The Real Split

What is the real defining split between conservatives and liberals? According to a recent article in Scientific American, research from the University of Pennsylvania indicates the fundamental difference is that “Conservatives tend to believe that strict divisions are an inherent part of life. Liberals do not.”

So… in practice this means that conservatives tend to be hierarchal absolutists, seeing all the elements of life as either black or white, and dividing elements of life into ranked categories with absolute bounds, while liberals are more likely to see things in shades of gray and to minimize categorical differences.

That’s why conservatives see gender as binary, despite the fact that every year babies are born with indeterminate sexual organs. And there’s been a fight over this as well, with the liberal side saying that one in a thousand children are born intersex, while the conservatives cite figures a hundred times smaller. But the plain fact is that there is a spectrum between genders, regardless of the numbers, and this spectrum has been found in 65,000 different species of animals as well.

The problem created by the conservatives is that they want to impose absolute rigidity, which is a form of despotism, because people are different, and in the United States there are definite sub-cultures, even within the smallest of least populated states, so that excessively rigid rules and laws are too restrictive and actually generate conflict.

On the other side, liberals too often fail to recognize that a working society simply can’t physically have and maintain the scope of laws and regulations to suit everyone perfectly, and there do have to be some limits.

Too Few Limits?

When I was a young man, too many years ago, mass shootings were almost unknown, and never occurred at schools. Crude and lewd language was largely kept to back alleys or behind closed doors. Politicians – with a very few exceptions – shaded the truth rather than obliterated it.

Statistics show that crime spiked in the 1970-90 period and most crime rates, including murder, are at the same level as in 1950, although total numbers are up because the U.S. population has almost doubled since then.

The biggest differences I see involve the loss of societal and social limits on personal behavior. From what I can tell, most towns or cities over 50,000 people have problems with homeless people invading public spaces and even private commercial spaces, to the point that, in a growing number of cities, business owners have to clean up human filth and debris every morning before opening. With the outcries about past inhumane treatment of the mentally ill, governments have effectively abdicated most responsibility for either adequate treatment or lodging of those individuals, while dumping the problems these individuals create on the rest of society, as well as imposing additional costs on local governments.

We’re also seeing more drivers ignoring speed limits and running red lights, a significant increase in retail shoplifting, as well as increasingly violent disruptions at public meetings, and a growing lack of civility at all levels of society, even in Congress where shouting and heckling the President – something once considered unthinkable – has become common. College students organize protests and harass and heckle speakers for having differing beliefs. Racist demonstrations have become common.

One of my grandchildren attends a public middle school. In her class is a young male who repeatedly disrupts the class, who has attacked classmates violently, and upon one occasion, assaulted another smaller and weaker withdrawn student who’s never said or done anything offensive, and it took three teachers to remove him. Despite suspensions, the behavior has continued for the entire year. The administration appears helpless, and the parents won’t do anything, except insist that their son remain in school – no matter what the cost is to the other students and to their learning. This is hardly an isolated instance, but it’s the result of a society that refuses to say, “Some behavior is unacceptable, no matter what your background or problems are.”

All of these are the result of a societal failure to enforce socially, rather than legally, a norm of acceptable behavior.

While societies need rules, without also an accepted code of social behavior, laws are insufficient to maintain order – unless you want an iron-fisted autocracy.

And if there’s a continued growth in the lack of self-restraint, the U.S. will end up either in anarchy or under a right-wing autocracy, because neither the left nor the right appears willing to call out bad behavior and incivility on the part of its own partisans, and the right is perfectly willing to legislate controls over those who disagree with their perception of the ideal society. And neither seems able or willing to reach a consensus on acceptable social and public behavior.

Trump the GLOAT

Donald Trump should be officially recognized as the Greatest Liar of All Time – the GLOAT to end all GLOATs.

After all, almost every sentence contains a lie or misrepresentation of some sort.

Back in 2017, Carole McGranahan in the American Ethnologist journal stated, “Donald Trump is different”…and the most “accomplished and effective liar” thus far to have ever participated in American politics.

But Trump went on from there. Fact-checkers from The Washington Post, the Toronto Star, and CNN compiled data on “false or misleading claims”, and “false claims”, respectively. The Post reported 30,573 false or misleading claims in four years, an average of more than 21 per day.

But Trump hasn’t slowed down. In his recent New Hampshire Town Hall, he reiterated all the old lies and added a few more. Although he was convicted of sexual battery and defamation in the recent E. Jean Carroll case, Trump claimed “I don’t know her. I never met her.” There’s one large problem with that. Four years ago, The New York Times published a picture of Carroll and Trump and their spouses conversing.

Trump claimed he built hundreds of miles of border walls and finished the job. He did neither. His administration repaired existing walls, but only added 47 miles of new walls.

He also declared that he “offered” 10,000 National Guard troops to stop the January 6th violence. Every single figure who had authority to request or authorize such troops, as well as extensive documentation, refuted that claim.

Another lie was the statement that the U.S. has provided $171 billion in aid to Ukraine and that we’ve sent so much that the U.S. is out of ammunition. The current aid total is $37 billion, and the U.S. certainly not out of ammunition.

And then, when Caitlin Collins had the courage to point out his untruths, Trump had the nerve to say, “You’re a nasty person.” Nasty for pointing out that he lied?

But then, what else can you expect from the GLOAT?

Just a Thought

The United States is facing a debt ceiling crisis, and if the U.S. does begin to default on its fiscal obligations, the economic results will be far from pretty.

The Republicans have passed legislation in the House of Representatives that supposedly addresses the problem. In fact, it doesn’t, at least not in any way that won’t create even greater chaos than a default will, because the spending cuts required by that bill would amount to an average cut of 22% in virtually all non-defense government programs.

No responsible Administration can willingly accept such cuts, which would fall on the poorest of Americans and would also affect infrastructure and environmental programs, agriculture, air travel, and health and safety programs in a number of areas.

So why did the Republicans make such a proposal?

Some would say that it’s to force those “free-spending Democrats” back to financial sanity, or at least to negotiate for less federal spending.

I’m not so sure about that. The Republicans were perfectly happy to raise the debt ceiling in a Trump administration when the national debt was significantly increased by the Trump tax cuts, most of which went to the wealthy.

Could it… might it… just possibly be to break the economy temporarily because that’s the only way a Republican candidate could win the presidency?

If the Biden Administration agrees to any significant cuts in non-defense programs, in order to avoid a default, there will be significant negative economic impacts. If it doesn’t agree to heavy cuts, and the Republicans hold fast, there will be a default and negative economic impacts.

Either way, the economy tanks, and Biden gets blamed.

Pure brutal genius, and the poor dumb American public will dump the entire blame on Biden, and that poor dumb American public will get what it deserves. Unfortunately, so will those of us who saw the possibility coming.

Merely a Liar?

One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths is his ability to tell blatant falsehoods in all manner of ways, but convincingly and often entertainingly.

Because he can do so, is always willing to do so, and because he has absolutely no regard for accuracy, this poses an enormous problem for his opponents – and for the future of the United States. It also raises the question of whether he even knows what the facts are, or what they mean, although whether he does or not is largely irrelevant because it doesn’t affect his actions or those of his followers.

This considerable ability on the part of the former president depends on basic vulnerabilities in human character – most people tend to judge people more favorably when they can identify with them, and we all tend to identify more with people who tell us what we want to believe and who appeal to us by raising our greatest concerns and posturing as the enemy of people and ideas we fear or dislike.

We don’t like facts that threaten our beliefs or self-image, and we’re more likely to support those who reinforce our beliefs and prejudices because there’s a socio-genetic predilection against the outsider or the “other” and a desire to belong that can override almost everything else [why else would so many people believe in religions and faiths that are so patently ludicrous?]. We also generally prefer the simplest answer to the most complex problem, even when that simple answer is totally wrong.

Trump is a master at exploiting these human weaknesses, possibly one of the most effective social manipulators since Adolf Hitler, and, frankly, he’s likely more effective because his hatred of those he dislikes is less obvious and he can use humor, often barbed, masterfully in belittling others.

And, most of all, his opponents underestimate him, partly because they also underestimate the need to belong motivating his supporters and the disdain those supporters have for what they regard as “the establishment.”

Telling his supporters that he lies won’t change anything, not when they have a vested interest in believing those lies. Parading facts that debunk his lies and misrepresentations won’t sway them, because they see those facts as either lies or irrelevant.

Yet his opponents continue to assume that most people will be reasonable and thoughtful and see through the lies and misrepresentations and that facts and accuracy will prevail, despite the fact that there’s no assurance at all of that.