Across the Broad Atlantic

I’m having an interesting disagreement with a chap at the moment. I say “disagreement” but I actually mean a semi-disagreement, because I think we’re both on the same side.

The debate was about Donald Trump. He doesn’t like him, I don’t like him.

The debate went along the lines:

– [Me] Trump wants America to prosper [referring to “Make America Great Again” nonsense]. If I were an American, that at least would be good [even if he’s going about that in a dumb way]
– Trump’s only interested in him and his cronies, not average Americans
= [Me] He got 60M votes. They can’t all be his cronies.
– Mostly a certain type of person

My point is simply that it doesn’t matter who these people were who voted for Trump. What matters is that their votes counted in 2016 and will count again in 2020. If they don’t change their mind and vote the other way, then Trump will be re-elected.

Maybe some of them will change their mind? Trump is staring recession in the face, after all, and that won’t please his heartlands.

Or maybe apathy will come into it? I looked up some numbers, and found that turnout in the presidential poll was only around 60%. To a Brit, that’s low, we’re generally up around 70%-ish. here. My own constituency was 75% last time. Certainly from here, both candidates looked awful, so I can totally understand somebody not voting at all. But the turnout in 2016 was not particularly lower than 2012.

At this point, US Politics gets beyond me. I don’t know how many more turnout you’d need to give a Democrat win, even if you could assume every single fresh voter voted Democrat. As my friend pointed out, they already won the popular vote last time out, quite comfortably, but the US system is every bit as convoluted as our’s, and just getting more votes than your opponent doesn’t guarantee anything. I haven’t heard anyone in the US ask “why?” yet, in the context of electoral reform, but I’m sure that must be happening. I hope so, at any rate. In this day and age, we can just tot up the numbers as they roll in, and simply let the president be the person with the most votes. Somebody in Las Vegas carries just as much weight as someone in Boston. That seems exactly as it should be.

Again, possibly my lack of American knowledge lets me down – I know that the public decides how their Electoral College votes (mostly!), but I don’t really understand the purpose of the Electoral College. Why, these days, is it even inserted into the process at all? What did surprise me was to learn that several members of the Electoral Colleges defected, and voted against the wishes of their electorate. It was small and worked out roughly even, so didn’t have a decisive effect, else I’m sure I would have known. But it does surprise me that it is felt appropriate for somebody to feel that their own opinion is worth more than thousands of electors, and still feel they are suitable to take part in the democratic process.

Fandango’s Proocative Question #37

I’ve been following a blog by a chap called Fandango. Every week or so, he asks a “provocative question”. As in, one in which his readers have to ponder the question before answering. I participated last week, with this response.

This chap is an American, and this has a bearing on the this week’s question. He says that Trump has fuelled a very polarised debate over there, something I can easily imagine. People either love him, or he’s an asshole. I use that word deliberately, I want it to convey that the standard of debating has dropped. So, Fandango asks whether is it possible to disagree with somebody without being disagreeable? Of course, I have to take this from a UK-perspective, because that’s the history I know.

An interesting part of Fandango’s question is that he adds a time element. He asserts that “once upon a time” it was possible, but now it is not. For my part, I’m not sure that’s true, but I’ll discuss that below.

I’m reminded straight away of a sketch by a guy I used to watch a lot, Emo Phillips.

There is a point to this. That, however closely your views coincide with someone’s, dig sufficiently deep and you’ll find something to disagree on.

I think that reasonable people will be able to disagree reasonably. There always comes a point at which you have to shrug your shoulders, and agree to differ. Nowadays we have the luxury of talking politics. How do you make a child’s education better? By doing X, or Y? And you realise that with all politics, it’s a matter of priorities. Trump, for example, wants to make America more prosperous. Just as far as that aim, I’m sure pretty much every American would agree. It’s how he goes about it which is abhorrent to some people. But that’s just politics, why one person votes for the left, the next for the right.

A moment ago, I used the word “luxury”, because we’re arguing about details. A few years ago, we argued about whether we go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. That too, contained some very unpleasant disagreements at the time, but our societies have got past them. A few years earlier, the American war in Viet Nam. Same thing. 

A hundred years ago, (the Suffragettes, in the UK. I’ve no idea how suffrage got to America, I must ask. I know they didn’t have universal suffrage at the time of the revolution so there must have been transitions at some points.) people were fighting for representation itself. Unfortunately, these women were fighting for themselves, rather than for universal suffrage (they cared about women not having the same rights as men, but never uttered a peep about people in the colonies, who had no rights at all), so while we can laud them, there was a bigger picture that they missed. But quite violent disagreements, for the time.

Go back a bit further and you have the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Worker rights. For their efforts, transportation to Australia. Probably an example of the state over-reacting, given their “crime”.

Further still, the reformation. Religion – the birth of the Protestants. Wars were fought throughout Europe on this. And, of course, still on the religious theme, the crusades.

My point here is to try and show that people have been unreasonably disagreeing with people since the year dot. Trump is merely the latest cause. If we look at the subjects on which there’s been disagreement, they’ve become a lot more well-defined. Most of us would regard arguing about religion to be a waste of time these days, although some still do. We’ve mostly developed a “live and let live” tolerance of each other. There’s far less argument about something like suffrage, where the principle of “apply to one, apply to all” is more readily accepted.

But as Trump shows, it’s still possible to stoke violent disagreement, even in this age. In fact, one might argue (because most of us draw the line at killing each other) that we disagree better than ever! I think humans just have it in us, and if someone pushes the right buttons…