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False, false equivalencies

May 28, 2020

Note: in researching the source of this meme, I found it on a Reddit thread dated nine months ago. However, I saw it for the first time today.

I saw this image on my Facebook feed today, and was alarmed.

For context: watching white people being racist in the various infuriating and tragic videos that have emerged in recent days has been gut-wrenching and embarrassing for me. But those videos did not set off any new alarms, because I already know the terrible baseline of racism that exists in this country.

However, this seemingly kumbaya, equable, self-owning meme set off fresh alarms. It’s so dangerous because it’s so easy to believe, and so dangerous to believe in an election year. It speaks to a larger truth which I won’t deny–we should stop bickering and get things done.

However, it has an inherent weakness. It’s an anachronistic throwback to the pre-Obama years where voters were exposed to differing opinions that didn’t violate basic rules of discourse and logic. That simply isn’t the political landscape that exists in 2020.

I don’t relish the partisan divide that has consumed our nation, but it’s also not something that can be ignored or glossed over. To me, this meme and its message is almost as misguided as Trump’s “fine people on both sides” discourse on the Charlottesville rallies.

Since Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans have had one goal and one goal only: defeat him and prevent him from accomplishing anything. This isn’t partisan hyperbole–it’s well-documented that Mitch McConnell laid out this goal as his blueprint for action during the Obama administration. It has also been the animus behind a great deal of the Trump administration’s policies–undo anything and everything that Obama did.

Certainly, the opposition party will always work to counter proposals from an administration which has a different political philosophy. Certainly, a new president will walk back policies that it doesn’t agree with from the prior administration. But starting in 2008, fueled by the rabidly misinformed Fox News cohort that they had spent a generation grooming for the task, Republicans began skipping the cogent policy arguments to support their positions. Instead, they stoked anger against Obama to destroy any proposal, no matter how thoughtful or moderate that proposal, that he brought forward for consideration. Once the older, poorer, and less educated Americans who were predisposed to hate liberals were exposed to the rawer, less intellectual symbolism of unadulterated obstructionism, they ate it up.

This obstructionism came to a head with the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, which was simply ignored by the Republican-led Congress until Obama’s term ran out. They gave a bullshit reason (that they didn’t even bother to seriously defend) for refusing to even vote on the nomination. Their base loved the obstructionism, so why waste time constructing a real defense?

Republicans have been granted an able assist by the “let’s get along” crowd embodied by the meme above. Many supposedly logical people shared the meme of the demonic twins from The Shining with Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s faces superimposed. The message was clear throughout the election: they’re both equally bad choices, so who do I pick? Even if you bought into Pizzagate or any of the other ludicrous Clinton conspiracies, it’s still pretty hard to back into any calculus whereby Donald Trump is a better choice to lead the free world. But the news cycle and the political cycle plodded along with this assumption, so it became true as a simple matter of perception.

The false equivalencies in both that meme and this new meme refuse to die. They are propagated by well-meaning people who want to send out the message that it’s about the people and not the politicians. The politicians are just going to “argue with each other.” The Democrats and Republicans are both enemies of the people. We can’t trust them so let’s do something else. What is this “something else”? It’s not really clear. The two-party system we have is going to continue until something systemic changes, and until then we have to continue to pick a side. Throwing up our hands in equal disgust at both of them is not an option when one side will not engage in the elementary task of explaining its capricious decisions.

This new meme even has the audacity to ask us to blame ourselves for electing these awful people, like there’s some special “bad politician” disclaimer on our ballots that we can reference so that we don’t elect these argumentative types. And to be absolutely fair to politicians, they are supposed to debate policy before voting on it–that’s part of their jobs. Arguing isn’t the problem (another reason why this meme is lacking in coherence), it’s not coming to an equitable solution after arguing.

Politics is a job. The presidency is a job. There are people who make money at their jobs, and there are people who make a difference at their jobs, and sometimes people manage to do both. Subjecting an entire profession to a separate standard of human behavior is just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Let’s stop demeaning the job of politics and fill up our representatives’ phone lines, town halls, and inboxes so they know what they need to work on to continue to make a living as our employees.

And yes, that applies to Republicans and Democrats equally. Democrats aren’t saints. They can be racist, corrupt, and dishonest. They just happen to be going up against a party that has no social relevance and, thanks to the actions of its benefactors and its current godfather-in-chief, no soul.

Post-Script

The meme has a multitude of issues–the more substantive ones are above. But there are other, more cosmetic missteps which are hard to overlook.

If you look closely at its iconography, the meme is strikingly off-base. A MAGA hat is not equivalent to a tattoo and a nose ring. MAGA is a nativist, dog-whistle slogan. There’s no correspondence there to counterculture ink and piercings, which connote lack of conformity and not a whole lot else.

The bottom is a still of Andrew Yang at a Democrat debate. He hasn’t even been elected to an office yet, so it’s pretty difficult to understand picking him as the poster child for argumentative, do-nothing politicians. Maybe it’s because he’s in the middle of arguing a position–so what, candidates aren’t even supposed to have debates to let voters know how they stand on issues?

Or, since Yang’s campaign slogan is on the top border of the still, is this being presented as one of his campaign’s social media promos? That can’t possibly be the case, unless his campaign was run by middle-schoolers. The poor punctuation, along with captioning his image with an unflattering description of arguing politicians, would not pass muster for clarity of message in any campaign context.

So, even though this may be nit-picking to some, I believe that if a meme wasn’t designed in a logical, thoughtful way, then that doesn’t bode well for the ideas the meme is trying to convey.

From → politics

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