Why Must I Lose For You To Win?
The zero-sum game of American politics must end if we want to keep America.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been engaged in a casual debate with some people on Twitter who support Donald Trump. They appear to hold a sincere belief that Trump is good for America. They really believe that Trump is working hard to help everyone and that he means what he says when he says that he wants to make America great again. The people that I’m debating on Twitter sometimes sport the #MAGA hashtag.
Notice here that I didn’t say they were “Trump Supporters”. I put people first because regardless of our differences, they are still people. I am keen to avoid objectifying people with whom I disagree.
It was interesting to see them label sources like Vox and Slate as #fakenews. I’d try to come up with the best research that I could find to counter their statements, but they were insistent that I was only passing along fake news as if it were true. They insisted that I was wrong, and that if I really looked hard enough, I could see what they see, that Trump is doing good for America.
One thing they kept pointing to was the media bias and they implied that the media’s bias, and anyone else trying to take Trump down, well, that’s all part of the #deepstate, working to remove him from power. They rightly note that this is a power struggle of enormous proportions and literally, the survival of America depends on the outcome of this power struggle.
I noticed through our debate that it was quite easy for them to dismiss me as a lefty anarchist. They were quick to put me into some sort of category. I think we do that to people, we objectify them so that we can manage them. So that we can say that they are less than us, that they are less than human. Then anything we “do for them” is really for their own good.
I was kind of OK with the debate until one of them admitted that he was a former marine and that he had been trained in executive sales (persuasion) and psy-ops (crazy-making for political or military gain). I really don’t know how authentic that person is. But I could see it in his choice of words. He was persuasive. I wondered why they would even bother spending so much time debating with me. And I began to notice that the effort required for me to engage in the debate caused my writing to suffer.
Those people that I debate on Twitter and Facebook, they just wear me out. I don’t really have that much time to devote to debate. I do find article topics in debates, but when I’m told by others in a debate that I’m stupid, uninformed, deluded or simply less of a human than they are, well, that‘s a turn-off.
The one thing that I got from my most recent debate with some people who support Trump is a good healthy dose of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. We call that FUD for short. I learned that term long ago during the height of Microsoft’s war against Linux in the last decade. I’m pretty sure Microsoft is still at war with Linux but that war went underground. In any case, I’m familiar with FUD.
FUD is not very easy for me to explain. The simple explanation is that FUD is used in the market to put a competitor at a disadvantage. That’s what Microsoft was doing to Linux, getting businesses to doubt Linux in their enterprise, and failing at a scale that few expected to see. But my opponents in that Twitter debate (still ongoing, but lower priority now that I know what’s going on), were employing FUD against me. They were trying to get me to doubt what I believed in Trump. It seems that they were trying to convert me from a Trump opponent to a Trump supporter.
They had a hard time admitting that there was FUD on both sides. They didn’t want to admit that fake news could be anywhere, even their own sources. You weren’t there, so how could you really know that your news was not fake news, right?
But they did give me pause to consider that Trump might actually be doing good for the country. I went from not believing that Trump has a single good intention in his body to considering the possibility that Trump would like to be able to sleep at night, knowing he did the right thing. Even if I might disagree with his approach to solving the problems we face now.
My opponents on Twitter insisted that the war on Trump, the coverage of everything bad on Trump and so little coverage about the good that he might have done for the country, that lopsided coverage has contributed to my lopsided thinking about Trump. I know someone who reads the LA Times and she says that she has never seen a good news story on Trump in that paper. It’s like there is a blackout on news about the good stuff that Donald Trump has done for America.
I suppose there is some truth to the idea that the mainstream media refuses to give space and time to the good that Trump has done for the country. But Trump is a man who was elected on a negative campaign. Trump is the master of the negative campaign. No matter what dirt came out in the news about Trump, it was never enough to take him down.
The mainstream media gave Trump $1.89 billion in free coverage during the 2016 presidential election. That coverage, regardless of bias, still managed to get Trump elected. And as president, Trump pretty much owns the media. He knows how to play the media. Even with all of this impeachment business, Trump is still finding a way to use recent events to galvanize his supporters. The message from Trump is that if we impeach him, we impeach his followers, his fans and his voters. I can’t think of a more emotional call to arms than that.
Despite all this talk about fake news, the news is reported by people. I give those people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that when they publish a story, that they mean well, that they’re speaking their truth. I assume that they want to be able to sleep at night after publishing a great story, too. I want to believe that everyone in the press wants to do the right thing.
Everyone has a bias. I have a bias. My opponents in my little tiny debate on Twitter have a bias. Bias is everywhere. And confirmation bias is rampant. Everyone lives in their own search bubble. Everyone looks for stories that confirm their bias, stories that confirm what they believe is true. We all want to believe that we’re right. It’s hard to sleep at night believing that we’re wrong.
And if we believe we’re wrong, we also believe that we lose. If I’m wrong in a debate, I lose the debate. If I’m wrong in my beliefs, then I may lose an opportunity to prosper. But if I’m wrong in politics, then I’ve alienated everyone on the other side.
I’m a liberal, sure. But I can look at the conservatives, Republicans and what have you, and I can see that they are doing some good around the country. I just happen to agree with liberals more often.
I’m a huge fan of community broadband, the public option for internet access. I use it in my home right now, it’s called Utopia (the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency). It’s cheaper than Comcast or AT&T, or Verizon or Frontier, or Time-Warner. It’s faster up and down than what Comcast or CenturyLink has to offer here. And I live in a Red State, Utah. A survey done by Christopher Mitchell, Director of muninetworks.org shows that the majority of municipal or community networks were built in conservative or Red States. So despite all their talk about how bad the government is, some conservatives still see private ISPs as being more odious than the government, or they wouldn’t support public networks for internet access.
We have public fitness centers all over the county where I live. They are supported by a combination of property taxes and membership and admission fees. They are superior in many respects to private fitness clubs and since they are community-based, the money they earn stays local to the economy. Community broadband networks benefit the local economy in the same way.
Another thing that I like about Republicans is that they are willing to exercise the nuclear option for energy production. Those Republicans that understand climate change as a real threat also see nuclear power as an important part of the mix of energy sources we will need to rid our economy of fossil fuels. They see nuclear energy as renewable since uranium is everywhere in small quantities, and if we can ever figure out how to use thorium in commercial reactors, we have enough of that stuff to power our civilization for 5,000 years.
I offer these examples to you show you that I’m not blind to Republicans and their ideas. I just happen to agree with Democrats more often. And I would even be willing to compromise. But more than 400 bills from the House are waiting in the Senate for action and that says in the loudest terms, “no compromise”. Not even a discussion.
And that logjam is a message from the Republicans in the Senate that says, “for me to win, you must lose.” That’s a zero-sum game. No one wins in a zero-sum game.
There is no reason that in order for one side to win, the other must lose. Just as Republicans believe that their ideas will help everyone (I’ve talked to a few and they really do believe their ideas will work), the same is true for Democrats. The problem is mind-reading.
The moment we assume that the other side is all about scoring points, that the other side is taking great pleasure in watching their opposition suffer, there can be no compromise. Why would I negotiate, much less compromise with you, when you want to win so that I can lose? Why would I negotiate with someone who takes pleasure in watching me suffer while they fold their arms and laugh at me?
Is there really such a thing as a zero-sum game? I don’t think so. I’m sure that some public policy decisions benefit more people than others. But I think of the universe as infinite. I also think it’s impossible to hurt someone without hurting yourself. We’re all one. And I am non-dualist, anyway. Because of the way that the universe works, it’s not really possible to separate your fate from mine. You can’t pass legislation that only hurts your opposition.
This idea that if I have money, then I can separate my fate from yours, I think that’s at the heart of the struggle in America. My conservative friends don’t want to pay for the burdens immigrants impose on them through taxes. At the same time, they don’t see that immigrants spend most of their money and that spending generates sales taxes. They pay income taxes, too. They send money home which can then be used to buy American products. Immigrants have more kids than natives here. Immigrants will pick the strawberries that no one else wants to pick.
I have the same thing going on with war. Conservatives are all about military spending. We have the largest military in the world. Our military budget is greater than something like the next 7 countries combined. I am opposed to our extravagant military spending because I don’t want to spend money on destruction. But we have a nearly $800 billion military budget because enough Senators in the Midwest and small rural states want it that way. The small states help to make this so. They want that immensely powerful military to keep their fate separate from the rest of the world.
It’s not really possible to separate our fates. Barring a mass exodus to space, all of us will die here on this rocky ball called Earth. None of us are going anywhere for the foreseeable future. And those who do leave eath for space will give up for a time, all of the good that earth has to offer. The ecosystems of the earth are nearly impossible to replicate in space. Us vs Them doesn’t work when it comes to fate.
So when I engage in debate with people who disagree with me, I am mindful of this. When the debate is done, we are still people. We still hold some beliefs dear to us. We may feel threatened by people who think differently than us, but we’re still people with feelings, hopes, and dreams. Some of those people find their hopes and dreams in Trump. I don’t. But I’m willing to consider the possibility that Trump is doing at least some good for the country, even if I can’t see it now. It would be nice if that kind of thinking were mutual.
Trump is far beyond my sphere of influence, and he’s beyond the sphere of influence of most of us. It is only when we work together that we have any political influence at all. When we finally realize that our fates are tied, we might begin to work together again. It would be nice if Trump would actually speak in those terms. If Trump were truly interested in healing the country, in bringing all of us together, he would end the zero-sum game. With a word, he could do this.