No man is free who is not master of himself.


This week’s featured post is “My Racial Blind Spots“, where I try to answer the question that Don Lemon asked Bernie and Hillary.

This week, I’m feeling trolled

If I had to pick a moment when I started on the path that led to current-events blogging and eventually to the Weekly Sift, it would be one beautiful summer day in (as best I can reconstruct it) 2000. I was walking through a lovely stretch of woods, but all I could do was rage about the issues I’d been hearing about on TV: Elián González, the Microsoft antitrust trial, and some other things I can’t even remember now. Then I had one of those view-yourself-from-the-outside experiences, and I thought: “This is nuts. I’m in an idyllic setting and I’m miserable. Why am I letting CNN control my emotions like this?”

I resolved to be more mindful about bringing my own values and my own interests and my own point-of-view to the news, rather than letting somebody else control my attention. I would strive to focus on the issues that I found to be important, rather than the ones that had been chosen for me. And when I did think about the “hot” issues, I would do it as myself, not as an outrage machine programmed by somebody else.

Three years later, I felt good enough about my relationship to the news that I started sharing it by blogging. Eventually that became a weekly thing, and in 2008 I started the Weekly Sift. But that summer walk in the woods has continued to be a touchstone: Am I really bringing my own intelligence to the news, or am I just reacting? Am I absorbing events and processing them, or is stuff just bouncing off of me like another wall in the echo chamber?

Right now, I’m finding this presidential campaign to be a challenge, and I suspect many of you are too. I feel two black holes trying to draw me in: First, the mainstream horse-race coverage of the presidential campaign, where polls and tactics and spin are all that matters, and speculation about who will win eclipses thinking about whether any of these people would be good at this job, or what their administrations would mean for this country and the world.

And second, Donald Trump. Two weeks in a row, my featured post has been about Trump: “Trump is an opportunistic infection” and “Peak Drumpf“. And again this week, what is the obvious thing to write about? The escalating threat of violence at Trump rallies, leading to the cancellation of his rally in Chicago, Secret Service agents rushing the stage to protect him in Dayton, and demonstrators getting pepper-sprayed in Kansas City.

Neither of those black holes should be ignored, because there’s a lot of important stuff to think through: Who wins this election seems really important. And the Trump candidacy represents something different from all the major campaigns of my lifetime, one that it’s not obvious how to respond to.

But at the same time, I keep noticing that my affect is all wrong: I don’t want to think, I want to react. I want to get whipped up and whip everybody else up too.

That’s what it feels like when I’m being trolled. When somebody has trolled me, responding always seems desperately important, as if taking a moment or two to consider other options would be an act of cowardice and risk catastrophic loss of face.

But I’ve come to believe that those are precisely the times when it’s most important to take that moment, and use it to connect with your higher ideals, your deeper values, and the wide sweep of your life. After remembering the fullness of who you are, you can return to the current circumstances ready to apply your full creative intelligence, rather than do the knee-jerk thing the troll is probably counting on you to do.

So this week the featured post is about something else, because there’s a lot more to pay attention to than polls and the Donald. But of course, that stuff is happening too. So take a moment, and then we can plunge in.

OK, now let’s talk about violence

We’re not used to violence at American political rallies, and I hope we don’t get used to it. But it’s important to remember that the violence we’ve seen so far has been more threat than reality. It’s a dark cloud and a few sprinkles, not a rainstorm.

A few protesters inside the Trump rallies have been pushed or punched by Trump supporters, and a number have been dragged away by the security people, but I know of no serious injuries. Trump has talked about violence by protesters, but so far that seems to be mostly in his fevered imagination. The protesters who got inside the Chicago rally and caused its cancellation intended to be noticed and (in some cases) loud, but their prepared tactics focused on resisting violence, not using it. (I’ve heard several interviews where protesters talked about linking arms, a tactic that makes it hard for anybody to drag you away, but doesn’t threaten others.)

So far, the most noticeable violence has been in Trump’s rhetoric: He has talked about wanting to punch a protester in the face, instructed supporters to “knock the crap out of them“, offered to pay the defense costs of supporters who fight with protesters (he’s still deciding whether to follow through on that promise), and so on. He may eventually get violence on the scale he’s asking for, with people carried out on stretchers, but so far he hasn’t.

The Trump spokesman who announced the Chicago cancellation said it had been done after “meeting with law enforcement”, but (like so much that comes out of the Trump campaign) this seems to be misleading at best. Chicago Police deny advising cancellation, and had been confident of their ability to maintain order until thousands of Trump supporters were told they came all this way for nothing, with the implication that those protesters were to blame.

To me, the point of cancelling the Chicago rally was to change the media narrative about violence: Trump wants to shift blame onto the protesters and make himself the victim rather than the villain.

and the First Amendment

The line from the Trump campaign is that the protesters “shut down our First Amendment rights“. This is based on a perverse notion of the First Amendment that conservatives have been pushing at least since Sarah Palin in 2008:

If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.

As I define it in “A Conservative-to-English Lexicon”, First Amendment rights means “The right of a conservative to speak and write publicly without criticism.” The real First Amendment, though, works like this: If Trump wants to speak, he has a right to do so. But if other people want to protest non-violently, they have a right to do that too. Depending on how public the event is and whether protesters are inside or outside, Trump’s campaign may then have the right to demand they leave. But if the prospect of being heckled causes Trump to cancel a speech, that’s on him. Nobody has taken away his rights.

XKCD elaborates:

Trump’s exaggerated claim on First Amendment rights is widely shared among his followers. In a Frank Luntz focus group on Fox News, one Trump supporter complained that “You can’t even speak the truth any more or you’ll be called a racist or a bigot.” And the woman next to him chimed in: “I have a right to my opinion without being labeled something.”

No she doesn’t. This pernicious misconception of free speech survives from the days of overt white supremacy, when anyone who disagreed with the status quo was too intimidated to speak up.

In fact, you have no right to speak your mind “without being labeled something”. You do have a right to speak your mind, but if what you say convinces other people that you’re a bigot, an idiot, or whatever else, they have a right to speak their minds too.

Imagine if the same extended interpretation of the First Amendment applied to liberals: When Trump called Sanders a communist, he’d have been violating Bernie’s First Amendment rights. And that’s obviously ridiculous, even to a liberal like me.

Until the Chicago protests, everybody was talking about Sanders’ upset victory in Michigan

Last week I speculated that blacks, older voters, and middle-aged women looked like a winning coalition for Hillary Clinton, and said that Bernie Sanders would have to dent that somehow to pull out a Michigan win.

I also repeated Nate Silver’s reading of the polls: He wasn’t going to.

But he did. According to the exit poll, Clinton still carried the black vote, but not by the enormous margins she had been running up in the South. Michigan blacks went for Clinton 68%-28%, which is way less than in Tuesday’s other Democratic primary, Mississippi, where blacks chose Clinton 89%-11%.

Overall, independents made the difference. Only 69% of the Democratic primary electorate described themselves as Democrats, and they went for Clinton 58%-40%. Self-described independents went for Sanders 71%-28%.

In terms of delegates, Clinton continued moving towards nomination: She picked up 95 delegates and Sanders 71. According to the 538 model, Clinton is running 13% above a minimal victory pace, down slightly from 14% a week ago.

Nobody knows what this means for tomorrow’s primaries in Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. In all those states, Clinton leads in the polls … just like she did in Michigan. The most unpredictable one has got to be Illinois: Like Michigan, it’s an open primary, so independents could make the difference. Also, local issues come into play: Bernie’s supporters are being credited/blamed for shutting down the Chicago Trump rally, which could move voters in either direction. Also, the unpopularity of Mayor Emanuel might drag Clinton down, and an unusually hotly contested states attorney primary is bringing Black Lives Matter voters to the polls.

and Trump keeps rolling (in BS)

Tuesday, after winning in Mississippi and Michigan, Donald Trump had the oddest victory celebration ever. He held a press conference instead of a rally (as he’s been doing lately), and called reporters’ attention to a table of “successful” Trump products to counter Mitt Romney’s claim that “a business genius he is not“.

That would be weird enough: At a moment when most candidates would be praising the wisdom of the voters and thanking all the volunteers whose hard work produced this important victory, Trump did an infomercial for his brand. But it’s actually weirder than that, because as The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper (and all the other reporters who bothered to investigate) discovered: “It’s all bullshit.None of the products was what he said it was.

and you might also be interested in

This week’s guns-make-us-safer story is about Jamie Gilt, a Florida mom who had been boasting on Facebook about how much her 4-year-old son enjoys target shooting. (I mean: guns and preschoolers. What could possibly go wrong?)

Tuesday, she was driving with the boy in the back seat when he apparently got hold of a handgun on the floor and fired it through the driver’s seat, hitting his mother in the back. She survived.

Trying to display some former-First-Lady solidarity and find something nice to say about Nancy Reagan during the coverage of her funeral, Hillary came up with this:

It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan—in particular Mrs. Reagan—we started a national conversation.

Which is kind of the reverse of how things actually happened. A few hours later, she issued a statement walking it back. The Atlantic‘s “Gaffe Track” draws the moral:

Don’t speak ill of the dead, but don’t make things up about them, either.

The way conservative media preys on older people and changes their characters for the worse has been noted before, but now there’s a documentary about it, “The Brainwashing of My Dad” by Jen Senko.

I think the Supreme Court roadblock is going to cost incumbent Republicans in purple states, particularly if Trump is their nominee. I’ve seen this commercial about our NH incumbent senator:

Donald Trump wants the Senate to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy so he can choose the nominee next year. And Senator Kelly Ayotte is right there to help. Ayotte joined Trump and party bosses in refusing to consider any nominee, ignoring the Constitution.

If you want to know what Republican one-party rule looks like, check out Kansas, where all notions of constitutionality and fair play have gone out the window.

President Obama’s job approval, which has been negative in the RCP polling average since June, 2013, is positive again.

One advantage I believe the Democrats are going to have this fall: Our convention is going to be inspiring and heart-warming. President Obama will get the send-off he deserves, the loser of the nomination struggle will make an impassioned speech about the importance of uniting to win, the VP will be somebody we can take pride in, and the entire week will highlight the positive human values that Democrats share.

By contrast, even if the Republicans manage to unite behind Trump and avoid a scorched-earth battle, their convention is going to be about scapegoating and raising anger, probably worse than the public-relations disasters of 1964 and 1992. The unpredictable, barely coherent ramble that makes a Trump rally speech so entertaining is going to play badly as an acceptance speech. It’s not going to be pretty.

A religion professor at Mercer University finds that the popularity of Trump and Cruz represent two distinct failures of Christian teaching. In Cruz he sees a failure of commission, a distortion of Christian priorities that is nonetheless taught in many churches and has been part of right-wing politics for many years. But Trump looks like a failure of omission. Churches aren’t teaching Trumpism, but their members aren’t getting the moral foundation for resisting it:

In the Christian moral formation of these supposed Christians they have not been offered an adequate inoculation against this kind of politics. What they needed was instruction in a version of Christianity with ironclad commitments to civility, solidarity, justice, mercy, compassion, rule of law, and human rights, commitments so strong and so well-engrained in believers that to support someone like Trump would be unthinkable. But they have not received that inoculation.

Lots of people have noticed that President Obama is aging, as presidents tend to do. But I don’t hear nearly as much talk about the far more remarkable fact that Michelle isn’t.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a medical test that gave me a lot of time to chat with the tech, a 50-ish woman who for some reason wanted to talk politics even though she claimed to have no interest in it. She had voted for Trump in the NH primary on the advice of her husband, who pays much more attention to such things than she does. But now she was having second thoughts. Trump seemed “dumb” and “a bully”, while John Kasich was looking much nicer.

I thought I might learn more from her than she would from me, so I didn’t interrupt.

She didn’t justify either her decision to vote for Trump or her subsequent regret by mentioning any policy at all. Not the wall, not the Muslim ban, not trade, not jobs, not America’s role in the world — nothing. Her son had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan (and is safely home now), but she didn’t talk about either finishing the job in those countries or avoiding similar boondoggles in the future.

For all non-political purposes she seemed like an intelligent, well-intentioned person. But presenting a policy argument to her would have been like talking to somebody who doesn’t follow baseball about whether the Red Sox overpaid for David Price or would have done better to spend that money last year to hang on to Jon Lester. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about and don’t see why you should, that’s the point.)

So consider this note a follow-up on the voter model I presented in “Say, you want a revolution?“. If you’re politically active, you need to understand that the voters may not be who you think they are, and their support or opposition probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

I wonder if it’s significant that the final line of the Game of Thrones trailer is: “Apologies for what you are about to see.”

and let’s close with a view from far away

Funny or Die gives us the U.S. presidential race as seen from Finland.

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  • Pat Mitcham  On March 14, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    There is a post on my FB feed showing a woman with staples on a wound in her head from protesting at a Trump rally. The picture of the sign she was peacefully holding was John Lennon’s Imagine quote. If what is written in that post is, in fact, true. Then violence is being used against peaceful protest. I don’t know if you will be able to find the post among the trillions out there, and I don’t know how to get it to you. Patricia Mitcham from Huntsville AL. I am a reformed republican, retired educator (might help explain who I am)

    Sent from my iPad


  • Mike  On March 14, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Hey Doug… I always enjoy reading your commentary on the weeks newsworthy events. I was especially excited to see you reference someone from my Alma Mater. I left long before Dr Gushee came on board but, it felt kinda like seeing someone you met personally on TV.

    Mike Peters

  • Nancy  On March 14, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    What you mention (about not having to think about race) has been described by Allan Johnson as “the luxury of obliviousness.” I recommend any of his writings, especially his book Privilege, Power and Difference. Also, I think you would enjoy reading the article “Self-fulfilling Stereotypes” by Mark Snyder, which connects to much of what you wrote. Thanks again for a great blog.

  • orionblair  On March 15, 2016 at 4:34 am

    “I have a right to my opinion without being labeled something.” True – as long as I don’t put that opinion out in public.

  • Anonymous  On March 15, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    “presenting a policy argument to her would have been like talking to somebody who doesn’t follow baseball….”

    On the other hand, if she thinks Trump is a bully and Kasich is nicer, the “not temperamentally suited for the job” argument might have worked with her.

    • weeklysift  On March 16, 2016 at 7:44 am

      Probably. My point is more that when our side wins an election, we tend to imagine that the public has endorsed our platform. “I have a mandate to do X and Y and Z.” Then two years later our party loses and we wonder what changed their minds.

      • Anonymous  On March 17, 2016 at 4:30 pm


        I was looking at it from the perspective of how to convince my Republican friends not to vote for Trump, which depends on what they think of him…

  • Philippe Saner  On March 16, 2016 at 12:02 am

    I think the xkcd comic goes a little far. Being yelled at, boycotted, etc, can destroy freedom of speech if it goes far enough. The right doesn’t end at the boundaries of the First Amendment.

    Trump’s freedom of speech hasn’t been infringed, but there are people who could lose their livelihoods if they expressed their opinions and those people have every right to complain

  • The Walrus  On March 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    You might be interested in today’s Times article:


  • By Very Bad Things | The Weekly Sift on March 21, 2016 at 11:04 am

    […] violence. [discussed last week] Of course there were new incidents, since Trump has done nothing to tone things down. As […]

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