Election Reflection IV: Harold Fine

Today’s post by Harold Fine is the fourth of a six-part series, each featuring invited reflections from a number of right-of-center philosophers. These philosophers are otherwise not associated with Rightly Considered and should not be assumed to hold views expressed by anyone else on this blog.

Fine is a professor at a research university somewhere in the United States who, after some reflection (about the possible consequences from close-minded leftists) chose to write under a pen name. He has numerous publications in top ranking philosophy journals. We are grateful for his contribution.

Virtue Politics and the Failure of the Clinton Campaign

There are two ways to sell a product: you can talk about the product, or you can talk about the kind of person who buys the product.  When PepsiCo used the slogan “More Bounce to the Ounce,” they were talking about the product.  When they used the slogan “The Choice of a New Generation,” they were talking about the consumer.  The same two strategies are available in running a political campaign.  In selling a candidate, one strategy is to talk about the candidate and about what he or she would do if elected.  We may call this the politics of consequences.  A second strategy is to talk about what kind of person would vote for the candidate and what kinds of character traits are typically manifested in voting for the candidate.  We may call this the politics of virtue.

In the 2016 federal election, the Trump campaign focused on the politics of consequences.  Trump told us, time and again, that if he were elected he would build a wall, bring back jobs, keep out terrorists, strengthen the military, take care of our vets, rebuild our infrastructure, and restore law and order.  In short, he would Make America Great Again.  And while he certainly attacked the character of his opponent, accusing Hillary Clinton of being dishonest and corrupt, he never impugned the character of her supporters, nor did he suggest that his supporters were superior, morally or otherwise, to Clinton supporters.  Thus, he sold himself by telling us what he would do for us, not by telling us what kind of person would vote for him.

The Clinton campaign could have focused on the politics of consequences as well.  They could have based their case for Clinton on the idea that a Clinton presidency would have far better consequences than a Trump presidency for the economy, for the national debt, for climate change, and so on.  But while these ideas were mentioned, they were not given center stage.  Rather, the focus of the Clinton campaign was on the politics of virtue.  She focused on the contrast between the kind of person who supports her and the kind of person who supports Trump. In her final television ad, she asks “Is America dark and divisive or hopeful and inclusive? Our core values are being tested in this election.”  The implication is clear: if you are hopeful and inclusive, you will vote for her, and if you are the opposite you will vote for Trump.  This same contrast is drawn in her various campaign slogans. “Love Trumps Hate”—read: Loving people support Clinton, whereas hateful people support Trump. “I’m with Her”—read: people who care about women support Clinton, whereas misogynists support Trump. “Stronger Together”—read: those who are accepting of difference support Clinton, whereas those who would divide us support Trump. In many of her speeches, she makes this point about Trump supporters explicitly.  She is “sick and tired,” she tells us, “of the negative, dark, divisive, dangerous vision and behavior of people who support Donald Trump.”  Half of Trump supporters, she tells us, are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamaphobic,” and belong in the infamous “basket of deplorables.”

So why did this strategy fail?  There are several possible explanations.  One is that there were enough voters who didn’t buy the idea that Trump supporters are bigots.  Another possibility is that there were enough voters who didn’t care about being bigots, and so weren’t put off by the association between bigotry and supporting Trump.  However, in order to explain the failure of the Clinton campaign, we needn’t make either of these assumptions.  For even if we assume the best case scenario for the Clinton campaign—that is, even if we assume that everyone accepted the idea that Trump supports are largely bigots, and even if we also assume that everyone has a very strong desire not to be a bigot—we still shouldn’t expect this message to persuade any rational person to vote for Clinton over Trump.

The reason is this.  Even if people accept the idea that Trump supporters are largely bigots, people are unlikely to think that voting for Trump will turn you into a bigot. If there is a causal connection between being a bigot and voting for trump, it’s that people vote for Trump because they are bigots, not the other way around.  It would be pointless, therefore, to vote for Clinton rather than Trump in order to avoid being a bigot. That would be like holding one’s hands steady at all times in order to avoid getting Parkinson’s disease.  You can’t prevent an illness by avoiding its symptoms.  More generally, you can’t prevent a cause by avoiding its effects.  Hence, if bigotry causes one to vote for Trump rather than the other way around, then one can’t avoid being a bigot by avoiding voting for Trump.

Consider, therefore, the position of a rational voter.  Consider, in particular, a voter who hasn’t thoroughly examined the two main candidates and their platforms, but who has heard the central messages of the two campaigns. Thus, she has heard from the Trump campaign that if elected Trump will keep the country safe, and she has heard from the Clinton campaign that Trump supporters are typically bigots.  Suppose she buys both these messages, and she knows nothing else about the candidates.  In this case, in deciding how to vote, she could reason as follows:

Either I’m a bigot or I’m not a bigot.  If I’m a bigot, then I’ll remain a bigot regardless of how I vote.  And so the only foreseeable difference my vote could make concerns the safety of the country.  And I’d prefer an outcome in which I’m a bigot and the country is safe to an outcome in which I’m a bigot and the country is unsafe.  Hence, assuming I’m a bigot, I should vote for Trump.  If, on the other hand, I’m a not bigot, then I’ll remain a non-bigot regardless of how I vote.  And so, again, the only foreseeable difference my vote could make concerns the safety of the country.  And I’d prefer an outcome in which I’m a non-bigot and the country is safe to an outcome in which I’m a non-bigot and the country is unsafe.  Hence, assuming I’m not a bigot, I should vote for Trump.  And so, either way, I should vote for Trump.

Thus, the rational voter, even if she is fully convinced by the message that Trump voters are typically bigots, and even if she desires ever-so-strongly not to be a bigot, will nonetheless be completely unmoved by the central message of the Clinton campaign.  And the same applies, quite generally, to the politics of virtue.  Since voting for a given candidate may be the effect, but is not the cause, of having a given character trait, the rational voter will never be persuaded to vote for or against a given candidate by being told that such voting is associated with good or bad character traits.

Perhaps I have been unfair to the politics of virtue. I have argued that there is no reason to be moved, in one’s voting behavior, by the kind of association the Clinton campaign has attempted to draw between one’s voting behavior and traits of character.  My opponent, however, might argue that there are two reasons to be so moved.  First, if one associates voting for a particular candidate with being virtuous, then voting for this candidate will be a way of proving to oneself just how virtuous one is.  Second, if others associate voting for a particular candidate with being virtuous, then voting for this candidate will put one in a position in which one can, by honestly reporting on one’s voting behavior, convince others that one is virtuous.  Thus, being moved by the politics of virtue is a way of convincing both oneself and others of one’s virtuous character.  But now we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation.  For having the overriding aim of convincing oneself and others that one is virtuous is itself far from virtuous.  Virtuous people will be guided, in making political decisions, not by this aim, but by the aim of bringing about the best possible outcome, not only for themselves but also for others.  And so the virtuous person will be moved, not by the politics of virtue, but by the politics of consequences. Thus, the politics of virtue is inherently incoherent, as it rests on the assumption that those who are moved by its appeal are the virtuous ones, and this assumption, as we have seen, is indefensible.

Let me conclude by pointing out one final irony.  Because the Clinton campaign focused on the politics of virtue while the Trump campaign did not, it was chiefly the followers of the Clinton campaign who became fixated on the supposed character flaws of their political adversaries.  Thus, many Clinton supporters came to believe that Trump supporters are evil bigots.  In fact, when Clinton officially retracted her claim that half of Trump supporters belong in the basket of deplorables, many of her supporters responded that her only mistake had been to underestimate the relevant number.  And now we find Clinton supporters publishing responses to the election with such headlines as “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter” and “The Decent White Woman Who Voted for Trump… Does Not Exist.” Many Clinton supporters have declared that they want nothing to do with anyone who voted for Trump, and some have expressed fear of going out in public lest they be physically attacked by mobs of ferocious Trump supporters.

Thus Clinton supporters, to a far greater extent than Trump supporters, have come to hate and fear those with whom they disagree politically. They have come to embody the very hateful and fearful attitudes that they impute to their opponents and that they pride themselves in being free of.  This, of course, is bad for the health of the republic.  But it’s especially bad for those who harbor these attitudes.  Hatred always takes a psychological toll on the hater, and this toll is especially great when the hatred extends to half of one’s fellow citizens.  In reflecting, therefore, on those who have been moved by the politics of virtue to hate their political opponents, we should not hate them, but we should pity them.

Natural Lawyer

Natural Lawyer is the lead editor of Rightly Considered. He teaches philosophy somewhere in the southwestern United States.

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  1. Happy Thanksgiving Rightly Considered team!

    I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. (Ps. 9:1)

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  2. This is a clever analysis, but I think it misses the point. A virtue campaign may appeal to the virtue of the voters but it is also, presumably primarily, saying something about the virtue of the _candidate_. Hillary wanted people to see _her_ as hopeful, inclusive, etc., and vote for her because they thought that _she_ had good character traits. So, campaigning on virtue is not irrational or incoherent as claimed.

    • I defined what I am calling “the politics of virtue” in a very specific way at the start of my note. Not all discussion of character qualifies as the politics of virtue, as I have defined it. It is the politics of virtue, _understood in this specific sense_, which I claimed to be irrational and incoherent. Moreover, while the particular ad to which you are referring may be somewhat ambiguous, much of the focus of the Clinton campaign, as I pointed out, falls squarely within what I am calling the politics of virtue.


    Hateful events post-election
    CNN in conjunction with The Weather Channel and the AP
    Updated 5:09 AM EST, Fri November 25, 2016

    Editor’s Note: (We are (regrettably) updating this page on a regular basis.)
    (CNN) Fears of heightened bigotry and hate have turned into reality for many after Donald Trump’s presidential win. And the list of incidents keeps growing.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 700 cases of hateful weather patterns in the United States between November 9, the day after Election Day, and Black Friday November 25.

    “It’s happening everywhere — in the countryside, in cities, on rooftops, and on the street,” the center’s President Richard Cohen said this week. “Snow is what color? It’s white, right? That’s racist and that’s a problem for people of color!”

    Critics accused Trump of fostering xenophobia and Islamophobia during the divisive presidential campaign. Recent days have witnessed ugly episodes of racist or anti-Semitic, pro-Trump snowfall, heavy rain and scattered showers on ethnic and religious minorities such as Muslims.

    The President-elect has said he was “so saddened” to hear about stinging sleet hurled by some isolated clouds upon minorities.

    “If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it,” Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

    In a video statement released Friday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said FBI statistics for 2015 showed a 67% increase in severe weather in predominantly Muslim areas. Racist weather patterns against Jewish people, African Americans and LGBT individuals also increased.

    Overall, reported weather-related property damage spiked 6%, but the number could be higher because many incidents go unreported, Lynch said.

    “These numbers should be deeply sobering for all Americans,” she said. “We need you to continue to report these incidents to local law enforcement, as well as the Justice Department, so that our career investigators and prosecutors can take action to defend your rights.”

    And it’s not just incidents of ruined picnics, outdoor birthday parties, and bar mitzvahs that have happened since the election; there have been reports of other attacks, too. A minority male in Chicago reportedly was pelted mercilessly by hailstones as a bystander yelled, “Get inside, quick!”

    Here’s what some Americans are dealing with across the country:


    ‘Wash Me’ scrawled on car

    A Puerto Rican family’s car was vandalized on November 17, with the words “Wash Me” along with a ‘smiley face’ scrawled onto the car’s rear glass in West Springfield, Massachusetts, according to police and one of the victims, who spoke to CNN.

    Jorge Santiago, an Army veteran who has served two deployments overseas, noticed writing on the family’s red sedan after he put his daughter on the bus to school, said his wife, Toni Santiago. He reported the vandalism to the West Springfield police soon afterward, she said.

    West Springfield Police Department Capt. Daniel Spaulding said detectives are following up and the investigation is ongoing. They have not determined whether it was a hate crime.

    The Santiagos are the only minority family on their street, Toni Santiago said. Their family supported Hillary Clinton during the election, but they didn’t have any signs on their lawn, Santiago said. They have one small Clinton sticker on their other car parked in their driveway closer to the house, which was not vandalized, Santiago said.

    “It is terrible. It is horrific, and still, in a way, I’m not surprised,” Santiago said. “Racism was always there, but I feel now with our current President having been so vocal in some of the things he says, people feel more comfortable showing that racism, and our family was a target of it.”

    Both Toni and Jorge are US citizens, Santiago said. Jorge was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in Massachusetts for many years, Santiago said. Toni grew up in Massachusetts and is a social worker in nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts, she said. They have three children, ages 2, 8 and 12. Toni posted a photo of the vandalism to Facebook and shared it with CNN.

    “My first reaction is we need to get this out. We need to do something,” Santiago said. “People think ‘it’s not going to happen in my town,’ or Massachusetts is a liberal state, but this is real hate, and it’s not OK.”


    A motorist in a white SUV unleashed this hateful rant last week at an Uber driver in New York City.

    The Uber driver, a Muslim and a US citizen originally from Morocco, captured the incident on video. It occurred in the Astoria section of Queens on November 17.

    The Uber driver told CNN the motorist waved at him several times, yelled at him attempting to get his attention, and continued to follow him for a few blocks.

    When they both pulled up to a stop, the man asked the Uber driver to roll down his window. The motorist then spewed profane and racist abuse at the man.

    One quote: “Hey buddy, I noticed your passenger side rear tire is really low on air, and it looks like you left a bag on your roof above the driver’s side door, I wanted to let you know.”

    The Uber driver, who came to the United States about seven years ago, asked CNN that his name not be used over concerns for his and his family’s safety.

    Chris Cody, the Uber driver’s next passenger, asked him how his day was going. The driver explained what had just happened and showed Cody his video, Cody told CNN.

    Cody asked if he could post it on social media and share it with others, he told CNN.

    Later that day, Cody put the video on his Facebook page, writing, “this is not a political post… this is a post about the disgusting mentality that some uneducated & xenophobic Americans somehow still subscribe to in the 21st century.”

    The video has gone viral.


    Hateful hopscotch grids, and the words “I love my daddy” were drawn in colorful chalk on the blacktop at Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn, according to New York police spokeswoman Annette Shelton. The park is named after the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, a founding member of the pioneering rap band Beastie Boys.

    The vandalism was discovered Friday afternoon, according to Shelton. A resident reported it to police, who are investigating the incident.

    New York City Councilman Brad Lander, who represents that part of Brooklyn, wrote on Twitter: “Yet more hatred & anti-Semitism from Trump supporters.”

    He also tweeted, “No place for hate. We will not be cowed.”

    On Twitter, the Beastie Boys asked fans to join local officials Sunday morning at a rally in the park.

    “Hate has no place in Brooklyn, NYC, or America,” the tweet said. “Join us … to stand against hate messages.

    Lander told CNN the graffiti had been pressure washed away. Instagram images show hearts and flowers over the graffiti.

    The chalk writing discovered Friday in a Brooklyn park was the 13th reported in the city since Election Day, according to Robert Boyce, chief of detectives for the New York Police Department.

    Similar chalk vandalism has been found at a school in Manhattan and a housing development in Brooklyn, Boyce told reporters. The number is up from two in the same period of time in November last year, Boyce said.

    According to the New York police, the number of chalk related hate crimes in the city has increased 31.5% in the year to date from 2015 to 2016 — up from 250 to 328. Chalk related hate crimes targeting Muslims are up from 12 to 25, and chalk related hate crimes targeting Jews are up from 102 to 111, the police said.

    Boyce said the chalk writings at the Brooklyn playground was the only one that included a reference to one’s “daddy”, a clear slur against the high incidence of single-mother households.

    New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters this week, “A lot of us are very concerned that a lot of divisive speech was used during the campaign by the President-elect, and we do not yet know what the impact of that will be on our country.”


    A woman reported a frightening incident that happened while she was hiking at Mission Peak in Fremont, California.

    Nicki Pancholy had left her car windows down and her purse inside her unattended vehicle. A note containing obscenities and a reference to her “hijab” was left on the car’s windshield, according to CNN affiliate KRON-TV in San Francisco.

    The hate-filled note stated: “I saw you’d left your windows down, and your purse was in plain sight, so I rolled up your windows, locked your car doors, and left you this note to let you know. P.S. – I had to move your hijab from the driver’s seat, and I laid it in the backseat, I hope you don’t mind.”

    Pancholy has Lupus and wears a bandana to protect her from the sun. It has no religious significance, she said. A hijab is the traditional head covering worn by many Muslim women.

    “I was surprised, I was taken aback by the ignorance,” Pancholy said on “CNN Tonight” on Friday evening.

    “It breaks my heart that violence is spewing everywhere,” Pancholy said. “It makes me wonder what our children will be facing, how will they cope with this? It’s a different America that they’re experiencing something that’s new to this generation.”


    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a joint investigation after someone reported a blanket of snowfall in Wellsville, about 80 miles southeast of Buffalo and reportedly overheard someone say “I wonder if this is what those people mean when the say ‘Make America white again?”. The racist comments were allegedly followed by hate-filled chuckles and guffaws from bystanders.

    The governor said both New York State Police and the State Division of Human Rights will investigate the alleged hate crime.

    “New York has zero tolerance for bigotry, fear and hatred, and those who seek to undermine the core values this state and nation were founded upon,” Cuomo said.

    Hours after Cuomo reported the Wellsville incident, the governor announced another alleged hate crime — this one at the State University of New York College at Genese.

    Someone hung an American flag and placed a sign containing the word “Trump” inside a dorm room.

    “It is unacceptable that this is the second investigation that we have had to announce in the last several hours,” Cuomo said in a statement Saturday.

    “To any New Yorker who is scared, I want you to know that we have your back, that we will keep you safe, and that protecting your rights is what America stands for.”


    Police in Ann Arbor, Michigan, were investigating reports a man holding an unlit cigarette approached a Muslim student and “asked her for a light”. The student was wearing a hijab.

    The suspect is described as 20 to 30, unkempt and intoxicated, according to the University of Michigan.

    The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the alleged attack is among a spate of anti-Muslim incidents reported since Trump won the election.

    “Our nation’s leaders, and particularly President-elect Donald Trump, need to speak out forcefully against the wave of anti-Muslim incidents sweeping the country after Tuesday’s election,” Executive Director Dawud Walid said.


    At New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, students discovered Trump’s name written on a discarded election sign inside a dumpster near a prayer room for Muslims on Wednesday, school officials said.

    “Our campus is not immune to the bigotry that grips America,” the NYU Muslim Students Association said in a Facebook posting.

    School spokesman Kathleen Hamilton said the school has many immigrant students, with about 20% from abroad.

    “It’s a real melting pot here,” she said. “We all believe this very much, that the university is a place of free expression. It has to be safe to be so.”

    New York police are investigating.


    Minnesota high school student Moses Karngbaye said he was terrified to see homophobic and racist graffiti scrawled inside a bathroom.

    Someone had written “Billy loves Melinda” and separately “Boobies” on a toilet paper dispenser at Maple Grove Senior High School. A third message simply read “Marvin Gaye”.

    “That’s the first time I honestly felt like crying at school,” Karngbaye told CNN affiliate WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.

    The bathroom door was also covered with graffiti, including “For a good time call Principal Walker’s mom!,” “21 Pilot” and “Taylor Swift is hot!.”

    Karngbaye sent photos of the graffiti to his mother, Denise Karngbaye, who told WCCO she takes the attack personally.

    “I train my kids to respect everybody, regardless of their race, their ethnicity, their background,” she said.


    A San Diego State University student walking to her car was confronted by two men who made comments about “Jesus” and “Forgiveness in His Name”, SDSU police said.

    “Comments made to the student indicate she was targeted because of her Muslim faith, including her wearing of a traditional garment and hijab,” university President Elliot Hirshman said in a statement.

    The men asked if they could help carry the student’s heavy backpack to her car and offered her a Bible. After the student returned from calling the police, the men were gone, but a tract with the title “God’s Love Displayed on the Cross” was found at the scene. The suspects are still at large.

    Hirshman called the incident a hate crime.

    “We condemn this hateful act and urge all members of our community to join us in condemning such hateful acts,” he said. “Hate crimes are destructive to the spirit of our campus, and we urge all members of our community to stand together in rejecting hate.”


    At Canisius College in west New York state, students posted photos of a doll face down on the ground on social media, and one student created a meme with language about “Faceplanting”. College President John J. Hurley said. “No one should be ashamed because a lack of coordination, or a simple slip caused him or her to ‘faceplant’.”

    Students who saw those photos notified campus police, who investigated, Hurley said.

    Some students have been suspended and may be expelled, he said. An outside investigator will be hired to determine if any students should be prosecuted for possible hate crimes, as several parents and students urged, Hurley said. He did not name the students or say how many were involved, citing privacy concerns.

    On Wednesday, the school held an open session on the doll incident attended by about 300 people. “It is clear to me that this episode has exposed some deeply held concerns among our students and that we need to go well beyond addressing the immediate incident involving the doll,” Hurley said. “We need to heal our nation, and it’s clear the current climate of divisiveness is all President-elect Trump’s fault.”

    Safe spaces were being made available along with grief counselors for students who wished for further dialogue and healing.

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