gender, language, other topics, politics

The Logic of the Primary Process

 

Ruth Wodak has sent me a thoughtful, and disturbing, article from the Guardian. It makes perfect sense, suggesting what to say to the Sanders fans who are refusing to even consider voting for Clinton, and some of whom are declaring that they would actually prefer Trump. The writer’s arguments are thoroughly persuasive – to me.

 

It is disturbing on two grounds: first, that Democrats even have to worry about how to persuade presumably rational people to switch to Clinton rather than Trump (this would seem to be a no-brainer, so why isn’t it?). But more disturbing is the fear that the article’s rational arguments will be of little use in accomplishing that goal. The real reasons those voters find it easier to move from Sanders to Trump, rather than Sanders to Clinton, are not rational, and therefore logical arguments against them will fall on deaf ears. Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Cold Comforts, or None at All

 

It is comforting to think that Donald Trump is a nutcase who has given his mouth over to his egomania and just opens it up and lets whatever come out, without concern for the fact that he is destroying the Republican Party’s hopes for success in this year’s Presidential election, and perhaps forever. After all, he’s not a real Republican.

 

It is comforting to think that Bernie Sanders is a nutcase who has let egomania triumph over reason, refusing to get out of the race for the Democratic nomination and show some support for his rival, without concern for the fact that he is destroying the Democratic Party’s hopes for success in this year’s Presidential election, and perhaps forever. After all, he’s not a real Democrat.

 

Those are the comforting scenarios. But they might not reflect reality. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Depth Charge

I know I have dealt with this topic before, but it keeps turning up, unresolved and unresolvable, in new guises, so I keep worrying it (and vice versa) like a problem tooth. It is our inability to distinguish between root causes and superficial symptoms, so that we think we are resolving the former when in fact we are just scratching around at the latter: putting a band aid on a cancer.

 

Too many problems that we try to resolve at a superficial level are about some form of deep societal malaise – things we really wish would go away, things we really hate to look at – so it’s not surprising that we don’t have the moral stamina to get down to the nitty-gritty and figure out how to change ourselves and our minds in significant ways.

 

Two such problems, involving the ancient triangulation of language, gender, and power– how we use language to hide the depth and breadth of power differences between the genders — have been in the news a lot. I’ve talked about one before, sexual harassment in universities and other prestigious institutions. The other is the topic of an interesting article in the May 8 New York Times Magazine. By Emily Bazelon, it asks what we should do about prostitution: continue to keep it criminalized, or decriminalize it? Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Going Negative

 

The media savants love numbers – it makes their work look like science. Among their favorites, often repeated, are the “negatives” of the leading presidential candidates. Commentators love to point out that this year, the two front-runners score higher negatives than their equivalents at any time in the past. For Trump, the stats are: positive 24%, negative 57%, for a total score of -33; for Clinton, positive 31%, negative 52%, overall -21.

 

Because the stats are reported side by side, it is easy to get the impression that the negative scores for the two candidates mean the same thing and were in response to the same kinds of behavior. Curiously, the media analysts never address that question – the negs simply are what they are: they show how unlikeable Trump and Clinton are, period.

 

But the two negativities are in fact very different in origin and meaning, and should be differently understood. Continue reading

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language, politics

Donald Trump, the Poet

 

Opinion is divided on Donald Trump’s talk. His supporters are enthusiastic: “He tells it like it is.” “He’s tough.” “He speaks my language.” They like the Trump they think they see and hear: a man whose linguistic roughness is a promise of nonverbal toughness in our next President. For them, the harshness and cruelty that characterize so much of Trump’s speaking style signal that the man is no “political correctness”-hugging sissy.

 

Intellectuals, the commentariat, and media personalities have another view. To them, Trump is your basic vulgarian: no topic is too low, no slander too gross, no prejudice too retrograde for him to exploit; and even when he isn’t spouting off offensively, his language lacks grammar, and his arguments lack cohesion, trickling off without a point, other than the incessant one about the speaker’s greatness, largeness, and hugeness. They sneer openly about the common man (or woman) who is taken in. But even as they inveigh against him, the amount of attention they devote to criticizing him suggests that they are just as captivated by The Donald as everyone else – they just can’t admit it.

 

These Trumpian perspectives would seem to have little in common It’s hard to think of a candidate about whose speaking style public opinion differs so sharply. Why do Americans find it so hard to understand what the man is up to? Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Trump vs. Trump: Logician vs. Politician

(I realize that this topic has been discussed ad nauseam by just about everyone, e.g. NYT op-eds 4/2, one by Gail Collins and one by Katha Pollitt, both excellent, but since I wrote it I thought I’d send it anyway.)

Pity the poor Donald. He just can’t win for losing.

 

He has been criticized repeatedly by the media and the pundits for not making sense. And there does seem to be something to that.

 

But then he makes a set of statements that are as rigorously logical as a paper by Bertrand Russell. And still…and still…he gets attacked from every side. People just won’t treat him nicely. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Shlong Diplomacy

 

According to an article in the New York Times, many of Donald Trump’s supporters, especially women, are dismayed at his bullying and misogyny. But

 

Kathy Potts, a Trump supporter in Iowa who is a former chairwoman of the Linn County Republican Party, called Mr. Trump a bully and said she was offended by his insults of women. But with a son in the Army about to be sent to Iraq, Ms. Potts stands behind Mr. Trump because she believes he will be strong on national security. “He’s the one I’d pick to best protect Jason,” she said.

 

In other words, Trump’s female (and some male) supporters see the Donald as two Trumps, one of which has problems that are not serious and can be ignored (the misogyny and bullying), and the other, the “real” candidate, who is “strong” and can be trusted to keep us safe. One has nothing to do with the other, and if the latter is the one that means the most to you (as it does to many otherwise rational Trump supporters), you can safely ignore the former. This analysis might put you in mind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but neither of them ever sought political office. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Listening to Her: Reprise

 

A couple of weeks ago, after undergoing a lot of criticism for her “unexciting” style, candidate Clinton made a public apology: she was not, she said, a “natural” politician like her husband. The critics have made much of this remark, but have failed to understand it correctly.

 

It is clear that the female Clinton does not sound like her male counterpart. She is not thrilling in the way he – like the very best “natural” politicians – can be. She appeals more to the mind than to the heart, which is not how many Americans like their politics. She is not “fun.”

 

But a more accurate perception of the problem may be that Clinton is not a “normal” politician, as of course she is not. The normal prototypical politician is still male, and at the presidential level, that is even truer. But the way we expect a “natural” politician to appeal to us is not at all coincidentally the way we expect a “normal” politician to do so. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Pro-Life “Feminism”

 

Check out the photo on the front page of today’s (3/3) New York Times, above the article about the arguments before the Supreme Court concerning Texas’s law restricting the operation of abortion clinics. What caught my attention was the signage. A sign in back said “Life Counts,” with a beguiling picture of what looks to me like a full-term infant, certainly closer to a full-term infant than a zygote, which the so-called pro-life contingent protects with equal fervor. I read intentional deceptiveness in the sign: the full-term infant’s picture is purposely deceptive, with the emotional response that a full-term baby evokes although anti-abortion groups are necessarily much more concerned with protecting non-emotion-evoking zygotes than adorable full-term babies. Worse, the picture covertly makes the accusation, “Abortion providers murder babies” – a canard as guilt-inducing as it is knowingly false. And because this untruth is expressed pictorially, it is hard to controvert it verbally. For a group that claims to hold the moral high ground, this multiple violation of the commandment against bearing false witness ought to be problematic, but apparently is not.

 

But the sign borne by the woman in front is even more troublesome: “I AM A PRO-LIFE FEMINIST.” Can you be a pro-life feminist? What do you have to be, and believe, to be a “feminist,” who can answer that question, and why? Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

The Truth About Youth

 

It used to be possible (and maybe it still is) to get an apron with the legend, “Kissin wears out. Cookin don’t.” I want to propose a modernization: “Excitement wears out. Pragmatism don’t.”

 

Both of these useful slogans arise out of the experience that comes of age, that is, wisdom. The young are all for kissin and excitement, and believe that if they can achieve them, they will have them forever. Older people know better, having discovered that what works is what is conducive to a pleasurable life; the purely fun stuff can be interspersed, but is not the point of the exercise.

 

This thought occurred to me as I was reading an article in the Sunday New York Times’ “Week in Review” by Jill Filipovic, “Hillary’s Office Politics.” In it Filipovic defends the young women supporting Bernie Sanders. Her point is that these women reject Clinton not because Clinton reminds them of their tedious old mothers, but rather because they have not lived long enough to come up against serious sexism and misogyny. Their youthful sexiness gets them past many obstacles, and others they have just not yet encountered. When they have been out in the workplace and the world for a while, and are no longer able to trade cuteness for goods and services, they will understand (says the author) what the Clinton candidacy is about. Hence older women favor Clinton. Continue reading

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