Thursday, January 30, 2020

Phoniness and Electability

Updated Below

In September 2015—over a year before Trump was elected president—Rula Jebreal wrote what I think is still one of the most insightful takes ever on Trump’s appeal, comparing him to another rich demagogue, Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Given the current obsession with the electability of whichever Democrat will face off against Trump in the general election, Jebreals article is at least as worth reading now as it was at the time. But the gist: conmen like Berlusconi and Trump make their audience feel in on the joke. “We’re all liars and conmen,” the subtext goes; “the difference is, I’m honest about it!”

The reason Trump—who himself is such an obvious phony—is Kryptonite to other phonies is that subtext. “You can trust me because I’m letting you in on the joke—the other candidates are laughing at you, while I’m laughing with you!”

I recommend Adam Johnson on why so many electability discussions are nothing more than disguised ideological attacks (and from people with breathtakingly bad records on the topic). But it’s also true that electability matters, and if you’re factoring electability into your calculus of who to vote for, I think it’s important to consider the paradoxical withering effect Trump has on other phonies.

Of course I have my opinions about which Democratic candidates are more genuine and which are more phony. But it’s been my experience that as soon as specific politicians become the focus of a political conversation, the conversation’s heat-to-light ratio tends to worsen (in that regard, I regret that if you’re inclined to support Trump, you’ve probably already stopped reading)

That said, because so much support for Joe Biden has to do with notions of electability, I’m going to take a chance and say this:

No matter how much you might like Biden (and in many ways there is a lot to like, and even to admire), if you’re concerned about electability, I think you have to consider Biden’s long history of personal fabrications. Shaun King has compiled a list here, including video, and it’s devastating. On top of which, there’s also Biden’s attempt to rewrite his vote for, and support for, America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and his attempt to revise his long history of attempting to cut social security.

Again, I have my opinions about the 2003 Iraq invasion and about social security, but here the substance of such things isn’t my point. It’s the electability vulnerability of a candidate who is so breathtakingly dishonest about his involvement in themand the related vulnerability of any other candidate with a history of personal and political inconsistencies.

When I’m trying to decide on which candidate to support, I try to focus more on the person’s track record than on electability (though obviously the two topics overlap). But to the extent I’m considering who would be strongest against Trump and who would be weakest, I give a lot of weight to the question of which candidates are most genuine and which are most phony. We have plenty of evidence that other phonies dont do well against Trump. I think the more formidable matchup would be a candidate characterized by genuineness.

Update

This Zephyr Teachout op-ed is related and worth considering.

No comments: