Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Stein, Milgram, and Comity

There is a long-running vituperative fight between "liberals" and "leftists" about the Democratic agenda. Painting in broad strokes, leftists want to push the Democrats as far left as possible across the board, while liberals tend to be more idiosyncratic and more pro-market (for instance, some want to push the Democrats to the right on housing policy). However, I think it's a mistake to view the groups in ideological terms. The policy distance between them is not large and it is almost entirely irrelevant to today's national politics. (As I mentioned, on a local level there may be relevant differences.) Instead the fight comes down to disputes over tactics and, far more importantly, resentments over specific races, in particular the 2008 and 2016 Democratic primaries.

This is all very unfortunate inasmuch as it tends to get Democrats upset at each other and causes people to turn off their brains. (I'm using the term "Democrats" to refer to people who, broadly speaking, tend to vote for Democratic candidates or at least to support their policies. In fact many on the left despise the Democratic Party.) So for instance, I'm convinced that if he were fully briefed on the issue, Bernie Sanders might very well support congestion taxes to reduce car traffic and provide funding for the MTA. But in practice his "team" is part of a political coalition that opposes congestion taxes, and so when he came to New York he criticized congestion taxes because of the negative effect they would have on "working families and working people." My perhaps over-optimistic view is that if Democratic politics were less tribal, and if Sanders had a better command of the facts, he might be persuadable on this issue. (In truth, though, I'm not sure de Blasio would be any less of a schmuck if Democratic politics were more functional, and Sanders was weighing in on New York City transit policy at de Blasio's behest.)

Anyway one of the recent dustups has centered on how much blame people bear for voting for Jill Stein, or for not voting or whatever, in 2016. The way this sometimes comes up is that Trump will do something terrible like tearing babies from their mothers, and then someone will tweet something like, "Wow, thanks Jill Stein," and then a fight erupts. What should we make of this?

I have two answers. The first answer is that I'm not sure why Stein voters (or willful non-voters) are significantly less blameworthy than Trump voters. I want to emphasize some nuance here—maybe your view is that Trump voters are not very culpable. If that's your view, then you should probably conclude that Stein voters are also not very culpable, if at all. I don't see why it would be more blameworthy to vote for Stein than for Trump.

But my own view is that Trump voters are in fact quite culpable. This is not because they necessarily had a subjective desire to see families split apart or whatever. In fact, you'll sometimes see a story where a Trump voter will have her husband deported and she'll say something like, "Well I thought he was only going to go after the bad ones!" The reason I don't think people's subjective expectations are very exculpatory is that Trump made practically no effort to hide his animus against immigrants, black people, women, and so forth. If you concluded that you would not be personally affected, or you convinced yourself that Trump has a good heart or whatever, you are either engaged in "ethical localism" or you are culpably gullible.

Anyway that's my view. And I basically apply similar logic to Stein voters. They knew (or should have known) the stakes. They were basically placed into a real-life Milgram experiment and told to pull the lever to unleash hell on minorities. And they pulled the lever. I don't care if subjectively they thought they were preserving their moral purity by not voting for a Democrat or whatever. They shouldn't have pulled the lever.

My second answer is that part of being a grownup is not saying everything you believe. In particular, given how helpful the intra-left fights are to Trump and conservatives generally, I think it's generally best to be conciliatory. The problem, of course, is that a fair amount of the fight is carried out on social media, where the impulse to respond sharply is nearly irresistible. (And in fact I have generally not resisted it.) This is particularly so because Stein voters are often to this day convinced that pulling the Milgram lever was the right thing to do. This is very hard to take.

But anyway my view is simply that Stein voters are morally complicit in Trump's crimes, and for the sake of political cohesion we must not say so publicly. (This blog is sufficiently non-public that I don't see any problem being frank.) Maybe I will write something about the way this two-faced approach is subjectively unpleasant, but maybe that's obvious.


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