Politalking: Why “#americawasnevergreat,” and arguments like it, won’t work. (Even if they are true.)   Leave a comment

I’m dusting off my opinions to write about a sentiment I’ve seen going around lately. More specifically, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently made waves with the below statement on August 15th:

“We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great. We have not reached greatness, we will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged, we will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping against women, 51 percent of our population, is gone and every woman’s full potential is realized and unleashed and every woman is making her full contribution.”

Now, I agree with the sentiment. I even think it was worded well, for the most part. But the issue I, and many others, took with what he said was the statement at the beginning: “America was never great.”

Cuomo is not the only person I’ve seen make this statement. I have seen it pop up on protest signs and on social media, as a pushback against Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again”. I totally understand wanting to push back against blind nationalism, and so I understand why the argument developed and why it can appeal to certain people.

Now, I don’t agree with the position that America was never great, and I feel I can make a strong argument as to why. But I’m not going to make that argument in this post. (Maybe as a follow-up.) Instead, I want to talk about why I think statements like this are not going to convince the majority of Americans, and how the same ideas can be stated in a much more appealing way.

First, I need to provide a summary of  Jonathan Haidt’s research into morality and politics. I’m going to briefly summarize it but I highly suggest you read his book, The Righteous Mind, and watch his TED talk.  His research entails looking at the basis of the moral values of liberal-minded people and conservative-minded people and how they differ. As he summarized in his book, he posits there are five moral foundations:

  • Harm/Care
  • Fairness/Reciprocity
  • In-group/Loyalty
  • Authority/Respect
  • Purity/Sanctity

(Side note: He also posits there is a sixth (liberty), but the 5 are the main ones accepted in moral foundations theory, and are what I am basing my argument on. I do actually agree the sixth foundation exists, but doesn’t apply to this argument.)

His research found conservatives were equally sensitive to all five axes, whereas Liberals only scored high on the first two. These general trends may not apply to any particular individual, it is a useful framework to break down why this argument is ineffective.

The statement, “America was never great”, came from liberal arguments, and it makes sense why people on the left wouldn’t have any issue with it. Throughout history, America has caused lots of harm to its citizens, and hasn’t had the best track record of caring for the downtrodden. On top of that, we have had a lot of unfairness throughout our history; look at slavery or how we treated Japanese Americans in World War 2. Even nowadays we have rampant wealth inequality, and only recently extended equal rights to gays and lesbians. Viewing things from this lens, the statement seems fine to me.

However, this argument doesn’t acknowledge the other 3 moral foundations, and one could argue it goes directly against them. It insults the in-group (Americans) by stating their country is mediocre, and always has been. It is disrespectful, as it ignores what America has done to make the world a better place. Finally, it challenges the orthodoxy of America being a shining example to the rest of the world. From the lens of a conservative world view this is a bad argument at best, and an insult at worst.

The United States of America has issues, and I don’t think anyone would disagree. Almost everyone can think of some law we need to reform, or problem we need to solve. If we find a way to frame the argument in a way appeals to the most people, we might be able to actually make progress towards fixing things instead of yelling at each other on the internet. I am going to attempt to do so below:

A short, slogan like example would be:

“Make America Even Greater.”

This counters Trump’s sentiment (America is no longer great) without negative framing, and still shows we need to improve.

A slightly longer version would be:

“America is great because we are always improving our country. Let’s work hard to make it great for all Americans!”

Again, it focuses on improving our country, but doesn’t insult it in the process. It also combines everyone into the same in-group of American, instead of Republican vs. Democrat.

Finally, a longer form:

“America is a great country, built on ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Throughout history, Americans young and old have worked hard to make these ideals a reality that we all can share. Through our hard work, we are an example to the world of freedom and achievement. We can look around and see our accomplishments, while still accepting have more work to do. When our nation works together, we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to. So lets work together to make America even greater than we’ve ever been!”

This example (albeit a little grandiose) shows respect to the USA, asks us to all be one group, and pats us on the back for the good we’ve done so far. It still hits on improving things, and it could easily lead into listing off problems, as it has primed people to be more open.

By re-framing the sentiment in a positive light, you avoid people getting defensive. Instead of arguing whether America is good or bad, you get to have the important discussions: how to fix what is broken and improve what isn’t. Instead of fighting, we actually might cooperate with each other for a change.

Now, if you do agree that America is never great, feel free to keep using the argument. I disagree with you, but you have the right to say it. But I hope I have shown you why this argument fails to convince conservatives and, more importantly, moderates and independents. If that’s your goal, then I hope my advice will help you make more convincing arguments. If not, you probably stopped reading by now, but have fun being angry on the internet.

Thank you for reading,

Shaman

Posted 08/24/2018 by Shaman in Politalking

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If— by Rudyard Kipling   Leave a comment

Normally I don’t post other people’s work on my page, but this is one of my favorite poems. I first read it on the site Art of Manliness, and it spoke to me. I feel it best summarizes my feelings on how be a good, positive man, and an example of beneficial masculinity. However, it is a straightforward message that anyone can benefit from, and it is one I keep in mind as I go about my life. I thought I’d share it for those who have never had the chance to read it before.

If—

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

By Rudyard Kipling

Poem on poetryfoundation.org

Posted 07/10/2018 by Shaman in Poetry

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Zombie   Leave a comment

I miss you the way a heart misses a beat.
One moment you’re gone and that’s the death of me.
I drag my corpse along; a shambling zombie.
Searching for my soul: the way you complete me.

– Shaman Romney 2018

Posted 06/27/2018 by Shaman in Poetry

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Mistakes   Leave a comment

I feel I am defined by my mistakes
More easily than by my successes.
By times when I could not rise to the stakes;
Times when I gave into my excesses.

I say this not because of self loathing,
Or due to obsessive ideation.
Nor, wearing pride like ill fitting clothing,
As an imposter venting frustration.

My mistakes are the crux of my story;
The arc starting the path to what’s in store.
At present, they seem ugly and gory.
In hindsight, they’re the path to being more.

In making mistakes, if you cannot learn,
Success is impossible to discern.

– Shaman Romney 2018

Posted 05/31/2018 by Shaman in Poetry

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A Third Path   Leave a comment

Between passivity and anger,
Between love and disdain
There is always a third path to take

To this truth, I am not a stranger
For again and again
Not choosing it is my great mistake

This path may be filled with much danger
Finding it is a pain
But it’s worth it when life is at stake

Act assertively without anger
Don’t give way to disdain
There is always a third path to take.

– Shaman Romney 2018

Posted 05/29/2018 by Shaman in Poetry

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Decisions (National Poetry Writing Month 2018 #30)   Leave a comment

I’m staring out at my future
And I’m full of indecision.
Caught between doing what is right
And what is convenient for me.

The right is a road untraveled,
Unpaved, unknown, and uncertain.
It frightens me with possibility
With the difficult path it promises.

The left is a well paved road.
Well intentioned and familiar bricks;
A path inviting me tread upon it,
Easy and lacking any challenge.

I see the choice laid out before me.
The best in me knows the hard path is best
But inside I know I, most likely,
I will choose the path of least resistance.

– Shaman Romney 2018

Objects On My Mantle (National Poetry Writing Month 2018 #29)   Leave a comment

Several decks of cards I never shuffle
A symbolic flask I never drink from
An edgy looking raven sitting on a skull
A misplaced bag of party balloons
A pair of locks I picked out to pick
A trio of relics, with tokens inside
A little metal obelisk I got in the mail

– Shaman Romney 2018