Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Quotable Candidates


Open borders? No, that's a ... proposal ... which says essentially there is no United States...

It would make everybody in America poorer -- you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help [our] poor people. What some people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs...

I think from a moral responsibility we've got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don't do that by making people in this country even poorer.


"I want people taken care of in the country, okay? You can call it anything you want, but I want -- including people that don’t have anything," he told radio host John Fredericks in an interview Wednesday. "We gotta do that."


Now: of (A) and (B), which was said by Donald Trump, and which was said by Bernie Sanders?

Well, if you pattern-matched "liberal" to "nice guy" and "conservative" to "evil", you were wrong (as I'm sure you found out when you clicked through the links).

(h/t Slate Star Codex)


I've said previously: I do not understand how a man with such obvious capacity for empathy with the American poor can be so callous to the international poor. Several friends pointed out to me in the ensuing Facebook thread that Sen. Sanders is running for president of the United States, not benevolent protector of the world.

Fair, fair. He's not, and, as the line from 1776 goes:

Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods?

We're men, no more -- no less, trying to get...started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John... If we don't secure that, what difference will the rest make?



I'll say it again: I am honestly no less terrified of a new liberalism born of resurgent American exceptionalism than I am of the modern conservative right. At least we know how to fight the devil we know, and at least we have centuries-old protections of law on our side. How can the truly needy seek respite in the wake of the rise of Americans-first isolationism?

To be clear, I'm not that worried about his (hypothetical) policies -- as Ore Babarinsa points out on Facebook, it would be difficult for America to do more damage through isolationism than it already has done in militaristic interventionism. (EDIT: Ben Kuhn points out in the comments that this is not actually true.) But I am aghast at his rhetoric.

And more so than the last time I wrote. Previously, I was writing against his habit of saying "These people, in this circle? Their situation is bad, and I'm going to fight for them." while ignoring the much-worse-off masses outside said circle. This time, by contrast, he's actively saying (to the purportedly-liberal audience that is Vox, no less) "Oh, those people out of the circle? Yeah, their situation is pretty bad. Yeah, it'd be great if they could earn so much as $4,000 a year. That would literally change their lives. But making sure that Americans can earn five times that is more important to me than their welfare."

I don't actually think that he'd do active harm to the global poor, but then again, I don't understand what makes a man of such empathy speak so callously, and so on some level, I really, truly, don't know what to expect from a President Sanders. And I certainly don't want to be part of the leftist movement that springs up around him, if this stance on global poverty is part of it.


Okay, perhaps I am being rather harsh on Bernie again. Freddie deBoer critiques exactly what I'm doing right now, writing:

The "first world problems/white people's problems" critiques have always been double edged swords. It's of course a relevant left-wing project to get people to understand their own comfort in relation to others, especially for Americans. Obviously, I agree with the notion that you should be more concerned with deep problems of structural inequality than of the petty indignities we all deal with. And this type of issue strikes me as one of the places where the kind of social pressure that the left uses so universally now can really be effective.

But the downside is that, first, it's political suicide to tell people that their problems aren't real problems; I can't think of an easier way to turn someone off from your message. Second, and maybe even more importantly, if we’re not careful about how we use it, it prompts just the sort of race to the bottom I'm talking about. When I was arguing in favor of Fight for $15 on Twitter a few months ago, someone said something like, "Hey, this is a first world problem -- they could be making pennies in a Bangladesh factory." Always remember: everybody gets to use the same argumentative tools. Don't do their work for them.



I acknowledge that the real challenges of living in American poverty are large, and that considering them in relation to the real challenges of living in global poverty elides the lives of many people -- disproportionately voiceless -- who are actually suffering. I certainly do not mean to proscribe speaking out against exploitation and material poverty wherever it exists, and do not level my critique with the goal of decreasing the amount that we, as a nation, discuss poverty in its myriad forms. Sanders's critique of neoliberal America is one that deserves to be heard, to be debated, and to be elevated to the national stage.

And I understand that the American Presidency is an office perhaps comparatively advantaged in improving the lives of Americans experiencing poverty, and that the media frenzy that is the modern-day presidential election is in many ways an excellent time to amplify an ongoing discussion about expansive, visionary political possibilities that can take our country down a better path.

But please, oh please, oh please could we have a progressive candidate whose plan for lifting the poorest Americans out of our version of poverty does not rely on turning our collective backs on the global poor? Could we please not have a progressive candidate who, when asked about balancing domestic programs and foreign aid, responds that "as a United States senator in Vermont, my first obligation is to make certain kids in my state and kids all over this country have the ability to go to college"?

Can Bernie Sanders please not be the face of American socialism? I want to believe that America can support a strong political left, with empathy for human beings -- not just Americans -- and I do not want the face of that movement to respond to the question of "How do you balance the idea of the nation-state with poverty abroad?" with a shameless dodge into an excuse to talk more about the plight of the American middle class.


This post is not an endorsement of Donald Trump -- I'm certain that his quote is no more than classic Trump "I'm the businessman; I can do everything, including fixing the healthcare crisis so hard..." He really believes it, though:

And if I lose votes for that, I don’t really care. Because you have to take care of poor people, you have to take -- I mean, think of yourself. You’re really sick, and you’re not allowed to see a doctor; I mean, it’s almost like, sort of, that’s you’re being in hell. So we have to take care of people that are poor. We have to do it.

And we can make a plan, we can work a deal -- I can work a deal with hospitals that will be great for everybody, and they’ll be able to go there, and you’re not gonna want to do that, and it won’t be pretty, it won’t be as nice as the other, but at least they’re being taken care of.


But, to head off the critics: Yes, I'm cherry-picking what are probably the nicest parts of Trump and the meanest parts of Sanders. But it's never a bad time to be reminded that our political enemies are never entirely evil, and that our political icons are never entirely infallible.