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woohooligan Jun 23, 2017
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Do you guys remember a few years ago, when we were all afraid of Isis or Al-Qaeda? It was a simpler time. :P But of course times change and lately all our news focuses on a more existential crisis closer to home: remaining friends and decent neighbors during a Donald Trump presidency. My mother moved in with us a little over a year ago now, a while before the election. At the time she was pretty disgusted with Trump. A couple days ago she was telling me how there's this horrible, viscious, unprecedented and totally unwarranted conspiracy against Trump... I mean, holy hell, these people are saying and doing things that are ILLEGAL, just because they want Trump out of office! Of course, forgetting that this is exactly the line that Trump himself has been pedalling, pointing out that people in DC doing illegal shit is pretty normal of course had zero effect on her. In fact, while many states prevent ex-cons from voting, there are also many states in which you can campaign for a senate seat from jail.

Oh, and that whole "grab them by the pussy" comment? It never happened, because some website posted an alternative audio clip that "seemed more reasonable"... Forget that Trump himself admitted it during the second debate with Hillary, forget that his wife went on TV specifically to defend him by saying it wasn't his fault because Billy Bush goaded him into it... (because we need an easily manipulated president), and forget that Billy Bush who was fired from NBC (with a multi-million-dollar severance, natch... we should all feel sorry for him) also corroborates the original tape. There's a huge conspiracy here, with a doctored tape, and Trump himself, his wife, and Billy Bush are all going along with it, despite the fact that it being a fake would benefit them, all because "it would be more reasonable if he had said something else". When I point out that Trump admitted it during the debate, mom's immediate response is "which debate?" (there were SOOOO many of them), and "did you watch the whole debate?" (I'm sure everyone would just ignore it if the presidential debate had been deceptively edited). Of course, the problem with "seems reasonable" is that there is a ton of total bullshit that rational, reasonable people believe, like that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, that cops have to tell you they're cops if you ask them, or that we only use ten percent of our brains. The fact is, "it seems reasonable" is about the weakest possible evidence for something being true -- it's basically NOT evidence at all.

I have to admit, I think I'm pretty bad at combatting political polarization. I've read about an awful lot of cognitive science, so I feel like I have a better than average grasp on psychology and behavior (albeit in no way a professional opinion). And while I know that most articles about polarization research focus almost exclusively on the way that facts make polarization WORSE, I still believe that there are things we can do to reduce it, and I think we should. I don't have a magic bullet and I doubt there is one, but I'm pretty sure that ignoring things people have admitted to in favor of conspiracy theories isn't helping. You know what else isn't helping? Proclaiming ourselves to be proud deplorables and nasty women. When you update your twitter bio to say "I'm proudly blocked by Alex Jones!", as ridiculous as he is, you're making it harder for us to bridge the divide. I know I have a lot of work to do in this department... maybe I shouldn't have caricatured Trump as a giant penis. But I'm ready to start.

There are also people who say, "we've always been polarized!" Which is of course wrong... There's always been disagreement between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, and of course the worst divice, Marvel and DC fans. But we've not always been as polarized as we are right now, and there's proof of that. Pardon me while I use facts to polarize you. (Damn it!) Gallup has an online tool that lets you look at presidential approval ratings going all the way back to Truman. With every one of those people, the overall trend is that a president's approval ratings end far below where they started... it's as if, somehow, familiarity with a president breeds... something... and by the time they leave office, we've always decided that this guy we liked enough to elect, is in fact a collossal asshole. There are five exceptions: Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, and Obama, who all had ups and downs but left office much as they entered, and Bill Clinton who beat the odds and left in better favor. (I would include Bush Sr, but polls or not, you know we think you're a douche when you can't get re-elected as the incumbent.) This doesn't bode well for Trump, who entered office with approval ratings far below any other president (back to Truman when they started recording). When Johnson left office as an asshole (who's favorite hobby was flashing his dick in the congressional bathroom), he left with better approval ratings than Trump on day one.

Getting back to the subject of polarization, yes, there's always been a divide between Republicans and Democrats, but for the first seven presidents available on Gallup, from Truman to Carter (the peanut farmer!) it was a difference of 30-40%. Ironically, Reagan, who was nicknamed "the Uniter" was actually quite divisive and increased the divide in presidential approval to 40-50%. Since Reagan, the gap continues to gradually widen until it's 80-90% for the last three presidents. And we can't blame Television, since that started with Nixon v Kennedy. Televisions don't kill political careers, dick picks kill political careers! I do think twenty-four-hour news networks and Facebook are contributors, but I think we need to look at a wider picture.

I will buck the trend here and say the recent tragic shooting at the congressional baseball game, and the shooting of Gabby Giffords (and others) a few years ago, are not evidence we should do something about this polarization. So far we've had forty-five presidents, and out of them, there have been assassination attempts on sixteen! That's not a great record. That means that in our "land of the free", becoming president increases your odds of a murder attempt from about one in eighteen-thousand to one in THREE. God save the queen? She's a symbolic monarch, she can take care of herself, somebody put some damn body-armor on our president! And that's not even mentioning the REAL danger: Shakespeare in the Park! This risk of violence toward politicians (often enough from each-other) stretches all the way back to the very beginning of our country, with people like Lincoln and Garfield (yes, we had a lazy fat-cat president, and there was an attempt on his life).

I think we should work on polarization for two reasons.

First, because it's not really us: we have this myth created by "red states and blue states" shown on TV during our elections, this idea that we're all solidly in one camp or the other and we're always diametrically opposed. If republicans are against murdering babies, then democrats are ALL FOR MURDERING BABIES! Just on principal you know, because opposing the other team is the only principal. But that's just a convenient fiction. The reality is that we're all complex, and most of the country is actually pretty purple if you look at a realistic voting map. It's also pretty obvious that we're pretty purple when you consider how the congressional seats flip back and forth between Republicans and Democrats (when Gerrymandering doesn't prevent it).

Secondly, all this bickering about who did what in which bathroom ends up being a distraction that keeps us from dealing with other important issues that we actually agree on, like gun control. Somewhere around 80-90% of us agree on expanding background checks for gun purchases in the US, and that even includes a QUARTER of NRA MEMBERS. And yet, we allow the NRA lobby, who primarily represent the tiny minority of gun manufacturers, to pressure congress into passing dickish laws preventing us from even applying science to gun facts. Similarly, a majority of us agree that we should all have health care, meanwhile senate Republicans are busily trying to prevent many of us from keeping it. And to be clear, as a disabled American, and a cancer survivor who was only able to afford melanoma treatment thanks to Medicare, I don't see much difference between those two things. Whether a person is gunned down in the street, or denied care for their cancer, the end-result is the same, as a society we failed someone and they died because of it. That's not to say that we can ever eliminate all of those deaths. Some people will still die from cancer with treatment, and some people will always die from violence, but just because those things will sometimes happen doesn't mean we should welcome more of them! I saw a guy recently argue that he should be allowed to purchase a fully-automatic rifle because he CAN kill someone with a pencil. Well sure! And while we're at it, Samsung phones explode, so lets let anyone with a cell-phone buy Stinger missiles!

Before I run, I want to thank the Daily Show's Jordan Klepper for his fantastic new show and all his efforts to help address the gun issue. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you check out Jordan Klepper Solves Guns.

And now I have to go because I have to be up for an appointment early tomorrow morning and I'm eating into my sleep schedule right now because I was so eager to get this written and published for you guys tomorrow morning!

Stay awesome, Hooligans!

Sam


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