On Politics
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On Politics

Who do you side with?

But not simpler

This week’s Economist has an excellent article on how European political issues and topics are tangled and complicated. It gives some good examples of where the simplistic “right-left” classification and other binary over simplifications breakdown:

“Look more closely, however, and it all seems more tangled. Mr Orban may be undermining the rule of law in Hungary, but he sits in the European People’s Party (EPP), a group that includes Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor. Mr Macron may be a globalist, but he nationalised a French shipyard to prevent its takeover by an Italian firm last year, and this June declined to take in Aquarius, a refugee ship rejected by Italy. Ordinary Europeans are similarly complicated. Most residents of Chemnitz, for example, attended neither pro- nor anti-migration protests.” [1]

Meanwhile in California…

Earlier today, among the elegant citizenry promenading Palo Alto’s University Avenue, was a scruffy looking woman, pushing a shopping cart, piled with various grey tinged clothes, papers and baggage, with a big “I love Trump” sign taped to the said cart.

In the same block was a retired educator collecting donations for some drug rehabilitation related charity. In return for a small contribution, he presented me with a bunch of “thank-you” marketing material, including a comical list of poems praising the virtues of a certain Bernie Sanders, and poking fun at the said much-loved Donald Trump. He somewhat bizarrely, prefaced this presentation with a “Do you hate Trump?” question (apparently expecting nothing but full agreement).

Whatever the Economist might pontificate, simplistic “right-left” classifications seemed alive and well, at least in Stanford-educated Palo Alto. One might tolerate some bias among “ordinary people”. However, when I looked at the latest Facebook posts of the Representative in Congress for Palo Alto [2], the two senators for California [3] [4], and the President [5], I noticed exactly the same phenomenon.

While there were no funny poems, or declarations of undying love, almost all posts I read had three things in common: 1) they attack the opposing political party; 2) issues are described as black vs. white, non-negotiable issues; and 3) “blame” is posited, not on individuals but on the opposing party as a whole (“Republicans”, “Democrats”), or one of the synonyms for the said groups (“Conservatives”, “Liberals”, “Right”, “Left” etc.).

Who do I side with?

I’ve been annoyed, irritated and worried by this over simplification for some time. Related, I wrote this note, Frustrations and Fears [6] soon after the 2016 presidential election. It seems impossible to have a reasonable conversation about politics without siding or being sided into one of the two sides. I found this particularly frustrating because, as I wrote in the said note:

“I’ve struggled to exclusively identify with a particular party. This is because, once I list all the issues, I agree with the Blue team on some, with the Red team on others, and neither on still others. On most issues, I’m more aligned with the Blues, but there are others which I’m more aligned with the Reds. In this sense, I’m neither Blue, nor Red, but Purple; even if its a Bluer shade of Purple.” [6]

Often friends on the Blue team ask me about the issues “I’m more aligned with the Reds”, and friends on the Red team vice versa. It is usually difficult to give a good answer, particularly in a real-time conversation, because there are so many issues, and I’ve often thought of a more efficient way to answer these questions.

A Quiz to the rescue

I found a reasonable solution in https://www.isidewith.com/. Basically, you take a quiz on various issues and topics, and it gives you some statistics on how you align with various politicians and political parties. For example, I took a quiz on the 2016 Presidential Election candidates, and got the following results [7].

Unlike some of my friends who swore 100% loyalty to Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, I had non-zero “agreeableness” with all the candidates, including a decent 28% with “the Donald”. Sadly, my top two candidates had almost no chance of winning the election, but I think that’s a problem with the system not their candidacy. Some of the most vibrant democracies, have weak political parties, and minority governments. The ability for a new party to overthrow the status quo is usually a good sign.

Digging deeper into the results, I learnt how I stand, not just on one “Left-Right, Black and White” binary question, but on several “spectrums” with many shades of grey.

[The colours reflect how important the issues are for the candidate, where “Red” is most important, and “Green” is less important]

Finally, the best answer to “I’m more aligned with the Reds/Blues…” came from a graphic which compared the degree to which I agree with the various candidates on various topics:

While I agreed with some candidates more than I did with others, I was at least neutral with all the candidates on at least some issues. I also disagreed with my best-matched candidates on a few issues.

[The quiz analysis has a lot more detail. I shared just a sample.]

Disclaimers

I love caveating my ramblings. My caveat for this note is, I don’t know how scientific the ISideWith.com quiz is.

On the other hand, I found its results for me quite reasonable, and definitely preferable to a blunt instrument that obtusely chucked be in the Red corner or Blue corner. Also, I’m sure there are other, possibly better quizzes around.

Happy Voting!

Regardless of how we perform on this quiz, it is universally good for all of us to be more nuanced about our political opinions. It will lead to better conversations with friends, funnier poems, more love, and better governance across the world (note, these ideas are hardly restricted to the US).

References

[1] “Emmanuel Macron takes on Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini,” The Economist, 8 September 2018.

[2] “Facebook,” [Online]. Available: https://www.facebook.com/RepAnnaEshoo.

[3] “Facebook,” [Online]. Available: https://www.facebook.com/SenatorFeinstein.

[4] “Facebook,” [Online]. Available: https://www.facebook.com/SenatorKamalaHarris.

[5] “Facebook,” [Online]. Available: https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/.

[6] N. I. Senaratna, “Frustrations and Fears,” 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.facebook.com/notes/nuwan-i-senaratna/frustrations-and-fears/10154223179728565/.

[7] “www.isidewith.com," [Online]. Available: https://www.isidewith.com/processing-2016-presidential.

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