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Category: politics (page 1 of 19)

Trump and The Sound of Music

We’re heading into the election of 2016 as I write this. I hope this is reaching you in a not-too-far distant time when the USA has sent a would-be tinpot dictator packing, where he can spend his time working on a fascist TV station.

Social media has been revealing this time around. Everyone has revealed themselves. The guy you went to high school with, the former teacher, the frothing-at-the-mouth friend of a friend, some guy from church — many people have revealed themselves as supporters (enthusiastic or otherwise) of Strongman McBreitbart. It’s always a shock and a disappointment when you learn unexpectedly that someone has “gone Trump“.

I went to a production of The Sound of Music recently. Great show, still works. The scene I love is “So Long, Farewell”. That’s partly because OMG adorable children! The whole bedtime ritual is very emotional for me.

But the real pang in that scene for me on this evening was because we know what’s coming for all the people at that party. They’re friends and neighbours. They’re going to tear each other apart over their alliances in this war we know is coming. And then they’re going to have to figure out how to live together again after this is all over.

It dawns on you gradually. The swastika-spider flags show up suddenly, but when the Captain’s servant snaps a quick Nazi salute, you realise — oh crap, you’re one of them too? How long has this been going on? Who else?

As then, so now. As I say, revealing.

Listen to the music

Okay, for some people even having a gay son doesn’t work.

Well, I was pretty critical of Ohio senator Rob Portman, who changed his mind about gay marriage when it affected him personally. But it should be noted that some people aren’t even able to get that far. Meet Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona).

SALMON: I don’t support the gay marriage… My son is by far one of the most important people in my life. I love him more than I can say… I’m just not there, as far as believing in my heart that we should change 2,000 years of social policy in favor of a redefinition of the family. I’m not there.

Salmon the Elder is a nice piece of work:

Salmon’s son, Matt, talked to the Phoenix New Times back in 2010 about his sexuality and explained that his father is not nearly as loving or respectful as he may claim. Matt’s been with his boyfriend Kent Flake for over 10 years, but his family doesn’t allow Flake to be around, and Matt’s siblings defriended him on Facebook for promoting gay rights. He endured years of ex-gay therapy, but has since left the Mormon Church.

I suppose I didn’t have to mention that Salmon is a Mormon. There’s something about enrobing yourself in layers of pious priesthood sanctimony that makes everything you do all right, no matter how repellent. Any absolutist ideology can turn you into a hateful dickbag, but religion is especially good at subverting a normal person’s better tendencies. What a shame, for both father and son.

Which is why that quote from David O. McKay is so very wrong:

“The purpose of the church is to make bad men good and good men better.”

In fact, religion makes normal people worse if they really believe it, while good people can still be decent if they don’t take it too seriously.

You can quote me on that.

We hope to advance our bigotry in the spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding.

Slightly shorter Michael Otterson:

Ohai. I’m representing the Mormon Church. The prophet couldn’t be here for reasons of plausible deniability.

I’d just like to say that no one should be mean to gay people. Boy, do we know what that’s like! People were mean to us once, and it sucked! Amirite, gay people? or should I say fellow victims?

Anyway. No one should be having sex unless they’re married, which clearly precludes gays, for as long as we can help it. But Jesus loves gay people, and wants them to be celibate all their lives. This is hard, but we’re here to help, with endless church meetings about the joy of sexual repression.

Obviously, some will disagree with us, but they’re probably just misrepresenting our position.

Some of us don’t need a gay son to change our minds.

Ohio senator Rob Portman has become the latest Republican to reverse his opposition to gay marriage.

Why the switch? Like other Republicans, one of his kids is gay.

“It allowed me to think of this from a new perspective, and that’s of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have – to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman told reporters during that interview.

Before I get started, let me just say that this is a powerful argument for coming out. Closet cases, take note.

Senator Portman: I’d like to say good for you for not turning your back on your son. Many parents of gay children do, and it puts them at higher risk of suicide. It’s always challenging to change deeply held views, and you did it. Well done.

But — you didn’t change your mind until this issue affected you personally. It’s like that king in the story of St. George. When the commoners’ kids get sacrificed to the dragon every day, it’s unavoidable. But when it’s the princess’s turn, then — holy crap! — it’s time to do something! I don’t find the king to be a terribly commendable character. Maybe if his reasons for doing the right thing were a little less egocentric.

Do you think that next time you have a moral decision — health care, euthanasia, climate change — you can remember this, and maybe just imagine what you would do if you or someone you love were affected, instead of needing to have it play out?

I suspect that if you did this, you might not be a Republican for very long. But give it a try, okay?

UPDATE Jon Chait:

Portman ought to be able to recognize that, even if he changed his mind on gay marriage owing to personal experience, the logic stands irrespective of it: Support for gay marriage would be right even if he didn’t have a gay son. There’s little sign that any such reasoning has crossed his mind.

Matthew Yglesias:

It’s a great strength of the movement for gay political equality that lots of important and influential people happen to have gay children. That obviously does change people’s thinking. And good for them.

But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.


To be sure, I’m genuinely glad Portman has done the right thing, and can only hope it encourages other Republicans to do the same. What I find discouraging, though, is that the Republican senator was content to support discriminatory policies until they affected someone he personally cares about.

What about everyone else’s sons and daughters? Why must empathy among conservatives be tied so directly to their own personal interactions?

Romney’s relationship with the truth

A few months ago, during the Republican nomination process, my boys asked me about Romney. What was he like? Good or bad?

I said, “If he gets to be president, it’ll be bad, but it won’t be a disaster. Unlike the other nominees, he isn’t stupid. He isn’t crazy. And he isn’t evil.”

That’s still what I think about Romney. During the third debate, I was struck with the impression that Mr Romney was, at heart, a Good Man. Not crazy, stupid, or evil.

But there is one thing that was very disappointing: He lied. He conducted a campaign that was described as ‘breathtakingly dishonest‘. He was called on his lies, and he doubled down on them. (The lie that Obama hadn’t reached out to Republicans was particularly galling.)

But were they really lies? What does Romney consider to be the truth?

Mormons believe in a revelatory method for finding truth, involving prayer and reflection. I’ve written about this at length before, but here’s the short version: If you pray about something, and then feel positive spiritual feelings as though a supernatural spirit (or a ‘Holy Ghost’) is confirming the truth of that thing to you, then that thing is considered to be truth. For Mormons, that kind of ‘spiritual witness’ is considered to be the highest sort of evidence one could have. A thing is true if you feel that it’s true, and you deeply believe it.

During this campaign, we heard snarky comments about Romney’s magic underwear and the planet/star Kolob, but this is the aspect of his faith that I never really saw discussed. It is a deeply delusional way to think, and should be a disqualifier for the highest office in the land. It is stupid. It is crazy. And if Romney had become president, he might have been successful, but only insofar as he disregarded his epistemological method.

Romney shift and Mormon shift

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Mitt “Etch-a-Sketch” Romney has a tendency to say whatever will get him elected. What doesn’t get a lot of mention is why. But I think Susan Jack at Liberals Unite gets it:

This might see strange to see so much flip flopping in a Presidential candidate, yet there is a pattern that makes utter sense in the larger Romney narrative; specifically that historically, Mormons as a whole have deemed it a holy rite to radically change their minds in the course of this very American Religion.

In other words, Romney thinks it’s acceptable to change his story in mid-stream because he comes from a culture where it’s acceptable to change your story in mid-stream. It’s typical of the way that Mormons handle doctrinal shift.

It follows this pattern:

Stage 1: Profession of faith
We believe Belief X.

Stage 2: Societal shift
Belief X becomes unpopular.

Stage 3: Stonewalling
We continue to believe Belief X even when it’s unpopular.

Stage 4: The tide turns
Belief X is becoming so unpopular that it’s hurting the bottom line.

Stage 5: Under the bus
We do not believe Belief X.
Pick all that apply.
    5a: We have received a revelation that changes Belief X.
    5b: X is not doctrinal.

Stage 6: Rewriting history
We never really believed Belief X.
Pick all that apply.
    6a: Leaders were imperfect humans.
    6b: Line upon line.
    6c: That was folk doctrine.
    6d: Belief X was not widespread.
    6e: Belief X was peripheral, not core.

I don’t even mean to say that this process is motivated by outright dishonesty. To some extent, every member of the church participates in this process (especially in Stages 5 and 6) as they struggle to understand the bits of Mormon doctrine that don’t make sense, or as they try to integrate them with reality. This is how Mormons explain their doctrine to themselves, to each other, and ultimately to non-members. After a long while, this kind of amateur apologetics becomes habitual, and someone who’s served in the Church as long as Romney has would be very good at it. But it’s a slippery way of reasoning.

This method of reasoning carries over into Romney’s slippery explanations about his positions. His policies seem to change depending on who he’s talking to. He has been very light on details because, as LDS leaders must know, saying less gives you less to walk back later.

The similarities are obvious. For a Latter-day Saint, the one non-negotiable doctrine of the Church is that the Church is true. For Romney, the one non-negotiable doctrine is that he should be president.

Or as the Washington Post described Romney:

Every politician changes his mind sometimes; you’d worry if not. But rarely has a politician gotten so far with only one evident immutable belief: his conviction in his own fitness for higher office.

Romney: Not a car guy

Mitt Romney decided to drag Tesla Motors into the last debate.

“We’re going to have to have a president, however, that doesn’t think that somehow the government investing in – in car companies like Tesla and – and Fisker, making electric battery cars – this is not research, Mr. President,” Romney said. “These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn’t basic research. I – I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.”

I was irked. Yeah, I do own stock in Tesla, but that’s not why Romney’s comments peeved me. I felt that he was trying to turn Tesla into a political football, and that’s not helpful at all.

Tesla is an excellent investment for the US government. If it succeeds, it will accomplish at least three things:

  • It will help the US reduce its dependence on foreign oil, with all the attendant wars and military actions. Wouldn’t it be great to stop funding Middle Eastern oil-producers?
  • It will transition us into the coming post-oil age. We haven’t heard much about peak oil recently, but one thing’s for sure: we’re not getting more of it. We need to use this time now to develop other kinds of engines. Electric cars are a great choice. I’m getting a Model S just as soon as they can build one for me and ship it to Australia, and it will run on electricity generated from the 20 solar panels on top of my house.
  • It will create jobs. I think they said something about jobs in the last few debates.

Tesla will be an excellent return on investment.

Talk the Talk: Political Gestures

It was fun talking about non-verbal communication, even though it’s hard to talk about it on the radio. But there were two recent cases of NVC that we had to discuss: Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, and Joe Biden’s shenanigans in the recent Veep Debate.

You can sort of tell that Jess Allen and I are starting to lock in and get a rhythm going for our conversation, even if we sometimes miss each other’s cues. On the other hand, we really need to get her watching some TV.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

The claim, and the reality

This, from (via Facebook):

This, from Gallup:

This was how Utah voted in the 2004 elections.

I don’t know which is more unaccountable — why the LDS Church would try to make this claim, or why they thought anyone would believe them.

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