Monday, June 20, 2016

The liberal discourse-gaming argument against riots is pretty silly

Rick Perlstein warns that Trump could win office by blaming the liberal-left for riots at his rallies: is the party to whom chaos appears to attach itself that the public tends to reject—especially if the leaders of the opposing party do an effective job of framing themselves as the quiet, calm, and centering alternative... What is the lesson for us? It’s most decidedly not to encourage chaos at Donald Trump rallies. This very act of encouragement, after all, clouds the story: it would make it credible to frame the Democrats as authors of chaos.
This might be wise advice if there were no way to identify who the "authors of chaos" actually are - but Perlstein is quite explicit on this point. "Trump is a fascist," he writes. "Trumpism leads to riots." Presumably, other people could arrive at this (obvious) conclusion the same way that he has - so why are we building our political strategy around the assumption that they might not?

The premise here - just below the surface, but always implicit in liberal discourse gaming - is that we get it but everyone else doesn't. We've been able to figure out that Trump is a fascist, and that fascism provokes violence, despite various attempts to "cloud the picture" and "frame the Democrats" - but the American people shouldn't be trusted to engage in the basic moral and political reasoning that has led us to these conclusions. For them, political "chaos appears to attach itself" to perpetrators in ways that evidently have nothing to do with who is actually responsible. Scott Lemieux says as much with startling candor:
We needn’t address abstract questions of when political violence might be justified to deal with whether to encourage violence against persons or property at Trump rallies...
To me, the "abstract question" of justification seems pretty decisive when one considers how responsibility for riots "attaches itself" to the parties. How do Perlstein and Lemieux suppose the proles are thinking about this? Is the theory that voters will just look at who has "encouraged" the riots when they're deciding who to blame, disregarding questions of justification entirely? Is there some kind of primitive points system involved where Democrats lose five every time Matt Bruenig argues that actually riots are good? Suppose that even if voters dislike it when anyone encourages riots, they also like it when fascist demagogues posture as a movement of unopposed militant strength - a political dynamic well attested in the literature. How have our liberals weighed these two problems against each other? What is the calculus by which they've concluded that the former is always a greater liability than the latter?

One way to approach the task of political persuasion is to assume that other people are able to think about things in much the same way that you do, and to proceed accordingly. If you think that riots are justified, or that Trump needs to be defeated even if riots aren't justified, this is an argument that you should be able to make and that other people should be able to understand. The alternative, ridiculous approach would be to pretend that riots aren't justified, even if they are, and even if we believe that they are, because something something framing something something optics. That kind of duplicity is usually baseless on tactical grounds, and usually a pretty good sign that your substantive position can't stand on its own two feet.