Discussing politics is generally considered to be a social faux pas.
I was sitting in the barber chair the other day, and the guy who always cuts my hair started to mention to his boss (who was manning the next chair over) that I write about markets and politics. Then he decided against it. “Nah, I better not get him started,” he whispered in my ear.
This really is a sad state of affairs. Think about it: the only place we can talk with each other about politics is on the internet because if we try and broach the subject outside of that, we’re likely to physically assault each other. Want proof? Just read the following sent in by a reader:
I guess I come from another era where only weak men constantly pushed their opinions on others who did not ask for them. Now days that is no longer the case as people hide behind keyboards and mistakenly think that not having to address a man face to face allows them to act without integrity or responsibility. In that gone era I speak of, getting punched in the face for being a snarky insulting asshole tended to make people realize that although they have a right to say whatever they want, it also means there are consequences.
That’s hilarious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the irony inherent in threatening someone from behind your own keyboard whilst accusing that same someone of hiding behind their keyboard is obviously completely lost on this idiot. But beyond that, it kind of begs the question. That is, this person has implicitly said it’s a bad thing that people aren’t willing to discuss politics in person more often, but then he’s gone on to imply that if people try to correct this mistake, he’ll punch them in the face.
Anyway, part of the reason why the idea of “polite” political discourse is an oxymoron is that when you try to talk to people about politics, they’ll invariably try to argue both sides in an effort to avoid admitting when their favored party/candidate is wrong. And while that’s a valuable skill to have if you’re say, a lawyer, it makes it impossible to talk about anything.
A great example is as follows:
Trump supporter: “The Middle Class is sick and tired of being taken advantage of by the elites, that’s why they voted for Trump.”
Heisenberg: “Ok, well then why did Trump roll back Dodd-Frank, which was designed specifically to protect the Middle Class from Wall Street?”
Trump supporter: “Well because Donald Trump said Dodd-Frank was keeping banks from lending to the Middle Class.”
Heisenberg: “You can’t have it both ways.”
Trump supporter: “The Middle Class is sick and tired of politics being beholden to special interests and Donald Trump is going to ‘drain the swamp.'”
Heisenberg: “Ok, well then why did Donald Trump fill his inner circle with Goldman bankers and billionaires?”
Trump supporter: “Well because Trump is running the country like a business and those guys are great at that.”
Heisenberg: “You can’t have it both ways.”
Now let’s flip things around. Let me show you how to have a real discussion about politics using an exchange I had frequently in 2015.
Republican: “Ha! How do you explain Hillary Clinton using a private e-mail server for official business?!”
Heisenberg: “Well, it was a f*cking stupid thing to do.”
Republican: “Wait, you’re not supposed to say that.”
Heisenberg: “I know, but it’s the truth and now that we’ve agreed on the obvious, we can talk.”
See in the first two examples, the conversation is a dead end. The Trump supporter will never admit to being a hypocrite, so continuing the discussion is pointless.
In the third example, we both agree that using a server you rigged up in your basement to handle classified e-mails was stupid regardless of your political affiliation so now, having agreed on the obvious, we can move on and think about how to fix sh*t.
So all of that to present the following from Foreign Policy who notes that Trump has dropped more bombs on Yemen in a week than Obama dropped in any year of his presidency. Just read the excerpts first and then I’ll draw some conclusions.
After a week of punishing airstrikes loosed on al Qaeda in Yemen that saw 40 targets go up in flames and smoke, American pilots took a breather the past two nights, watching the dust settle.
The weeklong blitz in Yemen eclipsed the annual bombing total for any year during Obama’s presidency. Under the previous administration, approval for strikes came only after slow-moving policy discussions, with senior officials required to sign off on any action. The Trump administration has proven much quicker at green-lighting attacks.
More broadly, the expanded bombing in Yemen signals a more aggressive use of military force by the Trump administration against Islamist militants, from Syria to Afghanistan. The White House already has approved the deployment of Marines and special operations forces to Syria and a large-scale commando raid in Yemen. On Thursday, a top commander suggested more troops are headed to Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump’s readiness to order military action stands in contrast to the previous administration. When Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice ran the policymaking process, “stuff moved like molasses through the National Security Council,” much to the frustration of military planners at U.S. Central Command, a former senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Foreign Policy. The interagency discussions allowed plans to languish for weeks while debates swirled over when and how to act.
Throughout 2016, the Pentagon continually briefed the White House on ways to get more aggressive with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, as they watched the group gain strength in their Yemeni strongholds. Those strikes didn’t happen, “but just because the clock ran out,” the official said.
The Obama administration handed over plans for a stepped-up campaign to the incoming Trump team in January. There has been an immediate change in the tempo of operations. This reflects the new administration’s apparent preference for prompt military action over policy deliberations, and a more dominant role for the military in decision-making.
Ok, so that’s all fine and good (well, depending on what your beliefs are with regard to US involvement in Mid-East affairs), but the problem is that Obama’s critics consistently point to involvement in these very same wars as indicative of a foreign policy failure.
“He promised to get us out of those wars!,” critics shout. “He said no boots on the ground, and just look!,” they’ll continue.
And yet these will be the very same people praising Trump for being more aggressive in a week than Obama was in a year when it comes to one of the region’s most enduring conflicts.
The same goes for Syria.
How many times did you hear an alt-Right website b*tch about CIA involvement in Syria? How many times did those same websites lampoon the CIA’s “train and equip” missions to arm Syrian opposition forces? How many times did those same websites accuse the Obama administration of aiding Sunni insurgents that, although they weren’t flying the blag flag, nevertheless shared the same ideals as ISIS? How many times did those same websites point to the glaring hypocrisy inherent in aiding the Saudi effort in Yemen when that campaign was unquestionably responsible for airstrikes that targeted civilians? And on, and on.
Now let’s see how those Right-wing media outlets spin Trump doing exactly the same thing, only at warp speed and on a far grander scale.
Of course they will spin it and the way they’ll do it is they’ll say Trump is fighting to rid the world of “radical Islamic terror.”
Ok, fine. Well then why didn’t that excuse fly when Obama was sending in commandos and dropping bombs?
[Sarcasm alert] Oh, that’s right, when Obama was doing it in Syria, it was a vast conspiracy to cover up for the CIA covertly aiding ISIS in a joint effort to illegitimately usurp the “benevolent” government of Bashar al-Assad (who definitely didn’t gas all those people that time – that was a “false flag”). And when the US was backing the Saudi bombing runs in Yemen it was a willful disregard for human life and not only that, it was hypocritical because after all, the Saudis promote the same Wahhabism espoused by ISIS and al-Qaeda.
To be sure, there’s some truth to those claims. That is, there almost surely was an effort to aid Sunni extremists with questionable motives in Syria. And it definitely is hypocritical to back the Saudis when Riyadh is, unquestionably, the world’s number one exporter and financier of terror.
But if you’re going to level that criticism at Obama, then you have to apply it to Trump too if he’s doing the same thing. And especially if he’s doing it “bigly”, which the quoted passages above from Foreign Policy certainly suggest that he is.
Oh, and you also might ask Trump why he’s bombing AQAP in Yemen and not the Houthis, because after all, the Houthis are an extension of the IRGC and to let Trump tell it, Iran is the world’s number one sponsor of terror. And along those same lines, isn’t there something completely ridiculous about Trump spending billions to bomb AQAP in Yemen when the ideology the group espouses emanates directly from a country (Saudi Arabia) that the very same Donald Trump steadfastly refuses to include on his list of places from which terrorists usually come?
See this is all pretty damn complicated. And indeed that’s my whole point here. If we’re going to solve complex problems, we have to be able to talk about them without “punching each other in the face.” Part of that is being willing to admit when the candidate and/or party that you support is wrong. Trying to argue both sides gets us nowhere.