in American Politics?

    Meanwhile, the Republican nominee for president brags about grabbing any p^$$y he wants.




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  28. Tillman says:

    @Davebo:

    Give me a break. Donald Trump is the GOP. He says nothing that hasn’t been said before, he just says it clearly.

    You haven’t been paying attention to the Democratic nominee. Her campaign is saying the exact opposite, that Donald Trump is an aberration and not within the normal bounds of our politics. You’re free to think otherwise, but again, politics is war so don’t think and voice too contrary to what the standard-bearer says.




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  29. MarkedMan says:

    James, FWIW I think your post is well thought out and well said.




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  30. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: Amen and hallelujah!




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  31. DrDaveT says:

    Why do so many liberals assume that my Clinton criticisms imply that I favor Trump?

    TIMING.

    What could possibly be the point, at this particular moment in time, of airing legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton? There’s a @#%$ing election about to happen, and either Hillary or Trump will be the next POTUS. There is no neutral, nuanced position at this particular moment in time that both (a) involves public criticism of Hillary Clinton, and (b) does not help ensure that Trump will be the next POTUS. And so, if you DO air those criticisms of Hillary just now, you are either (a) deliberately trying to get Trump elected, or (b) a complete moron.

    This is not rocket science.




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  32. DrDaveT says:

    That was enough to inspire a left-wing friend of mine to momentarily lose his cool on Facebook and call me an apologist for fascism. […]
    In case you had any doubts, I am not a fascist and never have been.

    Someone who claims to care about nuance doesn’t understand the difference between being a fascist and being an apologist for fascism? Hint: it’s no more subtle than the difference between being the President of Russia and being an apologist for the President of Russia.




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  33. dxq says:

    drdavet, your zeal is making you misfire. Dial it down a notch.




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  34. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    This will finish him…

    I’ve heard that before. And yet, here he is. His core supporters will love it — it’s “not politically correct”. Republican ‘leadership’ will kneel and swallow. The allegedly principled conservatives will ignore it, because it’s not about money. The Christian Conservatives will ignore it, because they’ve already averted their eyes and held their noses and Hillary would be worse, right?

    At this point, evidence that Trump is personally disgusting is coals to Newcastle.




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  35. Lit3Bolt says:

    James:

    When the Republican Party is in a position to have a rational, nuanced discussion of racism, sexism, religion, guns, socialism, gay rights, voting rights, workers’ rights, police accountability, immigration, terrorism, or Obama or Hillary Clinton…we can talk.

    But don’t blame Dems for Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, or Trump. No Democrat had a hand in creating your delusional alt-right media fantasyland. Republicans did it to themselves, to make money off of other Republicans. You gaslighted yourselves.

    If you can still claim to be a Republican at this point and proud of it, then I feel sorry for you.

    PS: Never mention Twitter and nuance in an article again, it’s embarrassing for all of us. =)




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  36. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: Yeah, my conservative friends are already making excuses for him.

    These are the same people who have spent the last 18 years shitting all over Bill Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal. Hypocrites all.




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  37. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    I’m wondering how many more of these Hillary has. I’ll tell you what: don’t fwck with that woman. She can throw a punch.




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  38. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m convinced that’s why Putin so strongly prefers Trump. He knows he can roll Trump with ease, but Clinton will stand like a rock.

    Sunday night’s town hall debate should be a spectacle for the ages.




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  39. gVOR08 says:

    I stayed up to see Trump’s apology video, which turned out to be pathetic. I may make a more “nuanced” comment about James views tomorrow when I’m sober. Tonight I will confine myself to noting that everyone says 9/11 changed everything. In fact Sammy bin Laden and his few thousand looney toons were at war with us on 9/10. What changed on 9/11 is that we all found out about it. Donald Trump has been a misogynist pig all his life. All that changed tonight is that Jason Chaffetz found out about it. Or was forced to face up to it.




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  40. Gustopher says:

    Many Republicans make nuanced arguments all the time — they claim to support Trump,for President, but not support Trump the man.




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  41. dxq says:

    how’s this for nuanced: There’s gonna be a big push for trump to quit and Pence to take over. it’s happened a few times with a nominee I think, back in the day. the other guy just replaces him. Pence could be the real nominee now.

    That shit is nuanced AF.




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  42. Argon says:

    @C. Clavin:

    This will finish him…

    Nope. He’ll still get at least 42-45% of the popular vote.

    1) Because the GOP organization is harping on him to quit now. This just reinforces the underdog status.
    2) Because of the Supreme Court. Nothing is going to change the vote of those who want to ban abortion or roll back gay marriage. He’s still got backing from the “Moral Majority” types.

    Trump will open up the spigot about Bill Clinton’s affairs. Here’s what I think Hillary needs to say:
    “My husband cheated. That hurt me very deeply. It challenged the very roots of our family.
    “Yet we pulled it together, working through painful reflection and decided our marriage and our family were so much more important to us than the immediate pain.
    “You, Donald, criticize my husband, yet you’ve cheated and walked away from two marriages. You didn’t have the guts to stick it out. You put so little faith or respect in the institution of marriage that you have your lawyers draft prenuptial agreements.
    “Say what you want about my husband, but he’s not running for President.
    “You and I are.
    “And I’m the one who didn’t give up on a marriage when the going got tough.
    “So go ahead: Throw my husband’s affairs in my face. We worked through that and I came out stronger than you can ever be.




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  43. James Joyner says:

    @Pch101: I’m not arguing—nor do I think Linker is arguing—that Trump is redeemable. We’re just arguing that we should nonetheless honestly respond to the ideas that motivate the campaign. Many of those are repugnant, too. But he’s also appealing to real fears held by real Americans. We should try to understand those even when he’s the messenger.

    @Andrew: Cultures change over time. It’s very hard to reach people in today’s era of narrowly-tailored media but it’s worth trying to advance the argument.

    @Jen: I’m by no means arguing that the main issue is that Democrats are mean to Republicans. I’ve written for years that GOP leaders need to understand that it’s not 1980 anymore. And I’ve been fighting this in the other direction since starting the blog: Republicans don’t like being told that the other side has a point or even that a given attack on the Dems is unfair.

    @Moosebreath: Yes, we’ve been going down this spiral for quite some time. But Reagan compromised with O’Neil. Gingrich compromised with Clinton. Bush 43 worked with Teddy Kennedy on education reform and the Medicare prescription drug benefit was basically a Democratic idea.

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: But what Linker was trying to do there was something perfectly reasonable: Argue that, while Trump’s solutions are racist and stupid, the concerns that underlie them are real and ought to be addressed by sane conservatives.

    @michael reynolds: There has no doubt been accommodation with racists as part of the culture wars. But, as I’ve said many times, the logical extension of that was a Ted Cruz, not a Donald Trump. I couldn’t have supported Cruz, either, although he’s at least a serious conservative ideologue. Trump is a cartoon character who has been as much a Democrat as a Republican historically. He’s never been a social conservative, certainly, until he decided to seize on it for this campaign.

    @Lit3Bolt: Again, I’m not arguing that this is primarily the fault of Democrats. My narrow point in that Twitter conversation was that, by painting even reasonable Republicans like Mitt Romney with that brush, the charge becomes less effective when applied to a Donald Trump, who is legitimately employing racism. Ditto, claiming Romney was waging a “war on women.”

    @Mikey: But the hypocrisy works both ways: People who staunchly defended Bill Clinton, claiming that the president of the United States getting blowjobs in the Oval Office from interns was a private matter, are now up in arms about Donald Trump bragging about how powerful men can have their way with women.




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  44. Kari Q says:

    Few things make me despair for the future of the country more than seeing even intelligent, thoughtful Republicans blame Democrats for the problems of their own party. It makes as little sense as blaming Republicans for the primary fight between Sanders and Clinton, or the hypersensitivity to using the precise right word to describe a person or situation or risk being called a hater (transgender or transgendered, for example. Use the wrong one and someone will chew you out).

    Putting that aside, as a species, we don’t do nuance well. Food, danger, and sex are all we are really capable of dealing with, and that which makes us more likely to get the two we want and avoid the one we don’t. We may eventually realize that, for all the apparent turmoil, the 50 years that ended in 2000 (roughly speaking) were a period of unusual comity and cohesion in politics. We agreed on more than we realized, and fought less than we thought.




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  45. Jen says:

    @James Joyner:

    People who staunchly defended Bill Clinton, claiming that the president of the United States getting blowjobs in the Oval Office from interns was a private matter, are now up in arms about Donald Trump bragging about how powerful men can have their way with women.

    The difference, of course, is that of consent. The first was a consensual relationship, no matter how incredibly unwise. Lewinsky has never varied from that, even remotely. What Trump was bragging about on that tape is flat-out sexual assault.




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  46. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: But he’s also appealing to real fears held by real Americans

    Expanding on this: even if someone is a bigot, even if they are personally callous or selfish, if they are an American citizen then the president and all other government officials have an obligation to address their concerns. So if people are concerned about opening up the gates and letting crazed Syrian refugees in with no screening, even if they are motivated by prejudice the government officials still have an obligation to address those issues, such as by pointing out that we have extensive screening and similar refugees have been remarkably law abiding. (And the administration ha s done this, so I’m not faulting them here.)




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  47. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: Trump is bragging about using his position of power to force himself on women. That’s a bit different from a BJ in the Oval Office.




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  48. Andrew says:
  49. Pch101 says:

    @James Joyner:

    We’re just arguing that we should nonetheless honestly respond to the ideas that motivate the campaign.

    Trump is either a bigot or else he’s playing to bigots. So there’s your motivation.

    If one uses bigotry as a basis for starting an “immigration debate”, then one has already lost and have been disqualified from participating in any debate at all. One cannot have an honest discussion with one who has bad motivations and ill intent.

    You aren’t supposed to debate a bigot, you are supposed to denounce them. How do you not understand this?




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  50. Roberta Wright says:

    @Pch101:
    It seems to me that we can label Trump as irredeemable without labeling all of his supporters in the same way.




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  51. Pch101 says:

    @Roberta Wright:

    If you want to be the chairperson of the Be Nice to Bigots Week committee, then pardon me if I don’t join your group.




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  52. Blue Galangal says:

    @francis:

    Whose job is it, precisely, to control the extremists? How much effort has the Republican Party put into tamping down the influence of Rush Limbaugh, for example?

    Until Sandra Fluke, none. No matter what he said, they would kiss his ring. Why Fluke was a tipping point for his support, I’m not sure, unless it was the economic boycott. But Rush’s reaction to the Fluke controversy was definitely Trump Lite. He was the one who kept bringing it up, wouldn’t let it go, and outright lied about what she said and what she wanted.

    For my own daughter, that controversy was what finally got her interested in politics, and she had a passionate argument with my mother (who to this day is still making excuses for Rush, Beck, and every other Republican infotainer who has lied to her – Trump, I’m sure, is also just misunderstood). I was proud of my daughter and sick to my stomach to this day that my mother couldn’t see past her tribal fear and politics to understand how Rush’s words had affected many young women, including her beloved granddaughter.




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  53. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “We’re just arguing that we should nonetheless honestly respond to the ideas that motivate the campaign. Many of those are repugnant, too. But he’s also appealing to real fears held by real Americans. We should try to understand those even when he’s the messenger.”

    Read the other half of Hillary’s statement where she called half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables”. She tried to do that, and it got caught up in the genned-up controversy over her description of the first half.

    “But Reagan compromised with O’Neil. Gingrich compromised with Clinton. Bush 43 worked with Teddy Kennedy on education reform and the Medicare prescription drug benefit was basically a Democratic idea.”

    And in each non-Reagan case, the President was attacked by his supporters for doing so. And as you said, “I’ve written for years that GOP leaders need to understand that it’s not 1980 anymore.”

    And what @Jen: said about the difference between Bill Clinton and Trump being consent. Trump is casually saying that he can get away with sexually assaulting women, which is a crime.




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  54. Robert in SF says:

    Again, the West Wing was prescient on this topic:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85dKvletfSo

    MODERATOR
    Governor Ritchie, many economists have stated that the tax cut, which is centerpiece of your economic agenda, could actually harm the economy. Is now really the time to cut taxes?

    RITCHIE
    You bet it is. We need to cut taxes for one reason– the American people know how to spend their money better than the federal government does.

    MODERATOR
    Mr. President, your rebutal.

    BARTLET
    There it is.

    CUT TO: INT. SPIN ROOM – CONTINUOUS

    REPORTER MARK
    What the hell?

    C.J.
    He’s got it.

    BARTLET
    [on TV] That’s the ten-word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword.
    Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer?
    Your taxes are too high? So are mine.
    Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it?
    Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now.

    Every once in a while… every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts.

    Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words.

    I’m the President of the United States, not the President of the people who agree with me. And by the way, if the left has a problem with that, they should vote for somebody else.




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  55. george says:

    @DrDaveT:

    TIMING.

    What could possibly be the point, at this particular moment in time, of airing legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton? There’s a @#%$ing election about to happen, and either Hillary or Trump will be the next POTUS. There is no neutral, nuanced position at this particular moment in time that both (a) involves public criticism of Hillary Clinton, and (b) does not help ensure that Trump will be the next POTUS. And so, if you DO air those criticisms of Hillary just now, you are either (a) deliberately trying to get Trump elected, or (b) a complete moron.

    This is not rocket science.

    Interestingly enough, its pretty much what I remember being told when I participated in the peace movement in the 70’s and 80’s – you were either for the US or for the USSR, and there was no neutral, nuanced positions at the time. So to complain about the US gov’t or Vietnam was giving aid to the USSR.

    It wasn’t rocket science back then either.

    In fact it wasn’t any kind of science. Because in science you look at the strengths and weaknesses of everything, rather than backing F=ma^2 because that was still better than saying F=ma^3 … science is saying F=ma (or perhaps F=dp/dt) because the idea is to say the truth as you see it.




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  56. JKB says:

    This is the necessary unavoidable consequence of the fact that, according to Marxist doctrine, you do not consider the possibility of dissent among honest people; either you think as I do, or you are a traitor and must be liquidated.

    von Mises, Ludwig (1952). Marxism Unmasked (LvMI)




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  57. Moosebreath says:

    @JKB:

    “either you think as I do, or you are a traitor and must be liquidated.”

    Strange, but it’s the Republicans this year who have been calling their opponents traitors and speaking of liquidating their opponents. I guess they must be the true Marxists.




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