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All Facts are Alternative (some are more alternative than others)

(This is going to be a long one… I’ve put off writing about this for a while.) So about two and a half months ago, America seemingly got really bored and decided to end itself… you know… cuz why not? At least that’s one view. Another view is that a small sect of megalomaniacal billionaires, the Illuminati, if you will, decided to to take over the world or the pure joy of spreading hatred and evil or maybe because they saw it as a quick and easy way to make a buck. It also looks like we’re witnessing the rise of a fascist dictator determined to will himself to power and take his seat amongst the amongst the great conquerors of history. And it’s possible that we have a great and benevolent billionaire, determined to raise his people out of their tragic circumstances and make the world a better place even if a significant portion of those people think that he’s a nincompoop. All of these things are arguably true. I both believe and don’t believe them all.

So way back on November 9th, the day after election day, my friend and coworker Carol was the first person to ask me when I’d be blogging about it. She wasn’t the last. Several people wrote me saying they were curious as to what my thoughts on the whole thing would be. I told Carol (and all the others) that it would probably be a while. Sure I had thoughts. I had lots of thoughts. But I felt like I didn’t have anything to say that wouldn’t come across as an “I told you so!” and that didn’t seem healthy or useful to anyone. Even if I did. And that’s wasn’t the point that I wanted to make 12 hours after the election. And it’s not the point that I want to make now, even if it’s going to sound like it for a lot of this post… but really stick with me.

I was never 100% positive that Donald Trump would win… at least not until election day. Even though he was polling below her, I’d been figuring it was a coin flip. 50-50 shot either way… I actually thought that pretty early on, long before he won the GOP nomination. I thought Hillary Clinton maybe had a shot if she could beat Bernie Sanders, because voting for the historic first woman president might be enough to turn people in her favor. But given the rhetoric of their campaigns I more and more started seeing Trump as kind of an inevitability. Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment was the thing that really sealed the deal for me.

For those who don’t know, I work on the election board for my district in Pittsburgh, PA. I’m literally the guy who sets up the machines and counts the votes at the end of the day. You know how people are always talking about how election officials are on the take and we’re fixing the election? Well, if you wanted to fix the election, I guess I’m the guy you’d call. I’ve been doing it for 8 years and I haven’t gotten that call yet. Anyway, I don’t actually KNOW how people are voting until the end of the day. It’s completely secret, just like it’s supposed to be. And I (and the rest of my elections board) am pretty good about keeping people from electioneering in the polling place. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter if people get to vote in secret or not. They’re pretty good about telling you who they voted for (or are about to vote for) anyway, so long as you listen. Since I’m sitting there all day on election day, I hear everything people are complaining about to their neighbors as they walk through the doors. Talk about muslims or women’s reproductive rights or healthcare or walls. It doesn’t matter if you say the names you wrote down. On election day, people are pretty upfront about what they BELIEVE (true or not). I can pretty much guess the way they’re leaning by their attitude.

I knew Trump had won Pennsylvania (and therefore in all likelihood the Presidency) by about noon or so.

Pennsylvania is technically a swing state, but generally goes blue in a presidential election. The reason is MOST of the state (by area) is pretty solidly republican, but there are two population centers that are pretty solidly democrat: Pittsburgh (where I live) and Philadelphia. The state gets awarded to the democrats in presidential elections because the people in those two cities come out and vastly outnumber the people in the more rural areas. My district is even more heavily democratic than Pittsburgh as a whole. I typically expect the democratic candidate to outscore the republican by at least a factor of 10x. In the 8 years I’ve been doing this, most elections see a republican candidate (for any office) get about 10-15 votes. The highest I’ve ever seen before was Mitt Romney in 2012 with something like 37, if I remember correctly (and Barack Obama getting like 200, so still soundly crushing him). But I could tell that Trump was going to do much better than that. When polls closed and we ran the final vote tally, I found out we had 169 for Hillary Clinton and 116 for the Donald. It wasn’t enough for him to win MY district, but if he did well enough here, I knew for sure that would be good enough to overcome her lead since the rural parts of the state were almost certainly going to hold.

Obviously it did. Donald Trump, super villain, would be Lex Luthor, and pussy grabbing enthusiast is President of the United States.

And now that it has, I’m starting to see people make the same mistakes that they made before the election. The mistakes that if they didn’t lead to Trump winning, they led to a lot of people being massively surprised when he did win. It’s particularly been highlighted this week what with the Trump and Sean Spicer arguing that Inauguration was “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” and Kellyanne Conway introducing the phrase “alternative facts” into the lexicon (seriously, I may kinda love her for this). This has of course been a perfectly laid trap because now all of Trump’s opponents are arguing that facts are facts and trying to convince Trump’s supporters that he’s a big fat liar because look! Photographic evidence! Then the left gets infuriated because this doesn’t seem to change any of the Trump supporters minds and they just rally back around to the “liberals are sore losers” talking points. Because two years of of contentious primary and presidential campaigns haven’t taught the left the most important lesson. In fact the (traditional) right doesn’t really understand the lesson either. The reason Trump is smart is that he (and Conway and Spicer and their entire administration) DO understand the most important lesson.

Trump supporters don’t give a fuck about facts!!!

And honestly, neither does anyone else. Not really. Allow me to explain.

Way back when I first started saying Trump could win because he’s was organizing the DudeBro vote, I pointed to an example of a then student of mine that I referred to by the codename “Chip.” I argued that the Planned Parenthood debate was a non-starter because Chip doesn’t honestly give a fuck about Planned Parenthood one way or the other. What he likes about Trump is that he is unfiltered. He “tells it like it is.” Trump’s non-politically correct attitude translated to honesty to Chip. And honesty translated to truth. And truth means facts… more or less. Really, Chip doesn’t care what facts are. What he wants is rhetoric that backs up what he wanted to believe already anyway. Sometime after that, I gave my students an assignment to write a paper making an evaluative argument. Chip chose to write his paper on gun control and why it needed to be LESS strict. The foundation of his argument was that having more citizens with guns would keep the United States as a nation less vulnerable to foreign or terrorist attack. His evidence was based on some random guy’s blog that he found that pointed out if you considered the people in Wisconsin with an active hunting license (600,000 people) an army they would be the third largest army in the world.

Of course, this is patently false. Ignoring the fact that there’s more to being an army than just owning a gun, the United States currently has the 7th largest armed force in the world with 2.3million. 600,000 wouldn’t even be in the top twenty. But the actual facts weren’t really important to Chip. He wanted to argue that everyone should have a gun. So he found some information that seemed to back up what he already believed and based his argument on that. When I rejected his first draft on that and similar faulty points, he was initially pretty upset. However, we went on to write a much better paper where he argued that we needed lax gun control where we had no background checks except to maintain that the gun purchaser had no criminal record and that all gun owners pass a mandatory gun safety class (one he had taken with his father as a child). In effect, what he actually was proposing was something pretty similar to “common sense gun control” only he didn’t really realize that. In fact, he argued that what he was asking for what much better.

Some people would probably consider that a victory. They would think that I “convinced” Chip that his argument was faulty and he needed to reexamine it. I don’t really think I did. See, there’s a power dynamic between teacher and students based on grades. What I actually did was convince Chip that he had to make the “right kind of argument” in order to pass the class. What he fundamentally wants or would be willing to vote for never changed. In fact, he would absolutely positively be against calling his proposal “gun control” at all. And if a liberal agreed with his proposal he would consider that a victory for the gun lobby… convincing someone that they DIDN’T need gun control. And honestly, he probably still feels that hunters are a good army. He just knows that trying to convince his teacher of that wasn’t a great way to get a good grade.

Although Chip is kind of a silly example (at least probably to most people who would probably read stuff that I write here), most people actually think like him. People don’t vote based on logic. They don’t formulate opinions based on facts. They do this based on feelings and they retrofit the facts to back up the feelings they are having. Sure there is some drift. Facts may move the needle of your opinions a little in one direction or another. But on STRONG opinions — that is on fundamental beliefs that are important to us — we as people use facts to back us up and we mostly dismiss everything that doesn’t match up. Really, what we do is base our ideology and beliefs on morality. MOST of us are actually trying to do what we feel like is right. And yes, this includes both Democrats and Republicans. Honestly, I expect it even includes Donald Trump (even though a lot of liberals can’t see that) and it certainly includes the majority of his followers. This is the disconnect that liberals miss. They assume Trump’s followers are evil because they appear to be behaving illogically.

I’m reading a great book right now (for research for my dissertation unrelated to this). It’s called Against Empathy, by psychologist Paul Bloom. Bloom argues that we often make decision based on our ability to empathize with others. And this is actually illogical and ultimately leads to sometimes immoral decisions because empathy actually isn’t logical. Bloom actually argues that the world would be better off if people were LESS empathetic. If we based our moral decisions on logic and reason, we would come closer to what Bloom calls “compassionate distance” and in doing so increase the net moral good. The problem is of course that Bloom sort of ignores that morality isn’t absolute. Or rather, since he knows it isn’t he sticks a stake in the sand to point out the absolute morality that his argument depends on, “that it’s better (all else being equal) to save a thousand people than just one, that it’s wrong to harm someone without cause and wrong to devalue people just because of the color of their skin.” (Kindle Locations 864-865). That’s a pretty reasonable standpoint to have. But even that is based on empathy. If you were really to be for the good of the many over the good of the one, then you can’t absolutely adhere to point two or three… and who says the good of the many outweighs the one anyway? And Bloom knows this, as he points out that “if you think numbers don’t matter or suffering is good or racism is moral, then many of the arguments that follow will be, at most, of intellectual interest to you.”(Kindle Locations 865-866).

In any case, Bloom then goes on to point out many of the ways in which empathy, which liberals tend to claim is their domain over the uncaring conservatives, is fundamentally utilized by both parties. As liberals we tend to base our decisions on who we care about and doing the right thing. We are for reproductive rights because we care about women. We support marriage equality because we care about gays. We back #BlackLivesMatter because we care about African Americans. But it’s very easy to miss that the conservative ideals are also fundamentally based on empathy as well. Pro-lifers fundamentally believe that they are standing up for the rights of a defenseless child. Traditional marriage defenders believe that they are protecting Christians. #BlueLivesMatter people are trying to save the men and women of law enforcement who have sworn to protect them. It makes complete sense to want to protect the rights of transgender people to pee in peace. BUT if you fundamentally believe that allowing transgenders to use the bathroom of their choice puts your children at risk of being raped, then stopping them is the empathic and honestly the only logical choice of action.

The fact that you’re wrong if you believe that really doesn’t have much to do with it.

For liberals… progressives… modern day Democrats… this is a little harder to see. If we take in all the facts and compare them to what we believe, it feels like they’re pretty consistent. It’s really easy to say “FoxNews is lies. Real news shows that Trump is an idiot.” This works because a lot of the time the facts really do back up what we already believe. That’s not really a function of liberalism though. It’s more of a happy accident. Here’s a key point. I’m against Stop and Frisk. The new president has made it pretty clear that he is for it. He says he believes it makes the world a safer place. The defense against this is that statistics show that there’s really no effect whatsoever, and in fact, there’s some evidence that it does more harm than good. But honestly, that’s not why I’m against it. Not really. I’m against it because I’m a black man who happens to enjoy wearing ripped jeans and hoodies pretty regularly as causal wear and a lifetime of being harassed by the police is a major pain in the ass. Similarly it turns out that transgender people are at much greater risk in bathrooms than children of any age or gender. Like it’s not even close. But that’s not really why I’m for allowing a transwoman to pee in the lady’s restroom. I’m for it because in *MY* ideology, that just feels like basic human decency. I don’t want people bothering me when I want to go pee, so I don’t want anyone bothering anyone else. THAT is empathy!

But it’s not logic. And it’s not really facts. Or rather, the facts are incidental. They happen to back me up and it’s really nice that they do. But let’s say the evidence was that Stop and Frisk did work. Let’s say that statistics showed that cities implementing Stop and Frisk showed a crime decrease of 10%. I’d still be against it. Hell, let’s say they saw a crime decrease of 99%. I’d STILL be against it. Why? Because I’m a black man, who happens to enjoy wearing ripped jeans and hoodies pretty regularly as causal wear and a lifetime of being harassed by the police is a major pain in the ass. Where is the cut-off? If we somehow discovered that it turned out that 10% of child molesters were transgender individuals would liberals still be for bathroom equality? What about 25%? 50%?

In fact, let’s assume that absolute worse case scenario for liberal voters under the current Trump administration. Let’s assume that he brings back stop and frisk. He reverses marriage equality. He ends the ACA. He overturns Roe v. Wade. He builds a wall, bullies Mexico into paying for it, and deports every undocumented worker in the country. We bring back water boarding of suspected terrorists. We grant the government free reign to tap any electronic communication. There’s a gun in every home, conversion therapy becomes standard medical practice and grabbing pussies at will is completely decriminalized. Every horrible thing Trump (or Pence) has ever said comes to pass. BUT, lets also assume that it turns out that he’s right. Unemployment drops below 1%, the Dow hits 40,000 in two years time, crime rates drop to 1% of what they were, all of the recently converted queers are in lovingly Christian relationships where they happily engage in missionary sex purely for procreation. And the 75% of us who survive have great healthcare. The country is fundamentally a better place, at least according to Bloom’s metric. The needs of the many have outweighed the needs of few. Would liberals really support him?

I sure as hell wouldn’t. Because that’s not the America I want to live in. I wouldn’t be happy because the values I care about have been stripped away in the name of logic. At the end of the day it apparently turns out I care about racial and gender equality more than I care about the Dow or the crime rate or even healthcare. No matter how many facts you throw at me, that’s never going to change. And if I were in that situation, ANY facts that seemed to back me up would be something I’d cling to for dear life.

And this is the fundamental reason that this matters. I do a lot of arguing with people. And given that these are the issues I care about, a lot of my arguments include references to systemic racism or sexism. One that I have noticed is that there are certain people who will never be convinced that I am right. No matter how right I am. I generally don’t call out people individually here, but for the sake of making this argument, I’m going to use Vic Carter, because I know he won’t mind. He’s not shy about sharing his opinions in my comments and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he were to comment on this post anyway. Anyway, Vic often disputes that there is “no such thing as systemic racism” because he believes that racism must be active. This often puts me (and others) in the position of arguing that he is wrong. Honestly, I never expect him to change his mind. And he sure as hell isn’t going to change mine. What I’m doing is creating a dialogue for others who DON’T have strong opinions. I’m using him as a convenient strawman to present ideas for me to counter. Even though I pretty much disagree with Vic ALWAYS, I will grant him the compliment that his dissenting point of view makes these posts better. He’s still wrong. But what the many people who have asked why I don’t block him don’t understand is that his dissent is important. It’s integral. And credit where credit is due, Vic is a lot smarter than most of the people who come here to argue against me or who argue against me on Trump’s behalf. (Fair disclosure for Vic. He is NOT a Trump supporter). He’s still wrong. But he’s smarter.

But not everyone can be Vic.

And here’s where it starts to get really complicated. Here’s the reason I knew that Trump would win. Culture progresses, but it cycles. Everything that I’ve ever learned in every historical cultural studies class that I’ve taken in my entire academic career backs this up. For every two steps forward a society takes, eventually they have to take one back. And in the last eight years, the United States of America has taken a SHIT TON of liberal steps forward, despite a concerted effort to stop it. In eight years, the affordable care act got passed, marriage equality has become the law of the land, weed has become all but legal, the Confederate flag has become all but illegal. Atheism, transgenderism, premarital sex and sexual education regarding it have become essentially normalized. Visibility for polyamory, kink, total drug decrimialization, are all on the rise. Climate change, gender and sexual identity, evolution and the Big Bang are about as commonly accepted as the world being round. Trigger warnings became common in classrooms as well as internet posts. #BlackLivesMatter became a mainstream political topic that is essential to at least address if you want to seriously run for office. Feminism became such a dominant political ideology that it is acceptable to wear t-shrits with things that used to be considered swear words to political gatherings. Social Justice Warrior became such a normalized thing that rather than being an insult that it’s almost an insult to say that someone isn’t one. “People of Color” became the cool in crowd. The LGBT community got so many extra letters tacked onto it that not even gay people are sure how to spell it anymore. All of these topics are commonly addressed in the most popular television shows, both fictional and news. And Barack Obama has been the face of that (even for the things on this list that he really had nothing to do with). And anyone who opposes any of these things can expect to see some level of backlash from those of us who support it.

A lot of backlash.

There’s a meme, by someone named Brendan O’Neill, that I’ve seen posted by quite a few Trump supporters on social media in the last week… and I’ve seen the sentiment a lot of forms even outside of the meme. It addresses “how Trump happened.” Essentially it is a manifesto of sorts. The author argues that Trump happened because liberals treat conservatives badly. It complains about being called homophobic for having a religious opposition to gay marriage. It complains about being called xenophobic for wanting closed borders to Mexicans and Muslims. It complains about being called sexist for opposing Hillary. It complains about being called racist for opposing pretty much anything Obama has ever done. It complains that people don’t like being treated “like shit” and that Trump is there response.

They’re not wrong!

They really aren’t. Intentional or not much of the rhetoric we use “systemic RACISM and SEXISM” is insulting to the people who might practice it. And sometimes… in fact often… we directly tell them that they are racists or sexists. When people denounce evolution because their magic book they believe in told them that the world is only 6000 years old, we tell them that they are ignorant. When they oppose any group that we like we accuse them of not being “woke.”

Of course all of these things are true. They are in point of fact very often ignorant racists and sexists and xenophobes. Aware or not… by intention or upbringing… that is ignorant racist, sexist, xenophobic behavior. That’s a fact.

But facts don’t matter. Feelings do. And their feelings got hurt. And they revolted. And they won because cultural studies, history, sociology and psychology says… sooner or later… they’ll have to. Also a fact.

But facts don’t matter. Feelings do. And every time I’ve seen the O’Neill meme posted in the last few days, I’ve seen liberals come to dispute it. “No,” they say, “that’s not why Trump won. It’s because of the sexism, racism, interference by Russia, collusion by the FBI. It’s because he lied to you and you were too stupid to understand it. It’s because you’re too stupid to understand that Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing. It’s because of the electoral college. Hillary won the popular vote. Hillary should be president. Trump is evil! How are you too stupid to realize it’s not because we hurt your feelings?” And they say that because their feelings are hurt. And rightly so. And a lot of those things are true as well. But there’s one big fact that they’re ignoring. One incontrovertible fact… a fact that is not alternative and is indisputable: Brendan O’Neill voted for Trump because his feelings were hurt, and by sharing this, the person you are arguing with is telling you that they feel that way too.

Does that mean that liberals are wrong? Does that mean that our facts aren’t facts after all? Not really. And frankly, I believe my ideology is right. I believe that there is a shit ton of systemic racism, sexism and Otherisms out there and I’m going to call them out everytime I see them. I also don’t mind making fun of people and hurting their feelings from time to time. See, I’m an asshole and that kind of comes with the territory.

But it also means that I understand that just because I may be right, both morally and logically… that doesn’t mean that I can expect things to just work out. It doesn’t mean that I can expect people who have opposing ideologies to change their minds. It doesn’t mean that anything is ever going to be easy. It’s not. Change is hard. It’s slow. It takes work. And there’s a lot of moving backwards. And sometimes… after a long string of wins you end up with a supervillain in the Whitehouse. And all the facts in the world can’t change that. And won’t make the people who see him as a savior see it any differently.

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