Today is my last day running AMERICAblog.
I’m starting a Ph.D. program in Political Science at Ohio State, and I have some serious reading and stats to brush up on before the program starts. My research will lie at the intersection of political psychology and democratic theory, focusing on experimental deliberative democracy in particular. Basically, what’s going on in our heads when we talk about politics as democratic citizens, and how can we do it better?
As you can imagine, I am absolutely ecstatic to get started.
I actually applied and was accepted to the program before I took over this site from John Aravosis. I deferred a year so that I could give professional writing a shot, and so that AMERICAblog wouldn’t have to shut down when John got a job that wouldn’t let him be political in public. But now that year’s up, John’s back and, to be quite honest, I’m ready to bounce — for two unrelated reasons:
Mostly, this primary
I was excited to write about the 2016 campaign before it actually got underway. Every presidential election, we say that this particular presidential is the most important presidential election of our lifetimes. The last few cycles, that has consistently held true, and I think it holds true this year. The Democratic primary gave us our first chance in quite a while to have substantive debates challenging Washington consensuses concerning the size and scope of government, how to meaningfully address skyrocketing economic inequality, how urgently to address climate change, whether taxes on the middle class are worth raising if they pay for good things and even whether Henry Kissinger is worthy of our respect. The general election presents us with a choice between a pragmatic bureaucrat and a creeping fascist. In both arenas, it’s been quite a while since the range between our choices was so vast, and since the implications of our choices have been as interesting as they are dire.
And yet, in this most important election of our lifetimes, I’ve been struck by how remarkably dumb we’ve all become. Very serious people supporting and opposing all manner of candidates — very smart people who surely know better — have spent an inordinate amount of time writing keyboard-melting takes that simply can’t be taken seriously by a thinking person.
This was the election that brought Andrew Sullivan out of retirement to tell us that anti-racist students on college campuses are responsible for the rise of Donald Trump (the National Journal pinned the Trump on Al Franken). This was the election that got voting rights proponents like Josh Marshall to make fun of engaged democratic citizens for not knowing they had to register with a party six months in advance of an election they didn’t know would be competitive. This was the election where our favorite wonks went from considering single-payer health care to be a noble, politically unfeasible goal to being Actually Bad Policy in the span of one candidate’s platform — siding with the Wall Street Journal over Robert Reich.
This was the election where the caucus system — a system that the United States would not recognize as legitimate if adopted by a developing democracy — was actually fantastic if and only if it produced outcomes favorable to your preferred candidate. This was the election where the Human Rights Campaign was an edgy outsider organization. This was the election where making public college tuition-free was both conservative and perhaps kinda racist. This was the election where having the third-most liberal voting record in the US Senate could make you more extreme than the lefties of Europe. This was the election where picking a chair up and putting it down could be a more egregious act of violence than smacking a woman in the face.
This was the election where online became real life; where Democratic candidates were somehow responsible for neo-Nazi Trump-supporting Twitter eggs. This was the election where self-described progressives suggested that the illegally-funded-by-Reagan Contras were actually the good guys. This was the election that made H.A. Goodman and Walker Bragman household names in the blogosphere. This was the election where you could be paid money to write that Bernie Sanders agreeing to debate Donald Trump is analogous to both of them raping Hillary Clinton (really).
This was the election where some reality-based, data-respecting, democratically-minded Democrats convinced themselves that math doesn’t matter and votes don’t matter, because Bernie Sanders is going to be the president. He just is. Maybe the evil superdelegates are going to wake up one morning, see the light and become smart and good Sanders supporters. Maybe Hillary Clinton will get indicted. Maybe she’ll just drop out on her own. Either way, something is going to happen, and the man is going to revolution his way to the White House, because Clinton is the actual devil who can’t be trusted.
While others demand that she lie about lying.
I like Bernie. I voted for Bernie. I’m not exactly excited about voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election, but I’m absolutely prepared to do so. As it happens, that’s a pretty common position to take, but you wouldn’t know it based on the smoldering hellscape that is today’s online discourse. That position doesn’t drive clicks. The positions I’ve linked to above all do. The upshot here is that it’s nearly impossible to be reasonable, original and well-trafficked all at the same time. You can pick maybe two of those things if you’re lucky, and I’m certainly far from blameless in leaving at least one by the wayside at various points in my tenure here. Still, the fact remains that the incentives set by the market for clicks are somewhat exhausting and extremely discouraging.
Also, this was never really my site
This was perhaps a function of my age, and of entering the blogosphere after Twitter was already a thing, but I didn’t realize when I started writing for this site over four years ago that blogs don’t travel well. John Aravosis cultivated a specific brand and a readership for the site over the years that he ran it, and that brand and readership remained specific to him over this past year, even if the bylines were no longer his. The traffic numbers don’t lie: Our readers are interested in reading about LGBT rights, which is John’s strength, more than they are interested in reading about voting rights, which is my strength. This was obvious when I took over, and while I tried to keep the LGBT arm of the site going, that didn’t always turn out so well. A straight guy in his early-mid 20s with a background in electoral politics simply isn’t going to cover LGBT issues as well as a seasoned LGBT activist. Even when I got the words right, they didn’t and couldn’t mean as much coming from me.
The specificity of AMERICAblog to its earlier leadership and readership has also been apparent in seeing how AMERICAblog is discussed (or not discussed) in online circles over the past 15 months or so. When John A. left, we effectively fell off the radar in the liberal blogosphere. Now that he’s back, the site is again associated with him. To be clear, that was completely predictable, but it’s made this past 15-ish months feel a bit like yelling into the void. I’ve written plenty of posts that I’m proud of — that I think are interesting, important reads and solid pieces of writing — but did any of them, you know, matter? It’s hard to say.
So I’m going to head back to central Ohio and keep my head in some books for the next five to seven years. I get to move away from the day to day of the American political fray and toward the broader and, to me, more interesting questions concerning how we can make democratic deliberation more productive in general. If this election cycle is any indication, there’s plenty of work to do.