I have a couple of bones to pick about seemingly unrelated subjects, but I suspect they have connections stronger than one might think. Let’s get started with the current flood of mathematical evaluations of the recent election, to which pundits confidently attach motives and trends.
Analysis of voting statistics is a good and valuable thing. It helps us see how voting patterns have shifted in the present, but it is probably too early and a leap to then transform those shifts into trends that predict future voting patterns. Rational analysis is seldom a reliable indicator of voter decisions that are more often driven by emotions rather than disinterested rationality. Which is not to say that decisions driven by emotions are not rational, they are quite rational in their own way. They are calculations based on personal values, vigorous defense of self interest against perceived threats, real or imagined, and desires for more of what they believe others have and they don’t. The American value of individualism is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that it’s nearly impossible for many voters to conceive of a greater good, or common good, that doesn’t deprive them of one of their individual goods. In the same way, it suspects that any good provided to another must mean someone else is deprived of the full measure of what they have enjoyed. The value of cooperative synergy, helping create a greater good for all may work, at times, in a local context, but it’s almost impossible to see how it might work for the nation as a whole.
For deeper understanding of voting patterns, there must be a sharp turn toward exploring closely-held values and how they influence voting behavior.
That’s one bone down.The second has to do with crime. The data indicate that many voters are deeply concerned about crime surging out of control and for some reason, think the GOP is better at doing something about it because Democrats are said to be soft on crime. Violent crime statistics are irrelevant to them. Voter concern about crime is limited to violent street crime, not the bigger crimes committed on them by powerful and wealthy interests. So called white collar crimes seem remote and hard to understand. They have a point. Street crime is immediate, sometimes fatal, and always traumatic. Conditions that nourish criminal behavior are of little interest – they look too much like excuses. What voters want is a crackdown on criminals with punishment swift and certain. It’s a utilitarian argument: get the criminals off the street and keep them off the street. There are neighborhoods where street crime is a real and present danger. They get enough publicity to make voters believe it’s everywhere, even in their own neighborhoods, that have almost no street crime. Stoking the fear of crime has the added campaign benefit of rekindling every form of racial prejudice. Throughout history there has never been a better way to mobilize the mob than to identify a minority population as the cause of every trouble, to be brutally persecuted as a way to cleanse society. More than other Western societies, Americans exacerbate the problem by making sure there are lots and lots of guns all over the place. It makes it easy for anyone to blow off a little steam by shooting someone else. At the same time, it holds out the illusion that a gun in every household is an effective defense against all the other guns in other households. I wonder if it has anything to do with Americans unwilling to give up playing wild west cowboy games.
So that’s the second bone. The third is the economy. I am baffled by voter tendency to think Republicans are better at managing a difficult economy. That we have an inflation problem is obvious. The less affluent are having a hard time paying for essentials, much less anything else, and wages, while increasing, are not increasing fast enough to keep up with rising costs. It’s a bit scary to think we might be falling back into the raging wage/price spiral of roaring inflation experienced in the ‘70s. Reagan’s solution was to cut taxes and regulations on business. It’s been the GOP mantra ever since. It didn’t work then, hasn’t worked since, and it can’t ever work, but still they hang onto it. Promising a smaller, less expensive government, Reagan blew the lid off defense budgets causing massive unfunded national debt. Another standard ploy is to blame social service spending for “out of control” federal spending. In Reagan’s time, the inflationary spiral was killed by the Fed shoving the country into a deep recession that threw millions out of work, and made the poor even more destitute. The data show that the economy does better, deficits are lower, and the national debt more under control when Democrats lead the nation. It’s not a hard and fast rule. They can make big mistakes, but their track record is a lot better. The current administration is often criticized for trying to make the economy look better than it is. There is some spin to be sure, but it has also laid down the necessary steps for rebuilding our infrastructure, investing in future technologies, and reforming social programs that will assure a better economic future for all. It’s the practical stuff of every day hard work that should appeal to conservatives. Maybe it’s out of sheer stubbornness that they keep on promoting the Reagan illusions.
OK, I’m done picking bones for the time being.