Trump Is Wrong (Again)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Donald Trump calling the Iowa electorate “stupid” for believing Ben Carson’s spew of lies, spin and secret sources might be the rare instance when I agree with him. But it’s not.
Because, in general, the US electorate isn’t stupid — stupid means not very bright, and that, in turn, is mostly the dodgy luck of the genetic draw. No, the problem with the electorate isn’t limited intelligence, it’s a trifecta of willful ignorance, shrugging apathy and ideological blindness.
Let’s be clear — we’re all willfully ignorant in one area or another. The world’s a big, complex place, and we thus choose what we focus on — it’s one of the major ways in which we keep from going insane. For example, one area of my willful ignorance is sports — all of them. I conceptually understand they’re out there, but that’s where it ends.
Willful ignorance is the opposite of stupidity; it’s a conscious choice about what we will remain uninformed about. I chose not to know about sports because it frees up focus that I can devote to, among other things, the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I’m knowledgable about Hitchcock in the same way guys in man caves up and down the East Coast can spit out the members of teams in California. For my part, I similarly recognize that many of you only conceptually understand that Alfred Hitchcock made suspense films — and, oh yeah, may have had a TV show. So be it.
But here’s the thing — I can be cavalier about sports and you can shrug about Alfred Hitchcock because, unless you’re a contestant on Jeopardy, there’s no downside to not caring. Not knowing who won the World Series or the finer points of Hitchcock’s mother trilogy (much less that there is trilogy) simply won’t get you in any kind of trouble.
On the other hand, almost no one chooses to be willful ignorant about the weather. Because at best you wind up wet or sunburned, and at worst have your house blown away or find yourself drowning in your car. Demonstrably Bad Things can happen if you don’t focus on the weather.
When you think about it, politics is like the weather — crap can happen if you’re not paying attention. Your house may not be blown away, but that new six-lane commuter route out to exburbia just might run through it. You may not find yourself drowning in your car, but may find that the nearest women’s health care facility is suddenly hundreds of miles away in another state.
In Hey Rube, Hunter S Thompson observed that
“Politics is the art of controlling your environment. That is one of the key things I learned in these years, and I learned it the hard way. Anybody who thinks that ‘it doesn’t matter who’s President’ has never been Drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid War on the other side of the World — or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property — or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons — or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you had voted.”
Put another way, not focusing on sports or Hitchcock can’t fuck you over, but not paying attention to local, state and national politics certainly can, and with horrifying ease.
And by “focus on politics” I don’t mean (or expect) pundit-grade levels of attention. I’m not advocating that we all become political junkies. I’m simply asking voters for some comprehension of what can bite them in the ass at any given time. You know — like the weather. To which the answer always seems to be “I’m much too busy.” But, Bubba, we’re all too busy — we’re all too busy all the time. So yeah, some other area you’ve chosen to focus on may need to be jetisoned because Super-Fucking-Highway Through Your House. Capice?
If there ever came a time where I was so busy that I could either settle-in with the latest Hitchcock scholarship or pay attention to the local political races, I’d chose the political races. Because Super-Fucking-Highway Through My House. Because New Sunday Blue Laws. Because NeoCons Choosing The Content Of Public School Textbooks. Because The Nullified Marriages Of My Gay Family Members And Friends. Because The Playground Is Now An Apartment Building. I’d chose focusing on local politics over Sir Alfred in a heartbeat. And I hold you to the same standard: if you know nothing about the local political issues that directly affect you but can tell me who won Survivor three seasons ago, it’s time for either some deep soul-searching or doing the honorable thing in the study with a service revolver.
It’s tempting to fold the second point of this piece into the tuning-out of politics described above. Yes, in some cases electorial apathy does stem from disinterest: I don’t care about paying attention is a close cousin of I don’t care enough to show up. The fact that I don’t pay attention to sports means that the only two times I’ve attended baseball games was under duress.
But there’s another flavor of voter apathy — hopelessness. The circular logic of Because nothing ever changes, I won’t vote thereby ensuring that nothing ever changes. Which, of course, is deeply self-defeating. (And when you’re already apathetic — or borderline — also being forced to get a new piece of photo identification or made to go miles to a polling station or being challenged if you do show up is often the equivalent of a root canal for any residual electorial desire — it removes it, possibly forever.)
These apathetics haven’t necessarily tuned-out politics, but they are settled into simply watching the process as one would a slow-motion trainwreck. On one hand, complaining “The bastards are just going to win again” at least presupposes enough remaining attentiveness to have identified The Bastards in the first place. On the other hand, this variant also stays home on election day.
When Trump marvels at the “stupidity” of the Iowa TeaOP electorate, it’s not the totality he assumes it is (or would have you believe it is). The number of “stupid” Iowa members of the TeaOP is massively diminshed when the Willfully Ignorant are taken away. And it’s reduced even further when the Apathetic hopeless are also subtracted.
Here’s some electoral context regarding the Iowa TeaOP Caucus: In 2012, participation was 121,503 out of — wait for it — 614,913 registered Republicans. I’ll save you from launching your calculator app: In 2012, there was 19.76 percent participation in the Iowa TeaOP Caucus. Let’s be generous and call it 20 percent. Thus, put another way, two out of every 10 Iowa Republicans were actually involved in the caucus.
According to current Iowa polling, Carson and Trump are at 22 percent and 23 percent respectively — well within any margin of error. So let’s assume that Carson might actually be 23 percent to Trump’s 22 percent and further assume that the polling results are indicative of the upcoming TeaOP Caucus results. A hypothetical 23 percent of the 2012 caucus-participating TeaOp members is 27,946 TeaOP voters — an astonishing 4.5 percent of all registered 2012 Iowa Republicans.
Let me repeat that: based on 2012 TeaOP Caucus particapation, Ben Carson could win by garnering only 4.5 pecent of the Republican voters registered in 2012. Clearly, the number of registered 2016 Iowa Republicans will be different, as will 2016 caucus particaption — but not that different.
This 4.5 percent of TeaOP voters is the deceptive ‘Iowa electorate’ that Trump has called stupid — all 27,946 of them.
So what do we know about them? Well, first and most obvioulsy, they’re overwhelmingly Republican because Iowa has a closed-caucus system based on party affiliation. And second, that they are the polar opposite of the Willfully Ignorant and Apathetic hopeless.
These folks are the hardcore base, and therefore the ideologically blinded. They are the 4.5 percent of the TeaOP that wants to win no matter what the cost, no matter who the candidate, no matter what he or she says or believes as long as it’s as Far Right as possible.
This answers Trump’s electorial bewilderment. That 4.5 percent of Iowa TeaOP caucus participants are, in their implacable need for an Extreme Far Right / Far Christian Right win, as certifiably crazy as Ben Carson. As long as Carson looks like he can win and establish a Far-Right national theocracy, all is forgiven regarding those grain-silo Pyramids, that wanna-be-badass bullshit stabbing, the fake invitation to attend West Point, phantom Chinese intervention in Syria and Valdimir Putin’s super-secret university buddies.
Thus, as usual, Donald Trump is completely wrong: (1) The Iowa electorate isn’t stupid and (2) it’s not the “electorate” at all, just a cult-sized subset with, unsurprisingly, intractable cult beliefs. The accepted Media interpretation sees the Rise Of The Know-Nothing Amateur as the result of an unanticipated growth of populist anger. In reality, a tiny subset of deranged Right-Wing ideologues are calling the shots because the nominally saner Willfully Ignorant and Apathetic have withdrawn from the electorial stage. In short, the inmates really do have the keys to the asylum because they found them left on the floor.
The corrective to this — and the take-away for the Democrats as well — is for the rest of the actual electorate to engage or re-engage with the political process. Returning as active, involved voters — albeit Republicans — they reduce that abdication-predicated 23 percent to its rightful size of 4.5 percent, thus correctly contextualizing and containing the ideological cultists.
Here endeth the rant.