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.
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