Sunday, November 20, 2016

The danger of Trump

Scott Alexander wrote a piece entitled "You're Still Crying Wolf" about how some of the reaction to Trump's election have been counter-productive.

Alexander endorsed Hillary Clinton, and I didn't, but I'm inclined to agree with Ross Douthat's (who also never explicitly endorsed Clinton, as far as I know) assessment of the piece as "important but wrong."

First, the important part -- in the final section, Alexander writes about people committing suicide because Trump won, and freaking out beyond what can be supported by the Trump campaign's words or actions, and concludes:

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.
I think this is important. I don't know where people got the idea that convincing people that some people hate them who actually don't was helpful to them, but it's not and it needs to stop. The hit of moral superiority you get from saying that other people hate isn't worth it.

The wrong part, I think, is misunderstanding how structures of racism and other structures persist. The passage that I think best exhibits this is in Section III, Questions 1-3, discussing Trump's support from the KKK and white nationalist groups.

The section doesn't lend itself to quoting, but the gist is that the KKK, white nationalists, unapologetic racists, etc. are such a small portion of the electorate, especially compared to minority populations and those sympathetic to them, that it would be foolish for Trump to court the former while eschewing the latter.

Which may have been true in the general election. And I'm inclined to agree that Trump's attitude is more of a businessman's "their votes counts as much as anyone else's" than actual enthusiasm for white nationalism.  I suspect Trump didn't do much better in the general election from self-described white nationalists than Romney or McCain.

But in the Republican primary with 15 other candidates, they were a more significant force. He had signaled a willingness to accept their support with no strings attached. And when he won the nomination, and then the general election, these were the people who had displayed loyalty, and thus the people who would run the campaign, and receive high level assignments in a Trump Administration.

Combine this with Trump's level of support from law enforcement, and I think the fear that a Trump Administration will bring about worse treatments of minorities by the police is far from absurd.


Alexander suggests that those who disagree with his piece do so by betting the other side of one of his predictions:

1. Total hate crimes incidents as measured here will be not more than 125% of their 2015 value at any year during a Trump presidency, conditional on similar reporting methodology [confidence: 80%]2. Total minority population of US citizens will increase throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 99%]3. US Muslim population increases throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 95%]4. Trump cabinet will be at least 10% minority [confidence: 90%], at least 20% minority [confidence: 70%], at least 30% minority [30%]. Here I’m defining “minority” to include nonwhites, Latinos, and LGBT people, though not women. Note that by this definition America as a whole is about 35% minority and Congress is about 15% minority.5. Gay marriage will remain legal throughout a Trump presidency [confidence: 95%]6. Race relations as perceived by blacks, as measured by this Gallup poll, will do better under Trump than they did under Obama (ie the change in race relations 2017-2021 will be less negative/more positive than the change 2009-2016) [confidence: 70%].7. Neither Trump nor any of his officials (Cabinet, etc) will endorse the KKK, Stormfront, or explicit neo-Nazis publicly, refuse to back down, etc, and keep their job [confidence: 99%].8. No large demographic group (> 1 million people) get forced to sign up for a “registry” [confidence: 95%]9> No large demographic group gets sent to internment camps [confidence: 99%]10. Number of deportations during Trump’s four years will not be greater than Obama’s 8 [confidence: 90%]
First, I think this is kind of silly. The danger of Trump is that he puts a number of outcomes in play that were previously unthinkable. A lot of bad things go from 0.01% to 0.1%.  For one catastrophic event, this might not be so bad, but there's a multiplier in place. If the probability of 10 separate catastrophic events went from 0.01% to 0.1%, then the chance of a catastrophe went from 0.1% to 1%. This seems bad, even if it would still make it foolish to bet on it.

Somewhat related, presidencies often go bad for reasons that aren't anticipated, but do have to do with the character of the president and those around him. Lots of people were probably wary of a Bush presidency in 2000, but I'm not sure they would have predicted that we would receive a large terrorist attack, and launch a misguided war in response that included torture. Or for Obama, that his health care bill would include a provision requiring employers to provide abortificient forms of birth control, and they would read the religious exemption narrowly, resulting in them taking the Little Sisters of the Poor to court.

Having said that, I'd be willing to take the other side of the predictions I bolded, assuming that there was some consistent way to measure them, which I fear would lead to some semantic arguments that would be unseemly. Plus, I'd rather not position myself to cheer for hate crimes or degrading race relations.

Furthermore, I think that if I'm wrong, then the mechanism by which I'm wrong would be some egregious event, either from law enforcement or by people emboldened by Trump's victory, that it unites people in support of minority populations, similar to how 9/11 united the county. This isn't something to cheer for.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

My Pledge

I understand that for many people, the results of last night's election are scary. Though I would have preferred a different outcome, they are not so for me, but I recognize that is at least partly due to my position of privilege.

Given that, I was to state that I will do my best over the course of the next four years to oppose policies that impact the most vulnerable among us -- in particular, racial and religious minorities.

I will oppose any policies that target them unfairly. I will use what forums I have to educate people about the negative impact such policies would have, and how they are out of step with American and Christian values. Should such policies be enacted, I will work to mitigate their impact, and to repeal them.

I will also opposes the actions of those who may feel that yesterday's results give them license for bullying and other bad behavior.

I am sorry for my lack of engagement that helped bring us to this point, and I will work to ensure we have quality candidates for whom to vote in future elections.

*I normally despise pieces like this that portray the writer as the last island of love and tolerance in a sea of hatred and bigotry. That's not my point -- I believe we are still a nation of good people (a number of whom made a wrong choice or series of choices), and I want us to say so, and reassure those who are scared today.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Why I Care About Email Server Management

Please see my election disclaimer post.

A regular feature of Matthew Ygelsias's Twitter feed has been referring to the controversy around Hillary Clinton's email server as "email server management," e.g. suggesting that the only people who would be concerned about that are "single-issue email server management voters".

This morning, Yglesias took this snark to article form: "The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign"

OK, well let's see how this starts out...
Some time ago, Hillary Clinton and her advisers decided that the best course of action was to apologize for having used a personal email address to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state.
Emphasis added.

Ok, we have a problem right off the bat.

One of the patterns of Clinton defenses is to conflate what Clinton did with what a lot of professionals have done. We've all probably mixed our personal and professional IT resources in ways our employers would not approve of, so we're invited to see what Clinton did as not much different, and identify with her. We wouldn't want to have our career prospects limited by this, why should Clinton?

A few problems with this gambit:

  1. Clinton didn't just mix her personal and professional email. She had her own server for this email set up at her home on Long Island. This wasn't a matter of forwarding an email to your personal account so you could look at it at home without lugging your laptop home. This was a systemized circumvention of standard protocols.
  2. Hillary Clinton was not some standard cog in a machine. She was Secretary of State with ambitions of becoming president. I might scoff at IT policies around the emails I'm privy to as a mid-level software developer as being a tad paranoid.  Oooh, maybe a competitor will find out that we're increasing our focus on quality this quarter! When you are Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world, those restrictions are a bit more meaningful.
  3. I'd like to think those who would be our leaders have stronger ethical fiber than I do. I might be tempted to ignore policies that I find inconvenient, but, in general, I don't, and neither do most people. That I can understand the temptation does not mean that I excuse succumbing to it, in particular from those who ask me to vote for them for president.

So why did she do it?  Here's Yglesias's explanation:

Like most people who started a federal job in 2009, she was also disheartened to learn that the then-current state of federal IT departments was such that she could not connect her personal smartphone to a State Department email address. If she wanted ready access to both her email accounts, she would need to carry two smartphones.
As any reporter in Washington knows, this indignity was in fact visited upon a huge number of DC denizens for many years. Everyone working in government felt that this was kinda bullshit, but nobody could really do anything about it. (Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts has opined that carrying two phones could be reasonable grounds to suspect someone is a drug dealer.)
Clinton decided to do something about it. Namely, she told her top aides to just email her at her personal address so she could keep using whichever devices she wanted. This violated an internal State Department policy directive, known as a Foreign Affairs Manual, which stated that while it was okay to use personal digital devices to do work occasionally, “normal day-to-day operations” should be conducted on standard State Department equipment. Clinton chose to ignore this guideline and because she was the boss nobody could stop her. 

So, according to Yglesias, the reason for the use of the personal email address was convenience. Who wants to lug around two devices?  The image this brings up is of a poor working mom dragging her kids to day-care and soccer practice and the grocery store and having to stand on the Metro to get to work, and you're asking her to carry one more thing around with her every damn day? Who could blame her for saying, "The Hell with that!"

Except Hillary Clinton wasn't a poor working mother riding public transportation to work everyday. She was Secretary of State and former First Lady, with a full staff and Secret Service protection. She hadn't touched the steering wheel of a car, let alone a post on a Metro train, in 30 years. The idea that it was just too darn onerous for her to carry two devices, while thousands of other people do the exact same thing with considerably less priviilege is risible.

So, why the email server? Yglesias goes on:

Clinton, as you may have heard, is married to former president Bill Clinton, who stepped down from office in January of 2001. Clinton was in the White House throughout the 1990s when the rest of us were being bombarded with AOL signup CD-ROMs, so he didn’t have a personal email when he left. Gmail didn’t exist back then, and his new job was, in effect, running a Bill Clinton startup. He launched a charitable foundation, he established his presidential library, and he made big bucks on speaking tours. He had a staff and he needed IT infrastructure and support. So he paid a guy to set up an email server that he could use.
Hillary Clinton — who is, again, his wife — also set herself up with an account on the same server. This is a bit unusual, but a lot about being married to a former president is unusual. What it’s not is suspicious.

I'll accept this, but note that Yglesias is asking us to grant Clinton slack based on her unusual position as a former first lady, while at the same time presenting her as poor working schlub like the rest of us who couldn't possibly be expected to manage two devices.

From there, Ygleisias goes on into the specifics of the Espionage Act, which I'm not inclined to dispute. My problem with this is not the specifics of the Espionage Act. It is the attitude of being above the law, both in this decision and the "how dare you!" response to it.

All of us encounter rules and regulations that make it harder to do the things we want to do. Our choices are:

  1. Go along with it and accept the slow-down
  2. Ignore the regulation.
  3. Work to change the regulation if it truly doesn't make sense.
Most of us are expected to choose Option #1, particularly if we lack the skill or initiative to challenge the status quo. And our lives are more difficult because of it. We lug two devices to the soccer field.

Occasionally, me might get away with Option #2. We drive 26 in a 25. We skip a few steps. We send a personal email from our work computer. We forward an email to our personal address. But if we get caught, we know we'll have to apologize or our livelihoods will be threatened.

I expect our leaders to choose Option #1 or #3. Yes, #1 makes life harder, and #3 requires courage. Tough. You want to be president.

This isn't about "email server management." This is about character. This is about how one regards oneself in relation to those one is asking to rule. The Clinton Team's response to this has not demonstrated they understand this.

This is why this story won't go away. Because people like Yglesias keep trying to shame us for caring about it, and we smell a rat.

We should expect more from our leaders than they expect of us.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Less Than My Standard

Please see my election disclaimer post.

I've seen a lot of commentary along these lines lately:

To illustrate this example, all 3 of the baseball teams I root for -- the Phillies, Cardinals, and the Mariners -- did not make the playoffs this year.

This does not mean that they were equally bad.  Indeed, the Phillies were significantly worse than the Mariners and the Cardinals by all measures.

But neither met the standard to qualify for the playoffs.

This is what those who have thoughtfully considered both the major party candidates, and have deemed both unacceptable have concluded.  Not that both the candidates are equally bad, but that neither meets the standard for the office they seek. 

To be sure, there is a strain of reflexive, "To hell with both of them" thought that ought to be challenged. But I think many of those who have found both these candidates wanting wish they had a candidate worth supporting.

Lowering our standards for either of these candidates sends the message that we will accept whatever the parties give us. And we'll be right back here four years later.

But wait, Clinton supporters say, maybe Clinton doesn't meet the threshold for your support, but surely Trump has crashed through another threshold, where it is necessary to vote for the opposing party, qualms notwithstanding, to prevent him from taking power.

My response is that I'll let the Clinton campaign tell me that by how they conduct their campaign. If voting for Clinton to prevent Trump from taking power is an imperative for me as a citizen, then it is also an imperative for the Clinton campaign to ensure their candidate can draw from the widest base of support.

The Clinton campaign has not done this. I can't say I blame them -- they will likely win anyway, and why handcuff yourselves if you don't have to? But I'm not going to sacrifice more than my leaders are willing to. If the Clinton campaign is not willing to bend on its principles to ensure Trump is not elected, than neither will I. Our leaders should sacrifice more than ordinary citizens, not less.

Please see my election disclaimer post.