Discovering the Political Other

I was asked about my journey of leaving the liberal bubble and discovering that the political Other isn’t evil.

It all started in 2017. After Trump got elected, I saw my side descend into insanity and start propagating the most deranged, ridiculous stories.

I listened, watched, fumed, and then suddenly wondered, “hey, what if it’s not the first time? What if other things are lies, too?”

So I started researching. In the past 2 years, I read maybe 50 or 60 books – full-length books, not articles – from the other side. And I’m very glad I did. I now know the alternative story on pretty much everything. Racism, the civil rights movement, Ruby Ridge, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, 1990s in NYC, FDR, OJ, LBJ. Even 18th century history. Even Sarah Palin. It’s fascinating because it’s all completely new to me. It’s like a whole different world out there.

This is not about agreeing or not. It’s about finding out that the other side isn’t composed of deranged, bigoted lunatics. There is a coherent, meaningful narrative about everything on the other side. My life has been enriched by this knowledge.

And I have to say that a whole bunch of these alternative stories make more sense than the ones that are the common wisdom on our side.

I think that everybody should familiarize themselves with the stories their political Other tells about any random 3 events or issues. A more nuanced worldview is always a great asset. It’s also fun because throughout the 60 books, I was constantly going, “oh, so this is how THEY see it! I had no idea!” It’s better than a mystery novel because there’s a revelation on every page.

If anybody has any suggestions on the popular conservative classics, do let me know. Who are considered the really scary ones?

70 thoughts on “Discovering the Political Other”

    1. That the Democrats opposed the civil rights every step on the way and only declared themselves to be huge anti-racists once all of the civil rights legislation was rammed through by Republicans.

      And more recently, Democrats have watered down the power of the civil rights movement by making it not about African Americans, a group with a uniquely righteous grievance, but about all sorts of whims of people who haven’t come close to suffering anything of what African Americans have historically suffered and still suffer.

      This last part speaks to me a lot, to be honest.

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      1. Oh, but that’s such a distortion, it’s silly. In the first place, the creator of the argument doesn’t know about the Dixiecrats, or expects the audience won’t. In the second, white people weren’t for civil rights, by and large, although you had some who were and who fought for them. But the movement was of African Americans and if memory serves they could not register to vote. And that argument you quote isn’t even about civil rights itself, it’s about Republican virtue signaling or something.

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        1. P.S. I had thought the argument from the other side was going to be an argument about why there shouldn’t have been a movement, or why it was bad, something like that.

          Re watering it down by making it not about … well, the movement for civil rights for African Americans was about civil rights for African Americans. You can’t “make it not about them”. Now there were other liberation movements, the women’s movement, the Chicano movement, the gay movement, and they really did take inspiration from the African American movement, but that didn’t make that civil rights movement not about African Americans.

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          1. See, you are assuming “they” are evil. Why on Earth would anybody think that the civil rights movement was bad?

            Everybody agrees that this is the best thing to happen in this country. Nobody thinks it’s bad or shouldn’t have happened.

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            1. That’s not true at all! It was very unpopular and still is. Those who deny that are just virtue signaling. You have now gated communities, white flight, defunding of public schools, shuttering of downtowns, private clubs instead of public parks, voter suppression, etc., etc., etc., and elimination of various social programs, all as backlash to civil rights. Sure, there are persons of color as middle class characters on tv and all sorts of diversity offices on campus, but that’s all window dressing and virtue signaling. There are some actual lasting improvements that have been made but VERY many would be glad to have us go right back.

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            2. “Everybody agrees that this is the best thing to happen in this country. Nobody thinks it’s bad or shouldn’t have happened.”

              I…would debate this. This was only about 50 years ago; the majority of white people from that time opposed the Civil Rights movement, many of those people are still alive, and not all of them changed their minds. Some of them passed these values down to their children. It’s a minority, but a more sizeable one than I think many people realize. Many Southern states continue to celebrate Robert E. Lee Day on MLK Day (and no, it’s not just a coincidence), and there is resistance to efforts to change this. Some people call MLK “Martin Luther Coon” (I’m not referring to the weatherman who fumbled with his words, I’m talking about people who actually say it.) There are still segregated proms at many Southern high schools. This isn’t a partisan thing, it’s just worth noting. It is a regional thing and an age thing. Not that Northerners can’t be racist, they just are racist in different ways.

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              1. If somebody was even as young as 20 in 1964, right now they are 75 and clearly not the majority of population.

                Obviously, racism exists. Obviously. But among those 60 books I read I haven’t found a single conservative thinker who has anything but glowing praise for the heroism of the Civil Rights movement. I have no idea what sentiments these authors harbor deep inside but I can attest that it is not a mainstream conservative narrative to say that the CRM was bad or shouldn’t have happened.

                But deep inside, yes, people who wrote these books might be racist. Or at least those of them who aren’t black. I hear that Bill Clinton has been known to make outlandishly racist statements and so did LBJ.

                By the way, the narrative about Obama that I saw constantly repeated in these books is that he’s the most talented politician of his generation, brilliant, inspirational, even though they disagree with 100% of what he did. So it’s hardly a racist narrative. I’d stop reading immediately if I saw any racist insinuations about Obama or anybody black.

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              2. Ok, we’re in agreement that it’s not the mainstream narrative. I’ll also go out on a limb and say I don’t think most of the conservatives writing books today secretly hold that view either (same goes for the ones not writing books.)

                Side note, I also don’t think conservative thinkers are very representative of the average Republican voter nowadays, much like liberal commentators have little in common with most Democrats. Doesn’t mean they’re not worth paying attention to, but just a reality. American voters are further left on economic issues than social issues, but you’d think the opposite was true if you only listened to political commentators.

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            3. “See, you are assuming ‘they’ are evil.” No, just addressing the standard arguments against civil rights. You seem very caught up in this Democrats vs. Republicans thing, it really isn’t that simple.

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              1. As I said, I read a crazy number of conservative bestsellers. Not a single one advanced anything close to this argument. So how standard is it if nobody is making it?

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              2. Are you talking about very recent work? Nobody makes these arguments directly; it isn’t polite or well seen. And in the last 10 years GREAT strides have been made in terms of having cross racial friendships. At a certain level, that means success. Especially when “the blacks” (as people call them) still stay “in their place” enough of the time. But remember, I am not talking about official conservative vs. official liberal, I am talking about antiracist and not. One of the racist positions is anti-Medicaid expansion, for instance. This is a position that is not just bad for persons of color, it’s bad for anyone who is poor, but the people who hold it are the small government types and guess who that is. Then we can move on to talk about the petrochemical industry, what they are up to and whose communities are now cancer ridden, etc.

                Liked by 1 person

            4. See, you are assuming “they” are evil. Why on Earth would anybody think that the civil rights movement was bad?

              Everybody agrees that this is the best thing to happen in this country. Nobody thinks it’s bad or shouldn’t have happened.

              This is not true. To cite an extreme case, I have heard people say that getting rid of slavery was a terrible mistake. These are the real conservatives. Other conservative views, such as “Freedom of religion is for Christians only,” “Abortion, even in the case of life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, must be prohibited,” and “Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and a sin, not an orientation people cannot control.”

              The first one is a wingnut position, of course, but the other three are mainstream conservative positions.

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              1. As I already said, I’m not reading stuff written by people who write on bathroom walls. I read stuff by thinkers, intellectuals, scholars.

                What you write is as much of a parody as the conservative vision of a leftist who loves to slaughter babies for fun and wants to create death panels for elderly people. This is precisely the kind of thinking that leads to nothing good or productive.

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              2. As for “homosexuality is a choice,” I don’t see what the big deal is. If it’s ok to abort because it’s your choice, then it’s definitely ok to have sex we think whomever because it’s your choice.

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              3. A mild form of approval of the civil rights movement has been appropriated by the Right. King, now seen as mainstream because of his patriotic rhetoric (union activism and the more radical views on foreign policy he expressed toward the end of his life are conveniently ignored) and pacifism is projected as a kindly saint and everyone has black friends. But if you look at cold hard policy, and phenomena like voter suppression, well…

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              4. Let’s look at policy, then. Bill Clinton signed the criminal justice bill and the welfare bill, didn’t he? How is that less racist than any legislation that Bush and Trump passed? Trump is actually trying to roll back the most racist of the Clinton’s criminal justice bill aspects.

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        2. I think we can all agree that Democrats have long won every virtue-signaling contest on race. 🙂

          And I never mentioned the movement, only the legislation. Black people didn’t pass legislation, for obvious reasons.

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      2. I agree with the second part although women, in a lesser degree, should be included in the civil rights issue.

        For the first part, there was a political realignment and Republicans and Democrats have switched sides in the civil rights issue. Conservative propagandists like PragerU, Stefan Molyneux and Dinesh D’Souza (a criminal pardoned by Trump for this very reason) tell us the contrary and that the political realignement has never occurred, but this is a blatant lie.

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        1. I recently had a student seriously argue about the civil rights of vegans. It’s supposedly a civil right to have a vegan option on every menu. The African American students in the room looked unhappy, and I don’t blame them.

          As for the realignment, I know it’s the dogma but where’s the evidence? What did Clinton or Obama do for black people? How are black and better off in very liberal states? I’ve been to the South Bronx in the extremely liberal New York. It’s horrific. What is it that liberals are actually doing for African Americans? Except for making any discussion of the actual problems impossible, like happened on my campus.

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          1. Realignment is referring mainly to voting patterns, not the merits of what each party has done. It is simply a fact that black people started voting for Democrats more starting with FDR, and then moved even more towards the Democratic party during LBJ. Meanwhile, white southerners started moving away from the Democratic party in the ’60s (it’s important to note that even in the ’90s those states were much bluer, and not all the movement away since then happened under Obama, so there’s more to it than racism and/or opposition to civils rights, although that did play a major role.)

            I would argue that of course FDR did a ton for everyone, and that includes black people (so much for “you can’t win black people with an economic message.”) LBJ did a ton for black people as well. In recent years? I haven’t seen much from either party, although a lot of people who didn’t have health insurance before get it now thanks to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion; slam it as weak reformism all you want, the ACA made a huge positive difference in many people’s lives. But Republican politicians are more likely to be actively racist, which is a turnoff. And Democrats are more likely to preserve the social programs that benefit African Americans, while Republicans usually try to cut them. It’s very much a “lesser of two evils” thing, but it’s easy to choose which evil is lesser. But black people have a lower voting rate than white people, and while some of this is due to voter suppression or general differences between voting based on education and income, some of it is just apathy, because what’s the point? Black voter turnout was abysmally low in our last mayoral election, and I think it was because black people knew that neither candidate was on the black community’s side (both candidates were Democrats, both were somewhat aligned with gentrifiers.)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Although the political assessment of Democrats (contemporary ones, not old Dixiecrats) about blacks is not so good, this is still less shitty than the Republicans’ one. (contemporary ones, not pre-Goldwater ones).

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  1. Reading suggestions for understanding and even empathizing with “Trump” voters.
    Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.
    Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.
    Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
    Quinones, Sam. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
    Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

    In regards to conservatism in general:
    Dreher, Rod. Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.
    Brooks, Arthur C. Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America.
    Levin, Yuval. Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.
    Hart, Jeffrey. Making of the Conservative Mind: The National Review and Its Times.

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    1. I love the Vance and the Quinones books. Everybody should read Dreamland immediately, in my opinion.

      I haven’t read Murray but I think I should. You don’t get beat up at Middlebury unless you have something of value to say. :-))

      I also read Rod Dreher and will be contributing to his new book. He’s a wonderful person and a very talented journalist.

      Thank you so much for the list! I always love your reading suggestions.

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      1. Murray essentially tells a story in which meritocratic elites gather together in particular neighborhoods becoming isolated from the rest of the country. Take his quiz. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/white-educated-and-wealthy-congratulations-you-live-in-a-bubble. Also, rural whites have all the same social pathologies we usually associate with inner-city blacks. He flips the traditional culture wars narrative. For Murray, it is the mostly liberal elites who have benefited from maintaining a relatively conservative sexual ethic in their personal lives while everyone else (including conservative Christians) have suffered from practicing what liberal elites preach. For a class, Murray might work well with Vance to offer some larger context. Robert Putnam offers a slightly more liberal version of Murray’s story in Our Kids. Let me also add Frances Fitzgerald’s Evangelicals into the reading pile. He is useful for making the distinction between traditional religious believers who want to just be left alone and fundamentalists who actively wish to fight modernity.

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          1. I got 40, higher than I might have done did I not live in rural south and had I not done so for a long time. And I have ancestors of all social classes, laborers to aristocrats. And people who have been middle class for generations, like my Jewish Russian relatives, they’ve been comfortable middle class for as far back as I can tell and that is almost 300 years. So I’d have said multi-generation middle class tending to upper, but I also tend to forget how working class my father’s roots really are (despite his fancy ancestors and his PhD) and how much influence that seems to have on who I am comfortable hanging out with.

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          2. I got a 54 (I was mainly answering about the time I did live in the US and adjusted some questions in my mind accordingly).
            And while I’ve never bought a pick up I spent a good part of my childhood in various pick ups (my brother and I used to live riding in the open back – which would probably get the driver arrested today…)

            My favorite question bar none: Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights?
            Of course! I was in a riding club as a child and later in the marching band in high school – I loves me a parade and miss them in Poland (and my parents had a very short lived side-hustle decorating floats).
            My favorite parade element? Shrine cars!

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              1. ” I’ve never seen anything like this”

                Do you go to parades? Klara would probably love them (most kids do). Local high school homecoming, some holidays, special anniversaries keep an eye out for parades in your town, most towns have (or used to have) several every year.

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              2. We go to the neighborhood July 4th parades. It’s the cutest thing ever. Everybody marches through the neighborhood with flags and wearing patriotic clothes. It’s so much fun.

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        1. Ben: what you say reminded me of how I was at this conference in January where middle-aged ladies ranted and denounced the heteronormative traditional marriage and nuclear family with its extreme oppressiveness, and then all went home to their stable heteronormative marriages and nuclear families. Nobody seemed to notice the weirdness of the situation.

          So yeah, there’s a ton of hypocrisy here.

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        2. I got 40 points, but this test is just plain silly. Its questions are much too narrowly focused on the author’s notion of what constitutes the American lower-to-upper “middle class,” as apparently determined by whether you’ve ever been in a factory, drink beer, and used Avon products. He needs to get out of his own bubble!

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        3. Just out of curiosity, is Clarissa still pro-modernity? I’ve been away for a while and it’s hard for me to figure out what’s changed and what (if anything) hasn’t.

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  2. I read large parts of that Hochschild book and found it condescending, both to the people (in my area) she was studying and to the reader. I know she found my region exotic and appreciated it, and I appreciate that. She discovers that white people want to keep their status and will vote against their own concrete interests to get that emotion honored, and that these same people can be nice and have all sorts of positive characteristics. Well, uh — yeah. I am not myself interested in ta-taing ressentiment. I realize Hochchild spent five years here and that is enough to start to get to know the place, but it still seemed as though she needed to get out more. I felt the book was repeating stereotypes — in a poetic way, but still repeating them — not revealing anything new and not really getting beyond them, despite the stated plan to bridge an empathy gap.

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    1. I don’t understand this point about voting against your interests. If I vote for Bernie or Warren, I will vote against my economic interests to keep my status. And so?

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      1. Right. People here will vote against other interests, like against their health or their economic future, to keep a symbolic status. They’ll vote to defund public schools, so their kids can’t go to school, just to keep a symbolic status or because the person who is going to defund the schools is also going to ban abortion. So they are voting for their MAIN values, as I do. I disagree with their priorities but these are their priorities; I have mine and they may seem illogical to some as well.

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      2. “I don’t understand this point about voting against your interests.”

        Democratic snobs frequently scoff at poor white people “voting against their interests” because they vote for Republicans who promise to oppose abortion and affirmative action programs instead of for Democrats who promise to improve their economic status.

        Maybe they vote that way because the Republicans they vote for actually do try to limit abortion rights and other symbolic behaviors that the voters oppose, but when the Democrats get in office, those voters never see any real improvement in their economic status.

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  3. There are cynical arguments, such as the one about Democrats standing in the way of civil rights while Republicans promoted them. It is cynical because JFK and LBJ’s support of civil rights basically began the process through which the Democratic Party lost the votes of white Southerners. It is not as though conservative Republicans like Buckley or Goldwater were great on civil rights. The movement conservatism that culminated in the election of Reagan has very deep racist roots.

    There are other less cynical arguments, ones that people actually believe, rather than simply using for the purpose of cynical obfuscation.

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    1. I believed in the existence of the infamous “Southern strategy” until I started looking at the actual numbers. And they didn’t jive with this narrative.

      Goldwater won 5 Southern states and lost North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas and Florida.

      The states Goldwater won were Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

      In 1968, Nixon lost Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

      In 1976, Carter won all of the old Confederate states.

      Reagan won 44 states in 1980. But he only won Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina very narrowly. And he lost Georgia. Interestingly, Reagan only managed to squeeze out a victory in these states by gaining the votes of the younger generation that hadn’t lived most of its life under segregation.

      In 1984, Reagan won 49 states, so it’s not exceptional that he won the south.

      Bush Sr did win the southern states in 1988 but he also won Illinois. And I think even Vermont. So what does that prove other than that his opponent was one of the most pathetic candidates known to humanity?

      In 1992, the Southern states went back to Clinton.

      Leaving aside presidential elections, until 1994, Democrats won the majority of votes in the congressional elections in the south.

      So where is the infamous southern strategy? Yes, today the South votes Republican. This is 50 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I’m guessing the Dixiecrats didn’t survive en masse that long.

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      1. The southern strategy was real, it is just that the whole thing is more complicated than that. Much more complicated. And neither “the south” nor “the north” are monolithic.

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        1. From what I’ve been able to find so far, the only proof it’s real is a phrase attributed to LBJ that can’t even be confirmed. I’ll keep looking but for now I have found nothing of substance.

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          1. Oh, it was rhetoric actually engaged in, you could see them do it. Republicans fought hard to capture the segregationist vote and segregationist Democrats decamped to them. It was massively discussed around the 1968 election. You didn’t come out for segregation and formal discrimination any more, but you talked about “forced busing,” states’ rights, cutting taxes, etc. That way you also turned the segregationist vote more conservative, and the conservative vote more segregationist. … At the same time, it’s convenient to say the south is/was racist/conservative and the north wasn’t; this is not wholly true.

            BUT there are good reasons why people from down here migrated north and west, and why persons of color vote Democratic.

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            1. Hugo Black and Robert Byrd were actually in the Klan. They were actively feted by their Dem brethren. J.W. Fullbright, Bill Clinton’s mentor, was a segregationist. Al Gore’s father was a segregationist. The statements they all made are hair-raising in their racism. In the meantime, we are all busily parsing Donald Trump’s father’s record for signs of covert racism. Who needs covert racism when there are mountains of evidence of Bill Clinton’s and Co very open racism?

              My point is that they all stink equally badly but I’m not seeing what it is that Democrats did for African Americans. Republicans fought the civil war, abolished slavery, desegregated, pushed for the CR Acts. What did Democrats do? Institute diversity offices?

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              1. I just watched a hilarious interview where Bernie tries to answer the question of what he’s done for black people in his long career and…. He’s got nothing. He really struggled with the answer. I have no idea how he’s planning to run if he’s so unprepared.

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              2. Lincoln’s Republican party was not the same party, and the Democratic party was a segregationist party, at least in the South, and sometimes elsewhere more covertly, in the earlier 20th century. And a lot of what the differences in policies between the two parties became, in terms of race relations and other things, has already been discussed in this thread…

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      2. Clarissa, I just read your commentary, and I agree partially.
        Okay, we can’t talk seriously about a real realignment (about voting, not policy-wise) until Reagan. (The Carter (he’s a Christian fundamentalist and a crypto-Dixiecrat) case contradicts the realignment completely). However, since Reagan (although he was much more than the realignment), the tendency is clear: the white southeast vote massively for Republicans in presidential and gubernatorial elections AND, more clearly, the black vote goes massively to Democrats in every election.

        Finally, I should have said « pre-Reagan », not «  pre-Goldwater ».

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        1. Absolutely. But what if they vote so for reasons completely different from racism? Doesn’t it make much more sense, for instance, that Southerners vote Republican because they don’t like abortion? That seems a lot more likely reason to vote than a baseless fantasy about the return of segregation.

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          1. I don’t think (except for some pro-Molyneux crackpots) they want the return of segregation, but they vote for the most racist: Trump made huge gain of popularity by his anti-Obama birtherism.

            And the main thing on this is the black vote, which goes overwhelmingly to Democrats.

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            1. The black vote definitely goes overwhelmingly to the Democrats, even though Trump raised his percentage of the black vote by 1/3 compared to Romney.

              But why are we assuming that black voters have no other concerns than racism? As we have seen, both women and Hispanics refuse to vote solely on identity issues. Why assume that African Americans do it?

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              1. Here is an example. In the 2016 primary, black voters chose Hillary, the mother of birtherism who is known to have made racist statements, over Bernie, who isn’t. They chose a wife of a racist prick from Arkansas who had signed the infamous criminal justice reform which clearly penalized blacks. They must have been driven by something other than concern over racism.

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          2. Evangelicals didn’t dislike abortion until Jerry Falwell told them to. The white Southern vote (and probably parts of the white blue collar vote nationwide) are more anti affirmative action than pro-segregation. The whites of means who believe in segregation have successfully replaced de jure segregation with de facto segregation and don’t care. The poor whites might be segregationists in spirit but know better than to treat it as a winnable issue or something to base a vote on. As for anti-affirmative action backlash, those reactionaries have made all kinds of strides, won referenda, won court cases, their cause is on the march, a vertitable stampede.

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            1. What are the amazing results of affirmative action that are so worth defending? At my school, the graduation rates that are lower than those of African Americans are only those of Hispanics. We only manage to graduate 20% of our black male students. Something is obviously not working. But we can’t even discuss this because our Bernie-voting ideological commissars call us racist if we try.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this. It began with the Trump election for me too but I think the Modi govt. in India also had something to contribute to it. I’m not an academic so I haven’t read quite as many books as you did but I’ve definitely been reading and watching a lot of conservative media.

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  5. Just wanted to comment on this: “This is not about agreeing or not. It’s about finding out that the other side isn’t composed of deranged, bigoted lunatics. There is a coherent, meaningful narrative about everything on the other side. My life has been enriched by this knowledge.”

    Well, in general, people like to think of themselves as good, so few would explain their decisions by saying “we just want to be evil and hurt people”. Unless we’re talking about extremes, like anarchists, every political philosophy will have a coherent meaningful narrative, and its followers will sincerely believe their proposals will help society.

    It’s the assumptions people make that underly their reasoning that are usually different between different political movements. For example, the people they picture when talking about different scenarios, or how some religious people say (and presumably think) people can’t be good without God.

    To me, it all comes down to the long list of cognitive biases we, humans, exhibit. I am endlessly disappointed by how few people are willing to consider themselves susceptible to any of them.

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  6. For me my journey of understanding has been with conservatives/Republicans and TERFs (with conservatives I remember starting that journey in 2016, but my personal drama over Trump waylaid things a bit.) Still don’t agree with TERFs for the most part but I understand their views now. With conservatives, I was shocked to see them talking about and articulating things that matter to me, but seem to be completely ignored by liberals at the moment.

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    1. I’m not going to talk about the “realignment” or “southern strategy” until anybody contests the numbers I provided in a long comment yesterday. I’m a scholar, I believe in evidence. I gave a ton of numbers yesterday. That’s evidence. Everything else is a fantasy.

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