Keep fighting

Yglesias makes the case that it’s working.  Maybe a little optimistic, but I think he’s basically right:

It’s easy to miss amid Donald Trump’s frenetic pace of activity and nonstop media coverage, but the most important story in American politics right now isn’t about what Trump is doing: It’s that the opposition is working.

The millions of people who marched in Washington and other cities around the world on inauguration weekend and then demonstrated again at airports the following weekend are making a concrete difference in the world. So are the tens of thousands who’ve called members of Congress or showed up in person at their events.

Trump is getting things done, but all presidents do that. Look at what he’s not getting done. A Republican-controlled Congress bowed to public outrage over an attempt to water down an ethics office. Trump dramatically downscaled his own executive order barring entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. He’s having unprecedented difficulty getting his Cabinet nominees confirmed, even though the Senate’s rules have changed to make confirmations easier than ever. Conservatives in Congress have put their big plans to privatize Medicare and public lands on hold. And the drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act is running into very big trouble.

None of this is based on the discipline and self-restraint on the part of the White House. It’s thanks to bold acts of resistance. The result is lives have been saved, many more lives have been demonstrably improved, and the proven template for future success has been created.

Not only have the resisters already markedly altered the trajectory of public policy, they have also begun to make a difference in each other’s lives and their own conceptions of themselves. And this is the greatest threat to the Trump movement.

For the moment, Trumpism holds the vast preponderance of political power despite its thin electoral base. That means Trumpism will make progress, even in the face of effective resistance. But for the positioning to hold, Trump needs to convince his opponents that they are failing, so the prophecy will become self-fulfilling.

That is why it’s crucial for Trump’s opponents to be aware that protesters’ efforts are not futile. We know they can succeed, because they are already succeeding. What’s needed is for Trump’s critics to continue to resist the siren song of sectarianism and keep at it. If they do, Trumpism will be buried.


Quote of the day

Love this:

For a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.

Photo of the day

From the Atlantic photos of the week:

Horses run away from wildfires in Chile’s south-central regions, in Portezuelo, Chile, on January 30, 2017.

Juan Gonzalez / Reuters

Curiosity saved the liberal?

Let’s stick with the liberals and conservatives are different theme.  Dan Kahan (the man behind your partisanship even makes you bad at math, research) has some really interesting new research that presents– to some degree– a way out of this.  Scientific curiosity.  Nice summary in the Atlantic:

Kahan and his collaborators wanted to see whether this very human tendency to seek out facts that conform with our reasoning and identities—staying glued to our red and blue feeds—can ever be tamped down.

They found that it could, as long as you possess an odd trait called “science curiosity.” This is not, it turns out, the same as merely being good at science, or understanding it. Science curiosity, as Kahan measured it, describes people who are intrigued by surprising information and scientific discoveries. In the study, the science-curious spent longer watching a science documentary and were more interested in reading science news. Meanwhile, those who simply understood science weren’t as engaged with the videos. They weren’t into “self-motivated consumption of science information for its own sake,” they write.

Typically, being confronted with evidence only makes people cling more firmly to their beliefs on controversial topics like gun control, climate change, or vaccine safety. Similarly, in this study, Kahan found that science-literate conservatives were more likely to dispute humans’ role in global warming, while science-literate liberals were much more likely to acknowledge it. (People who didn’t know much about science were equally likely to agree and disagree, regardless of party.)

“We always observed this depressing pattern: The members of the public most able to make sense of scientific evidence are in fact the most polarized,” Kahan said in a statement.

But, surprisingly, the science-curious among them didn’t harbor the same knee-jerk biases. They were more likely than the non-curious to read a news story that clashed with their political affiliation. The liberals, for example, opted to read a newspaper article headlined, “Scientists Report Surprising Evidence: Ice Increasing in Antarctic, Not Currently Contributing To Sea-Level Rise.” They craved novelty, even when they knew they wouldn’t agree with it.

“For them, surprising pieces of evidence are bright, shiny objects—they can’t help but grab at them,” Kahan said.

And though the conservative, science-curious participants still thought global warming and fracking were less of a big deal than their liberal counterparts, the more science-curious they were, the more of a risk they considered it. The two party lines ran in parallel, rather than toward opposite poles:

In other words, curiosity seems to be the pin that bursts our partisan bubbles, allowing new and sometimes uncomfortable information to trickle in. Nothing else works like curiosity does, the authors point out—not being reflective, or good at math, or even well-educated.

Instead, they write, it’s “individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected … [who] expose themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations.”[emphasis mine]


Cool!  I think I’ve pretty well-established that I’m “scientific curious” and I know many of you are as well.  And I love that analogy– to me, the shiny new thing is indeed something that pushes against what I already believe/know (from a respected source, of course).  There’s not a lot of interest in one more article telling me that single-payer health plans are a good idea.

Both this and the Vox article I link below, however, suggest that this is some sort of “solution” to the cognitive biases behind partisan polarization.  Unfortunately, until you can demonstrate to me that we can fundamentally change persons’ baseline levels of scientific curiosity, hard to see how that’s actually the case.

Also, check out the more thorough summary of Kahan’s work at Vox (and you know you’re curious to know more– right?).


I am not afraid. I am liberal. These are related.

Really interesting piece in the Atlantic on the latest social science research on politics and fear:

Well, not quite. According to a study slated to be published in the journal Psychological Science, it might be true that conservatives are more likely to fall for false, threatening-seeming information, but it’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re hyper-attuned to hazards in their world. If they spot a sign of danger, they figure trusting it is better than ignoring it…

Daniel Fessler, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, led a study in which two sets of subjects read a series of 16 statements, most of which were false, but all of which sounded like they could be true. Some of them focused more on the (fake) benefits of doing something, such as “Exercising on an empty stomach burns more calories,” while others focused on risks, such as, “terrorist attacks in the U.S. have increased since Sept 11, 2001.”

The researchers had the subjects rate how true they believed the statements were. Then, he assessed how “liberal” or “conservative” they were, asking them whether they believed “society works better when people live according to traditional values,” for example, or whether they “agree” with topics like pornography or school prayer, and of course, whether they actually identify as a Republican or Democrat.

There was no difference when it came to the “beneficial” statements—conservatives and liberals were equally likely to believe those. But the researchers found that compared to the liberals, conservative participants were more likely to believe the statements about hazards. And surprisingly, this difference was driven by their views on social issues, such as abortion or same-sex marriage. Economic issues, such as a fondness for tax cuts, didn’t make a difference. “Fiscal conservatism is not about traditionalism,” Fessler said. “It’s an accident of American politics that [social and fiscal conservatism] happen to be stuck together” in the same party… [emphases mine]

But several studies show that conservatives tend to be more sensitive to the possibility of danger than liberals are. That helps explain why conservatives endorse policies that minimize the introduction of new, potentially harmful influences to society, like immigration, gay marriage, or comprehensive sex education. “Conservatives approach the situation from the start with greater reactivity to threat, a greater prior belief to the level of danger in the world, so it is logical for the conservative to take more seriously information about hazards than the liberal does,” Fessler told me.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: When there are real threats, this reflex would help people stay safe. It’s just that when the threats are made up or exaggerated—as they were in so many fake news stories before the election or in many of Trump’s tweets—people can be misled.

A-ha!  And there you go.  Forget fake news, the key is when threats are exaggerated.  This is exactly what we are talking about.  And, here, as many have pointed out time and time again, the “threats” from immigrants and terrorists are really quite minor (really, you should fear vending machines far more).  Bill Ayers on that point:

As a security studies scholar, let me put this in clear terms: there is not a shred of evidence that the United States is any more vulnerable to terrorist attacks from abroad than it ever has been, and plenty to suggest that we are safer than at any point in our history. There is also no way of defending the assertion that Islamic terrorism represents an existential threat to the United States, or that it even ought to be on the list of top US national security priorities. We are afraid of terrorism only because we’ve been told we should be.

The easiest way to see the truth, of course, is to look at the statistics. Violence of any kind – never mind terrorist violence – doesn’t even make the top 15 list of causes of death in the US, and has been in long-term secular decline (as have death rates in general). Any given American’s odds of being killed or injured by a terrorist are almost infinitesimally small, and the odds of a terrorist attack of any kind happening on US soil on any given day – or even in any given month – are likewise extremely small. The list of things you are more likely to encounter than a terrorist is vast.

The fact is that, of things that threaten Americans’ lives and way of life, terrorism just doesn’t make the list. It is, in reality, just not that important. Are we 100% free of terrorist risk? Of course not – and we never will be. There is no set of rules, no border restrictions, no “extreme vetting” procedures that will ever eliminate that risk. And at this point, the risk is so low that any efforts to improve procedures – however well-considered and well-implemented – will only lower the risk level by an almost immeasurably small amount. When you’re that close to zero, it’s hard to get closer.

Why, then, are so many Americans concerned about terrorism? Why are even Senate Democrats unwilling to question the underlying logic of Trump’s executive order, which amounts to “desperate times call for desperate measures”? Because we have all been gaslit on this. The lie has been repeated so many times that it has become the truth.

Yes, why are people so irrationally fearful.  Because you’ve got a whole media apparatus (here’s looking at you, Fox and friends) and now the damn president, constantly telling people they need to be afraid.  And for conservatives, especially, this sends a powerful cue.

And, from Pew, we can see the data on just how well this works on conservatives:

According to any semi-rational expert on terrorism or national security there is simply no way that the refugees present a “major threat” or else major and threat don’t mean what people think they do (inconceivable!).


So, sure there’s things I’m afraid of, but I like to think (and I think I’m right) that my fears are at least rational.  The problem with conservative is not that they are more fearful.  Appropriately fearful is a good thing and certainly makes evolutionary sense.  The problem we have now is that so many conservatives are irrationally fearful of threats that really aren’t worth all the fear.  And that is massively distorting our politics.


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