Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Anti-Trump Protests

I don't think it is fair to describe those protesting the election of Trump as though they are just whining because they didn't get their way. No doubt they aren't happy with the results of the election, but it seems to me that what is animating them is fear. Fear that much of the social progress our nation has made will be halted or turned back.

Fear that hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose their health insurance and that some of those will die as a result. Fear that marriages will be dissolved, unrecognized, or denied to same sex couples. Fear that families will be split up by deportations instead of incrementally working them towards citizenship. Fear that ill tempered interactions with foreign powers will entangle us in another war. Fear that genuinely bigoted people will be emboldened to harass and assault minorities; and perhaps be protected by some in the government. Fear that police brutality reforms won't happen and that black people will continue to be killed and injured by police at disproportionate rates. Fear that these men who deny the very existence of climate change will do nothing about it. Fear that rape and sexual assault victims will be taken even less seriously. Fear that the lives of trans people will be made purposefully even more difficult. Fear that conversion therapy will once again become commonplace as parents subject their children to torture to make them straight and that this might even get the endorsement of the government, instead of condemnation. Fear that religious minorities will be subjected to intimidation or worse and that some people may even be denied access to American at all because of their religion. Fear that those fleeing religious extremism and war will never be allowed to find safe haven here. Fear that our country is meaner, less compassionate, and actively devalues inclusion in favor of white, heterosexual, Christian hegemony.

A Trump Presidency with a Pence Vice Presidency and Republican Congress is a cause to worry about all of that and more. And I think it is those potential losses of progress that are driving the protests, not merely the loss of Hillary to Trump.

Lastly, for the record, those protesting with violence or causing property damage ought to be arrested for it and those protesting in good faith ought to be turning them in. So long as the protests are about expressing dismay, I think they're good, but should they become about violent upheaval of our democracy, then I'd be just as done with them as I am with sovereign citizens like those stupid ranchers who took over the wildlife refuge.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two or More Parties

In the wake of Bernie Sanders losing the nomination for President for the Democratic Party, I've noted a lot of people complaining that we don't have enough political parties in America. The thing is that despite the fact that we essentially only have two parties, we still do have many ideologies vying for the influence to set government policy. We just use party primaries and conventions to form alliances among political ideologies before the general election, instead of afterwards. Let me try to explain what I mean.

In many other Western democracies, there are several important political parties. An election works out the strength of these parties relative to one another in the government. One party will end up having the most elected officials, but it won't have enough to run the government on its own, so coalitions are formed after the elections with at least one other party so that there are enough votes in the legislature to pass laws. But forming these coalitions means compromising on policy positions so that those two or more parties are in agreement on enough to ally themselves effectively, but this also means that none of them will get to set policy totally on their own terms. The end result is a ruling alliance of a few parties and an opposition alliance of some or all of the rest.

In America, we work out those alliances before the general election, in the primary process. In either of our two major parties there are various groups who have different ideas about what the party should consider most important. These various sets of opinions compete for influence within the party during the primary process based on which kinds of candidates do well in their primaries. Then the official policy positions are decided at the party convention. Often this means that opinions that were important four years ago get muted or that other opinions on what the party should push for rise in importance. The end result is that a coalition of groups within the party sets the ideological goals and tone for the party for the general election in November.

Almost always, when I hear Americans complain that neither of the two parties really speaks for them, what they mean is that the party that actually does care about their pet issues, doesn't care enough. Well, that is worked out in the primary elections and the party conventions. It is easier to get one of the parties to shift its emphasis than it is to get large numbers of voters to embrace a new party. And make no mistake, getting actual policies enacted into law is not as simple as getting any single candidate elected into office. It requires alliances of elected officials who will compromise with one another on similar ideological goals to get laws passed. And those broad alliances are what our current political parties actually are.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Shifting the line

Since this latest mass shooting, I’ve seen an uptick in an argument against gun control that it is unfair to punish law abiding gun owners by enacting gun control measures. I don’t find that argument compelling. It isn’t a punishment for certain things, in the interests of public safety, to be illegal to own or use. We don’t allow people to stockpile mustard gas, even if they have no history of using it to kill and maim. We don’t allow people to buy and commute to work in fully armed battle tanks, even if they promise they’d never fire its cannon except in self defense. Exactly where the line between permissible and restricted is can be a little fuzzy, but the concept that some things are simply too dangerous for us to have unrestricted access to is not a controversial point.

So called assault rifles ought to be on the restricted side of that line. Those high capacity, high rate of fire rifles aren’t derived from hunting or sporting guns; they are designed and refined to be modern weapons of war, specialized to take multiple human lives quickly. Sadly, we have repeatedly seen how even the civilian versions, lacking fully automatic fire, are still deadly efficient at their intended purpose. Like battle tanks and countless other examples, assault rifles should be restricted to the military.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Even if

It seems unlikely to me that the framers of our Constitution intended citizens to own and use the types of weaponry that can now allow one man to wreak the kind of havoc that it would have taken dozens of soldiers to do in the late 1700s. But even if they did intend for citizens (even highly unstable, hate-filled, murderously bigoted citizens) to be able to purchase and carry weaponry that can enable one man to kill many innocent people in just a few minutes — they were wrong.