Someone is Wrong on the Internet…and Everywhere Else

Brie and Joe created SWOTI and host the SWOTI podcast. The two, self-described “Millennials of Color” wrestle with race, politics, relationships, and myriad items swimming about in the popular culture. In doing so they discover that, well, SWOTI–“Someone is Wrong on the Internet.”

 

Someone is wrong, indeed.

 

Someone is wrong on the internet when Megyn Kelly fears for her life because internet trolls threaten her for asking then-candidate Donald Trump a challenging question–you know, doing her job. Someone is wrong on the internet when crazy websites like World Net Daily, and Breitbart, and Infowars hold the same prominence among a large swath of the American public as The New York Times, or The Washington Post. Someone is wrong on the internet when the conspiracy theories promulgated by honest-to-goodness fake news sites lead to violence. Still don’t think someone is wrong on the internet? You haven’t spent enough time in unmoderated comment sections on YouTube.

 

Or maybe you have.

 

But in truth, what is wrong on the internet correlates with what is wrong in American society; and not to be too grandiose, but this points to what is wrong in the human condition.

 

Confirmation Bias causes us to look for ideas that support our preconceived notions. The Dunning-Kruger Effect means that we’re most confident when we’re most wrong. The Backfire Effect sees us persisting in error especially when offered evidence to the contrary.

 

And to top it all off, we insist that we can understand the unspoken motives of others who disagree with us. This, in spite of an argument I make in a Right Noise episode that states that our ability to understand the motivations of others is even more challenging than our ability to understand our own motives.

 

And so, politics and political affiliation must be understood as an imperfect vehicle of our attitudes, philosophies, and expressions of our life experiences. Therefore, attacking those who disagree with us politically as morally depraved, insincere, or worse, becomes a tiresome self-righteous exercise, devoid of self-awareness (not that I do not make this mistake sometimes, myself).

 

Moreover, it’s unproductive. It’s noise. It’s the white-hot heat of anger in place of the illuminating light of empathy.

 

My opposition to some abortions is not a proxy for a deep-seated misogyny. My skepticism of the wisdom and efficacy of certain government programs does not betray a secret desire to see vulnerable people suffer. My belief in the traditional definition of marriage–however inconsequential politically–is not rooted in a desire to see gay people harmed.

 

Or is it?

 

Maybe politics provides a convenient narrative, wrapped in the flag, that allows me to cling to confirmation biases that insist that the races are created unequal, that women should not be trusted to forge their own destinies, or that gays should be hanged and stoned as they are in so many other places around the world.

 

For some folks, this may very well ring true. Just as there are some people on the left who truly hate the United States and want to see it obliterated.

 

But it’s not true of me, nor is it true of literally millions of conservatives and Republicans who agree with me.

 

Still, insisting that bigotry; or even ignorance; accounts for ideological differences amounts to a naivety that is both overly pessimistic and exceedingly optimistic.

 

My politics is a blurry reflection of my beliefs, experiences, faith, philosophy, privileges, upbringing, ideals, and sense of justice. Not the other way around. These elements tug at each other, and compete with human frailties and sinful failings. I always assume the same is true of my political opponents as well.

 

Understanding that this identity soup simmers in each of us should dissuade you from shooting at Congressmen at a softball practice, or threatening an Iraq War veteran who writes for the National Review. That which is wrong on the internet, and in American life, is not our politics, but the unwarranted assumptions about what our politics say about our personal morality.

 

The mouth betrays our passions. The pen betrays our thoughts.

These are some of the points I hope to have conveyed in my interview with the SWOTI Podcast.

Dirty Hands

In Jean Paul Sartre’s “Dirty Hands,” two Communist revolutionaries argue about politics. Hoederer, the leader of the faction, believes that rhetoric and principles serve as vehicles to deliver a political reality that comes as close as possible to an ideal. He is a tough pragmatist who understands short term trade offs can serve long term ends. Hugo; his secretary who, unbeknownst to him has been sent to kill him; believes passionately in the Communist rhetoric and principles. He believes that compromising those principles with rank politics so undermines the movement that it loses its right to exist.

As a Republican in the “Era of Trump,” I ask myself: “Who, in this analogy, am I?”

For years, I railed against “RINO Hunters,” arguing Hoederer’s point, that imperfect messengers who delivered incremental victories were worth more than political losses delivered by principled grandstanders. Besides, I argued, the America that the so-called RINOs want closely resembles that which the conservative zealots envision. It was the naive ideologues who cheered on Senator Ted Cruz’ “Green Eggs and Ham” filibuster, or Ron Paul’s half-baked immutability. These ideologues rejected Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney–both men more conservative than their Democrat opponents, but deemed not sufficiently pure. For nearly a decade I wrote Black and Red, touted the supremacy of conservative principles, and supported “the most conservative candidate who could win,” even when the candidate was less conservative than my ideal.

Then, came 2016.

The GOP primary, and election of Donald Trump as President, caused me to reconsider my place in the GOP; and to rethink the Party’s desired goals. For years, I defended my tribe against liberal attacks that Republicans’ advocacy of principles like a smaller federal government, supply-side economics, and federalism, were nothing more than a Trojan Horse designed to deliver on darker, more sinister ends. I found these critiques the lowest of political demagoguery. Then, Trump wooed Republican voters, appealing directly to these dark impulses; while paying only cursory lip service to the grander principles the Party ostensibly supported. Clare Malone writes an incisive piece for Five Thirty Eight that reads in part,

“Many have assumed that adherence to a certain conservative purity was the engine of the GOP, and given the party’s demographic homogeneity, this made sense. But re-evaluating recent history in light of Trump, and looking a bit closer at this year’s numbers, something else seems to be the primary motivator of GOP voters, something closer to the neighborhood of cultural conservatism and racial and economic grievance rather than a passion for small government.”

One of Five Thirty Eight’s findings, which took into account multiple polls that gauged immediate feedback, found that among Republicans, candidate Trump’s approval ratings increased whenever he said the most outrageous things (e.g.–Judge Curiel couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican heritage). Quite notably, his approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 81%, in spite of his heretical views on conservatism.

So, who am I now?

Am I Hoederer, the pragmatist, who (if he weren’t a communist) would see Trump as a political means to an end?

Or am I Hugo, the idealist, convinced that this political concession threatens to entirely obliterate our shared ends?

That depends on who the GOP is–who we have become. Are we bigger than one man? What are our long term goals? How do we propose to improve Americans’ lives? What vision do we have for the country? Currently; between a White House perpetually embroiled in self-inflicted damage control, and a Balkanized Republican Congress; it appears that the conservative agenda (whatever it really is) has stalled.

The New American Threat to World Order

Gideon Rose wrote an impassioned, yet wrongheaded, defense of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that his policies keep America, and the world, on a positive track.

 

“The key to Obama’s success has been his grasp of the big picture: his appreciation of the liberal international order that the United States has nurtured over the last seven decades, together with his recognition that the core of that order needed to be salvaged by pulling back from misguided adventures and feuds in the global periphery.”

 

Rose, then proceeds to absolve Obama’s failures by relegating them to “feuds in the global periphery,” while elevating Obama’s obscure successes to the pinnacle of foreign policy genius–all in the name of maintaining the liberal international order.

 

As problematic as Rose’s evaluation is, his argument continues to fail on its own merit, especially in light of our changed approaches to rogue and dictatorial regimes. The liberal international order that the United States created after World War 2, enticed illiberal states to change their ways in order to enjoy the spoils of cooperation. Participation in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20, and other intergovernmental organizations required member states to pursue liberal institutions that secure peace. Free press, free elections, representative governments and open societies make for peaceful, predictable partnerships–the kinds of partnerships that have led to the relative peace of the post World War 2 era, and the worldwide rise in economic prosperity. Failure to insist upon the adoption of liberal institutions rewards despotism, and can even enrich tyrants.

 

Yet, that’s exactly what Obama’s foreign policy has done.

 

In 2008, Senator John McCain criticized Obama’s desire to legitimize rogue states by opening diplomatic ties with them. Obama called McCain’s charge an appeal to the politics of fear. He went further, saying, “we need to…use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” This rejoinder sounds consistent with what Rose, and others concerned with preserving the liberal international order, would welcome. However, even if Rose considers the Iran Nuclear Deal, the normalization of relations with communist Cuba, and the lifting of the weapons embargo with communist Vietnam, peripheral items, these Obama policies do not support the liberal international order. They do, in fact, quite the opposite.

 

Rose argues, for example, that Obama exercised sound judgement by responding tepidly to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2013, in part, because Ukraine (not a NATO member) didn’t deserve our protection.

 

“This policy seems eminently sensible,” Rose writes. “NATO members have an ironclad security guarantee of American protection, which Washington will unquestionably enforce if necessary…Ukraine will probably join the liberal order eventually, when circumstances permit. But it is not the United States’ job to fight to bring it in before then.”

 

Contrast this with our new stance with Vietnam. Vietnam persists as a communist nation, replete with political prisoners and basic injustices. Hours before Obama landed in Hanoi, the Vietnamese people held an election in which more than 98% of Vietnamese citizens voted to legitimate the illegitimate and oppressive regime. Still, Obama strengthened this regime–promising to sell it F-16s, drones, surveillance equipment and electronic warfare capabilities so that “Vietnam [can] fully link its kill chain between ‘see-ers’ and ‘shooters.’”

 

If this effort were meant to “pressure” Vietnam into liberalizing, then Obama would be serving the liberal international order. However, as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere notes, “neither the Americans or [sic] the Vietnamese spent any time pretending the change had anything to do with actual democratic reform. Obama didn’t make a show of calling for it. President Tran Dai Quang didn’t make a show of pretending he was for it. They both knew it would have been a joke.”
What incentivizes nations to pursue liberalism–often reducing the power of the ruling class–when the benefits of the liberal global order fall upon illiberal states as well? Doesn’t Obama’s approach to these hostile states undermine the liberal international order? Or do a stronger Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam exist only in the periphery?

How Real RINOs Threaten to Ruin the Party

However much we tell ourselves that voting in the Republican primary is light years away, the polling remains stubbornly depressing. Month after month, Donald Trump sits high atop “the best candidates the GOP has ever fielded.” Trump’s most ardent supporters argue that he enjoys this success because he is a “true conservative”–tough, decisive, honest. By contrast, Trump’s opponents are RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)–the “go along to get along” gang. Real Republicans, according to this group, are conservative to their core, people like Mitt Romney (in 2008, not 2012) and Rick Santorum (in 2012, not 2016). The only other “true conservative” running for the 2016 GOP nomination is Senator Ted Cruz, the firebrand who stood up to the John Boehner-Mitch McConnell “establishment wing” of the Republican Party by petulantly leading charges to shut down the federal government whenever he didn’t get his way.

Talk radio host, Hugh Hewitt, notes that “Frank Luntz…says he believes that the Trump voters are as solid as voters can be and that those committed to Cruz are just a touch less devoted.” These supporters, Hewitt calls “True Believers.”

Trump and Cruz “True Believers” support their respective candidates out of a sense that conservatism is under attack as much from liberals outside the party as from liberals inside the GOP–RINOs. Ironically, though, both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz fit the original definition of RINOs. For this reason, chief among others, most Republican voters do not trust them.

Phil Edwards writes a fascinating article for Vox describing a brief history of the term RINO as a pejorative. In it, he notes that its roots refer to the classical definition of republican (small “r”). Originally, the term referred to people and “governments that claimed to be representative, but were actually autocratic.”

In this sense, Cruz and Trump fit the bill perfectly. Senator Cruz, for example, crafted his image by leading the charge to shut down the federal government to protest Obamacare. Even though funds for Obamacare had already been appropriated, and the legislation came into being because the American people elected Democrats to represent them, Cruz used the Senate (futilely, but in an autocratic manner) to derail legislation that he opposed.

If not for Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s clever strategizing; and the Senate’s bipartisan exasperation with the obstreperous Cruz; Cruz would have shut the government down again to protest Planned Parenthood funding, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Using what essentially amounts to one-sixth of the federal government, to override the will of the people as expressed through elections, to impose the will of a minority, represents an autocratic impulse–not a republican one.

Circumstances protect Mr. Cruz from being the biggest RINO running for president this cycle. He likely would have been the most despised Republican running for president if not for Donald Trump–a blathering, uncouth, empty-headed, showboat. Examining Trump’s anti-republican impulses requires a survey of his statements rather than his political actions, as Trump has never held political office.

In his announcement speech, Trump promised to use the power of the federal government to coerce businesses to do his bidding, much like Republicans decry Democrats for doing.

“I would call up the head of Ford, who I know. If I was president, I’d say, ‘Congratulations. I understand that you’re building a nice $2.5 billion car factory in Mexico and that you’re going to take your cars and sell them to the United States…’ So I would say, ‘Congratulations. That’s the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.”

When National Review editor, Rich Lowry, castigated Donald Trump, Trump called on the federal government to punish him.

“He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him,” Trump tweeted.

If a Democrat prescribed the federal government to fine a journalist who voiced a political disagreement, conservatives would rightfully cry ‘foul.’

On the subject of the Syrian refugees, Mr. Trump promised to autocratically forego immigration laws and rules regarding asylum seekers.

“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”

Don’t Republicans detest President Obama’s executive action on immigration, precisely because it is autocratic?
Today, the term RINO refers to what used to be known as “Me too Republicans.” In this regard, RINO is a silly term that serves to stifle debate more than to accurately describe living, breathing Republicans. The GOP enjoys more solidarity on issues than it ever has, and the only real differences we face concern tactics and priorities. In the meantime, though, there are those who wish to divide the party with this scurrilous slur–RINO. Ironically, they, and their “True Believers,” best fit the description of a RINO, and their autocratic impulses threaten the legitimacy of republican philosophy.

The Free Exchange (15-009)

The Free Exchange is a series dedicated solely to answering comments from you. I appreciate your reading and always enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. Thank you for your participation.


A Constructivist Approach to Iran Spells Certain Disaster

Black and Red Fan writes:

It’s great to read more about political theory. I think if more people understood the political theory and the root of liberalism/progressivism, the more people will realize how naive and dangerous it is.

The constructionist foreign policy theory as you explained it, falls perfectly within liberalism and their post-modern approach of placing us as God. Instead of recognizing that there is something beyond us that forms the world, liberalism places the liberal and his child-like point of view as king and himself as God; whatever he perceives and dreams up, it must be real and he treats it as such. That is such a dangerous approach to the world, especially when it comes to foreign policy that it is scary to see it, as you explained so well in this article.

I believe we will pay a dear price for this awful deal in the future. But when the consequences of this deal occur, it will be up to us to explain it clearly since the mass media will engage in damage control and a rationalization & defense of this deal since it was done by Obama. That’s always been the most frustrating part; truth gets twisted and distorted just like the consequences of Obama pulling out of Iraq not being blamed on him but on Bush. The non-truth drives me crazy. I think God hard-wired people like us to point out their untruth and clarify the world with truth.

J Hunter:

Thank you. I’m glad you liked this piece. I love political philosophy and theory.

To that end, I’m not sure if postmodernists believe that we’re God or gods. You’re right to point out that postmodernism fits snugly into Leftist thought–it’s just that there has been a change in liberal thought–and in American philosophy altogether.

America, as a country, was founded by modernists–people who believed that truth existed, but that it had to be determined via scientific means and less through supernatural means. Modernists, those responsible for the ugly chapters of the 20th century (fascism, Nazism, and communism), are much more likely to consider enlightened humans as God or gods than the postmodernists.

Postmodernists challenge the idea that a God or gods exist. They challenge whether or not truth exists, and they definitely challenge the idea that truth can be objective. This ideology is a cancer when it comes to policymaking–especially in the realm of foreign policy. It undermines authority and sovereignty–the very things necessary for a foreign policy to exist. It leads to isolationism and caprice. Constructivism is its feeble brainchild.

Your calling this worldview “childlike” is spot on. What comes immediately to my mind is a 2006 Katie Couric interview with then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The two women were discussing the Iraq War, and Couric challenged Rice’s claim; that we are right to fight for the freedoms of the Iraqi people that we, westerners, enjoy; with a question echoing a liberal and libertarian talking point that drips with postmodernist slime: “To quote my daughter, ‘Who made us the boss of them?’”

The question supports postmodernist thinking because to the postmodernist, there can be no answer. Rice couldn’t have answered “God,” because postmodernists don’t believe in a uniform reality, let alone, one in which a God can exist and make demands. Had Rice answered, “the Iraqi people,” the postmodernist would “deconstruct” that answer to the point of questioning whether “the Iraqi people,” or any people, could express a unified, intelligible will (How did they make us the boss of them? Did they write a letter that they all signed? If there was a poll, was the question biased? To what degree did they want us to be ‘their boss?’ etc.).

Similarly, postmodernists not only argue that truth cannot be ascertained, but they argue that truth is subjective, so it cannot exist for anyone except whoever accepts a certain version of a truth. Therefore, Couric’s question is rhetorical. No answer could please her (or other postmodernists).

Apply that to foreign policy and postmodernists ask constructivist questions: “What makes us a superpower? What makes Iran a rogue state? Isn’t one man’s terrorist, another’s freedom-fighter? Who’s to say?

Not us.

Constructivism has its place, and that’s in the interpersonal realm. Rightly applied, it goes a long way to explain the effects of stereotyping and prejudice. Elevated to the realm of foreign relations, it is a nightmare–a postmodernist nightmare.


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A Constructivist Approach to Iran Spells Certain Disaster

A Deadly Double Down


Peter Baker writes, in a New York Times piece, that President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran represents a pivotal “moment of truth” for his “ambitions to remake the world.” Baker refers to the deal as a “gamble,” a “prospect,” a “holy grail.” This language of tantalizing evokes a sense of teasing, baiting, and peril. Combine Iran with the words “nuclear” and “peril,” and the stakes of Obama’s failure equal death on par with that seen last century. Welcome to Constructivist Foreign Policy Theory–the least-trusted foreign policy approach respected only within liberal academia.

Admittedly, the optimism of Constructivist Theory (or Constructivism) provides an alluring argument capable of ensnaring the naive and the desperate. Constructivism holds that a table is only a table because we recognize it as such. Stand on that table and sing a song and the table becomes a stage. Likewise, a rogue nation is only a rogue nation because it is viewed by others as such. Therefore, treat the nation as a responsible one, and it will rise to its new designation.  While the theory does an excellent job creating stage props for a play, its application in foreign policy presents many more limitations.

Its adherents point to terrorist groups turned respectable political parties as proof of Constructivism’s success and potential. Sinn Fein, Hamas, and increasingly the Taliban, evolved from shadowy butchers to doughy politicians. Neo-Realism itself, another foreign policy theory, shares some Constructivist assumptions while avoiding Constructivism’s skeptics and critics. Of course, not only do theorists argue about Constructivism’s role in transforming these groups, but the consequences of getting the answer wrong–of misapplying the pollyanna theory–equal violence. Baker highlights this point by detailing Iran’s troubling recent history:

“[Iran] has been the most sustained destabilizing force in the Middle East–a sponsor of the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, a supporter of Shiite militias that killed American soldiers in Iraq, a patron of Syria’s government in its bloody civil war, and now a backer of rebels who pushed out the president of Yemen.”

Why pursue this strategy with Iran?

Mr. Obama’s coziness with Constructivism comes as no surprise: The president fashions himself a product of the Elite American University. Here, political hypotheses live artificially long lives, protected from their certain death by a lack of implementation. Obama also posits that with Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection, peace between Israel and Palestine, the true Holy Grail for American presidents, and one that if attained would justify his Nobel Peace Prize, appears impossible. Reforming Iran represents the last hope to offset his prolific use of drone strikes.

Then, there is the question of Obama’s desperation and naivety. Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist speaks to the former:

“Right now, he has no foreign policy legacy…He’s got a list of foreign policy failures.”

Peggy Noonan echoes this point:

“Syria, red lines, an exploding Mideast, a Russian president who…made a move, upsetting a hard-built order that had maintained for a quarter-century since the fall of the Soviet Union–what a mess.”

Baker piles on:

“Rather than building a new partnership with Russia, he faces a new cold war. Rather than ending the war in Iraq, he has sent American forces back to fight the Islamic State…Rather than defeating Al Qaeda, he finds himself chasing its offshoots. Rather than forging peace in the Middle East, he said recently that is beyond his reach.”

Indeed, the Administration seeks a “win” to salvage its foreign policy reputation.

On the topic of naivety, Obama loyalists disagree that it applies to him. His own words, though, undermine these defenders:

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

The cute line, with its tone ripped from his 2008 campaign, fails to recognize that Iran rightly inspires reason to fear. Moreover, a Constructivist approach threatens to strengthen and embolden Iran–pitting an intangible goal, a foreign policy pin on his empty chest, against a tangible alternative, the millions of charred bodies of our allies, if not some of our own.

Obama’s “gamble” with Iran is a fool’s bet.