Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The most dangerous hobby
The rise of the Donald has got the Left scratching their heads. They need some explanation that will save them from admitting that a lot of what he says is right. Out of that has come the essay below by academic Eitan D. Hersh. He provides the explanation that Trump supporters are "hobbyists".
I think Hersh does have a point in general and I think that "hobbyism" may well be part of the explanation for Trump support -- but I see the enthusiasm for Trump as too great to be explained fully that way. I think a lot of Americans really are fed up with a GOP that repeatedly kow-tows to Leftist thinking, with all its double standards and lack of reality contact.
The way both sides of politics describe Islam as a "religion of peace" is truly astonishing. What do Muslims have to do in the name of their religion for it to be described as a religion of hate? And The Donald is the only one who has said anything negative about Muslims.
But I do think that the Obamamania of 2008 was a prize example of the "hobbyism" that Hersh describes
Something troubling has emerged on the American scene: Political activity has become a hobby. Voting, petitioning, partisan cheering, donating, watching infotainment news: The chief purpose for participating in politics seems to be self-gratification.
We are accustomed to thinking about participation in politics as motivated by civic duty or self-interest, not gratification. That has changed due to a combination of factors related to the nature of free time, the openness of the political process to mass participation, and a recent period of relative peace.
For Americans who are far enough removed from military service, economic hardship, and discrimination, political stakes can seem pretty low, especially in the quarter-century since the end of the Cold War when foreign threats seem less immediate. And so politics has become an erudite way to spend leisure time. But unlike softball or beekeeping, the stakes are actually high.
Donald Trump’s surprising rise sheds light on the perils of political hobbyism. It is clear that far too many people have been treating a high-stakes affair like a low-stakes one. That’s why they never saw Trump coming. When politics is treated like an unserious game, unserious candidates emerge.
TO UNDERSTAND POLITICAL hobbyism, consider three important forms of political participation: campaign contributing, activism, and voting. Today, all three activities are dominated by hobbyists.
Wealthy donors are pouring money into politics. Why? Our reflexive answer is so they can get something in return, like tax breaks or government contracts. But when political scientists study campaign finance, they mostly do not see self-interested donors. Most donations come from individuals, not corporate PACs. Most of these individuals (97 percent) give to only one party, which is not a savvy investment model for self-serving contributors. And donation patterns suggest that donors are less motivated by ideology than by pure partisanship.
So what are donors buying? Not policy, but time with their celebrity crushes. Donors want to attend cocktail parties, pose in photographs, and golf with candidates. They want to socialize with other donors. They want the candidates to solicit their advice. They want to be friends with their favored politicians.
Would a wealthy person really contribute thousands of dollars just for self-gratification? Yes, actually, the rich spend money to gratify themselves in ways that seem unfathomable to the rest of us. Politics is just one of those ways.
Here’s an example: Journalist Matea Gold recently noticed that wealthy donors have been traveling around the country to attend the presidential debates in person. The political parties were saving them seats. Why are donors traveling to watch the debates live? Because they are groupies. Republican donor Foster Friess told Gold, “It’s the same thing as going to a football game. If you’re in the crowd, you can hear the cheers, unfiltered by microphones. The chemistry is so much more exciting.’’ For the avid and wealthy hobbyist, a few thousand dollars is a small price to pay for a good show.
NEXT, CONSIDER ACTIVISM, a form of participation open to nonwealthy hobbyists. When a presidential campaign season is in high gear, millions of people engage. During the 2008 presidential contest, for instance, more than 13 million Obama supporters provided the campaign with their e-mail addresses, more than 3 million donated, and more than 2 million volunteered.
Obama’s campaign organization hoped it could channel this grass-roots energy into policy advocacy. Thus, the campaign morphed into Organizing for America, a group positioned to push the administration’s policy agenda through grass-roots mobilization.
It didn’t work.
The problem is that policy advocacy is much less fun than campaigning. Campaigning involves competition. Policy involves compromise.
In 2009, when Organizing for America began mobilizing support for its first big issue, the Affordable Care Act, only a fraction of campaign supporters took action. The organization tried to get supporters to town hall meetings where conservatives were a dominant presence. But the millions of campaign enthusiasts largely disengaged, even in the first year of Obama’s administration and even on his signature issue.
The demise of Organizing for America (and its reboot after the 2012 election, Organizing for Action) is hardly surprising. For most hobbyists, governing is simply less gratifying than campaigning. Measured by Google searches, almost nobody is interested in “Organizing for America’’ or “Organizing for Action” anymore, and they haven’t been for a while. Organizing for Obama? Fun. Organizing for Action? Meh.
Consider another example of hobbyist activism: online petitions, like those sent to the White House. Over 1,800 petitions (signed by 13 million individuals) were submitted in the first 20 months of the White House’s online petition program, which launched in 2011. Only 5 percent of these petitions addressed issues like health care, public education, taxation, paid parental leave — big issues that social scientists call redistributive. Most petitions either focused on minor issues (Recognize diaphragmatic hernia awareness day!) or addressed broad issues that were not directly related to economic well-being. Even when liberal groups like MoveOn.org and CREDO solicit petitions from their progressive base, economic issues are not particularly popular among petitioners. The most popular political petition that CREDO has ever circulated demanded funding for NPR.
Despite their enormous potential, online petitions are primarily tools for hobbyists. To hobbyists, large-scale economic issues are complicated and tiresome. And, frankly, these issues may not be a priority for hobbyists, whose lives are reasonably comfortable. They’d rather focus on issues that are gratifying and simple, or else just wait for the next exhilarating campaign season to begin.....
For citizens who are socially and financially comfortable, the risks seem low. They have a safety net. They do not fear military conscription. Their lives are stable. And so they do not approach politics with the solemnity appropriate for a high-stakes undertaking. Acting as if the stakes are low when they are high can be exceedingly dangerous.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).