A Philosopher’s Brief Comments On The Election

A Philosopher’s Brief Comments On The Election

Getting Past Nurse Ratched

By Professor David Schmidtz (University of Arizona)

January 4, 2017         Picture: Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

This is a preview article for The Critique’s upcoming January/February 2017 Issue “Stick It To The Man: A Year Of Anglo-American Populist Revolt Against A Changing Culture And An Obtuse Political Establishment”

1. Friday, November 11, 2016

The U.S Presidential election was three days ago. We seem to have elected Randle McMurphy. No one is acknowledging that the alternative was Nurse Ratched. (You can Google Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.) Partisans thought one of the candidates was a monster. What did non-partisans think?

FOX is running stories about possible cabinet appointments in the new administration. CNN is driving around in a truck looking for protestors. A CNN anchor openly weeps on camera. She literally asks guests, “where did we go wrong?” When she asked a black guest to explain why so many fewer blacks voted this time, she was furious when the guest replied by asking, “why would we vote for Hillary Clinton?” No one asked the anchor, at least on camera, why CNN portrayed Mr. Trump as cute and funny and refreshing until after he secured the Republican nomination. (You can Google “Pied Piper candidates” for some speculation.)

One difference between the parties: one party put up a machine candidate, rallying behind her from the start—from years before the start—putting up an avowed socialist as the token opposition for the nomination. The other party, meanwhile, was a zoo, a spectacularly undisciplined mess, putting up a dozen more or less serious candidates. It never did get its act together. One party experienced a shattering defeat, the other a shattering victory.

Analysts for some of the news networks are talking about the election being decided by uneducated whites. Such voters originally were described as “non-college-educated whites” but around the time when Secretary Clinton called them “deplorables,” the networks began to shorten the description. Most people are saying, “We had an election. We do that every four years. We know the drill. Every fours years, one half of us are more disappointed than the other half, then we get on with our lives.” A minority, however, including members of the media, are hinting that we need a recount, partly out of a vague sense that the votes of uneducated whites—the ones who presumably are racist, homophobic, and every other bad thing we can think of—should not have been counted. (I did not know there would be an actual recount when I first wrote this.)

Uneducated. Here is another description: voters who decided this election were educated by life. Has earning a living taught them anything about politics? Do they lie awake at night contemplating how much more educated they would be if they had instead studied journalism?

Has electoral politics become a team sport? Perhaps it has always been so. Do you see one of the parties as the home team? When you tune into a given network, do you expect it to root for the home team? Do you see one party, but only one, as having co-opted a whole news network? Do you see that as dirty politics when, but only when, the other team does it?

Undecided voters who deemed both major party candidates unfit to hold public office ended by breaking for Trump 69% to 15% in the final hours. Why? Perhaps they voted for Trump over Clinton, but I doubt it. The nature of that choice had been clear for a while, and it had not settled the matter. What did undecided voters learn in those final hours? As one of my brothers observes from Canada, some decided to vote for the zoo over the machine. Watching the media coverage over the final days, they realized that what was playing out in front of them was a referendum on whether the President would be held accountable. In the end, they voted for late-night television to go back to making fun of the President, something they had not seen for eight years and something they knew had been a healthy thing. They saw that the media would hold the President accountable—if the President were Mr. Trump.

CNN reporters, driving around looking for protesters, report seeing spray-painted swastikas. They do not speculate about the graffiti’s source. They do not investigate. They assume it was Trump supporters. For all I know, they are right. And yet, in America, those who celebrate usually wave American flags, not the most viscerally hateful anti-American symbol there is. The natural hypothesis is that swastikas would be a way of protesting an election, not a way of celebrating it. I could be wrong, and I concede that the demonstration is uncivilized, whether it be protest or celebration. I also concede that Trump is both nationalist and socialist in some respects, which is, after all, what it officially means to be a Nazi. (I did not know when I first wrote this that some of the vandals would be caught and would indeed turn out to have been protesting Trump’s win, not celebrating it.)

A good friend and former student points out that if we had had a sufficiently different rule for counting up votes, Hillary Clinton might have been declared the winner. Likewise, we could determine the winner of the World Series by looking at who scored the most runs rather than at who won the most games. Perhaps a truly democratic society would determine a winner by counting up who scored the most runs since the start of the season, or since the founding of the league. I’m glad we live in a system where a recount entails the equivalent of taking another look at a particular game’s final score rather than the equivalent of debating whether, in an alternate universe, the rule book would have been different. The editor of this magazine has referred me to an article by a former student of mine, Mark Kingwell, in the Globe and Mail, that draws other parallels with baseball. Mark did not get the idea from me, or vice-versa, but I have always admired his work

I heard a sportscaster saying that the USA revolves around neighbors, not around the President. Our challenge as Americans was never to find a better President so much as to find a way to be better neighbors. No President can fix what is wrong with our schools, but maybe our neighbors can, one neighborhood school at a time.


2. Monday, December 5, 2016

I was in London for a month this past summer. I left a week before the Brexit vote. Although the result was not as flabbergasting as the outcome of the American election, it was contrary to the consensus forecast. London itself was correctly projected to come out against exit. Yet, outside London, every person that my wife and I talked to planned to vote for Brexit. Was Brexit the right choice for England? It is hard to say; it depends on decisions yet to be made. Many seem to think the vote came down to individualism versus solidarity, a symbolic vote for or against their own world view. Perhaps people likewise saw the American election as a symbolic choice of individualism versus solidarity. I doubt that anything good can come from thinking of democratic choice in those terms.

Brexit was a vote for democracy and for local control: a vote against key decisions being made by a distant, faceless, unaccountable, unelected bureaucracy. To that extent, Brexit was a good idea. But Brexit was other things too. For some, it was a vote for the same sort of nationalism that drove the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. But Brexit may yet become something worth wanting—a basis for a dynamic trade relationship with Europe. We will see. The economy has not crashed. People are muddling through. There has, however, been an uptick in reported hate crime. There is no data yet on how Brexit has affected the movement of immigrants.

FOX is still covering cabinet appointments. CNN moved on from covering protestors. It moved on from covering people suing for a recount not because they have evidence of tampering but because they see Mr. Trump as unqualified to govern, partly because when he had the chance, he failed to commit to accepting the verdict of the democratic process. Soon, it will move on from covering allegations that WikiLeaks (increasingly referred to as “Russia”) sabotaged the election by telling it like it is.

Today, CNN is interviewing white supremacists—self-declared Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, and members of something called “Alt-Right”. CNN ever so innocently asks them, “Why do people like you trust Mr. Trump to pursue your agenda?” News flash: if 60 million people vote for you, some of those votes will have been cast by lunatics. If there is forthcoming information here, then CNN needs to share it with us or else accept the verdict of the democratic process and move on. Its credibility seems very much in doubt.

I am watching CNN at the Yates Field House gymnasium at Georgetown University. There are 36 television screens in the gym. Nine screens are on channels set by the gym. The remaining 27 are mounted on cardio machines with channels set by individual users. Tonight I see something I have never seen before: not one screen, other than mine, is set to CNN. Not one. The faculty and students who patronize the gym are not particularly white. They are not particularly male. No one would call them uneducated. I would guess that few of them voted for Mr. Trump. But they sure do seem to be voting against what CNN calls “news”. Tweeting may turn out to be as revolutionary a campaign tool in our day as radio in the early 1930s and television in the early 1960s.

Our journalists seem not to know how to tell it like it is. We hardly remember what it was like for journalists to want to do so. But if we want the electoral process to stop giving us Randle McMurphy, our fourth estate needs to stop campaigning for Nurse Ratched. Better yet, our fourth estate needs to stop being Nurse Ratched too. Viewers are not patients. They have a responsibility and a right to decide for themselves.

David Schmidtz
David Schmidtz
David Schmidtz is Kendrick Professor of Philosophy and Eller Chair of Service-Dominant Logic, at the University of Arizona. In political philosophy, Arizona is ranked as the world’s #1 graduate program by the Philosophical Gourmet. (Arizona is the only school in “Group 1.”) David's fourteen former doctoral students all hold faculty positions. Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton University Presses have published their books. David also is editor-in-chief of Social Philosophy & Policy. He has been Visiting Professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown, the Political Economy Department at Kings’ College London, Philosophy & Economics at Hamburg University, and the Florida State College of Law.
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