War Of Words

by William Skink

If I thought the effort by Missoula Rises to shut down Steve Bannon’s appearance in Missoula was going to be an effective response to the fascist ideas gaining popularity across the globe I’d support them.

But I don’t, so I won’t.

Shutting down an effective messenger of a scary ideology will not stop the ideology from spreading. It actually does the opposite by signaling to those on the fence that the counter arguments of opponents are weak and therefore avoided.

Those who are trying to combat, rhetorically, the rise of a national populism increasingly resembling fascism need to be better prepared than David Frum was a few nights ago during the Munk debates that had him in a one-on-one showdown with Bannon. The results were not good:

Well here’s a shocker: at the beginning of the debate, only 28% agreed with Steve Bannon that populism was the future. 72% agreed with @davidfrum. After: 57% agreed with Bannon. Given crowd reaction thru the night, that seems an impossible result. But there ya go. #munkdebate

The resistance continues to fail to provide an effective counter-narrative to this right-wing capturing of populism. The mechanisms of exclusion within the corporate Democratic party structure successfully suppressed the Sanders campaign, while the GOP gave in and let their Kraken loose.

Even now, there is a class/race argument happening, and the race warriors who blame racism for Hillary’s loss seem to retain their dominant positions of influence with the DNC.

This Intercept podcast is a good example of how the class argument keeps getting shutdown.

In support of the class argument, a new study provides new insight into the attitudes of the electorate two years ago. This insight includes explaining why this study’s approach got at sentiments other studies did not:

The authors of this new study — Thomas Ferguson, Benjamin Page, Jacob Rothschild, Arturo Chang, and Jie Chen — use a combination of figures from the American National Election Studies data set, along with aggregate data from congressional districts, to paint a far more complicated picture.

Trump eschewed traditional Republican orthodoxy, promising to protect Medicare and Social Security, while training his fire at the bipartisan consensus around free trade. Many voters conflate trade deals that have hollowed out the country’s manufacturing base and decades of stagnant wages with increased immigration, seeing the issues as inextricably linked. Trump spoke to this view, blaming immigrants and refugees for crime and terrorism, but also for economic hardship and national decline, a message that appeared to resonate with voters.

“Not only were several major economic factors important; our analyses make clear that the social and the economic were intertwined, both in Trump’s rhetoric and in the minds of many voters,” the study notes.

The study is careful not to claim that race and gender played no role in the election, and notes that Trump absolutely mobilized anger over identity, gender, religion, and national origin. But the effects were limited. Explicit gender and ethnic insults used by Trump appeared to help the real estate tycoon prevail largely in the primary election but may have harmed him among many swing voters in the general election.

Previous attempts to use ANES data to discern the connection between economic anxiety and Trump support have found little correlation.

Previous papers rely almost entirely on ANES’s short-term economic attitude questions, which the authors argue are “known to be error-ridden, subject to partisan and other biases.” What’s more, these questions only provide a limited range of fill-in-the-bubble answers that do not reflect the full range of sometimes conflicting views of voters.

The authors of the Institute for New Economic Thinking study incorporate open-ended responses to ANES questions, which allow voters to write out their own spontaneous responses to broad questions, rather than selecting a canned response.

The open-ended answers, they argue, show that social and economic factors were deeply connected for many voters, including crucial voters who swung from voting for Barack Obama to Trump, voters who went from supporting Obama to not voting, and voters who went from not voting in 2012 to backing Trump in 2016.

For us critics of the Corporate/Neoliberal DNC it’s easy to understand why race and gender are the preferred focuses over class. A party that pledges fealty to Wall Street doesn’t want to spook the donor class by mobilizing class consciousness against their benefactors.

Without an effective counter-narrative, all the resistance can do is mobilize outrage to shut things down. If that’s the main strategy then more fearful Americans will be pushed into supporting the fascism that could easily turn the political infrastructure of authoritarianism, constructed by Bush AND Obama, into a true, red white and blue version of Nazi Germany.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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