What Devin Nunes can teach us about killings in the Congo. (This alienation issue is bigger than just our bickering in the US.)
I was reading an article this morning about killings in Congo and had what I recognize to be the sort of naive reaction, “How do we convince these people to behave differently?” Certainly we’d love to find a way to prevent the exploitation, displacement and killing we see there. But I knew instinctively that the answer was not, “How do we simplistically project our values upon them?”
And I realized suddenly that there is a close parallel to the alienation issue I am working on here in the US.
Bear with me as I take us down the winding road connecting Kinshasa with Visalia, CA …
One thing I’ve been sort of fascinated by in the last year is Devin Nunes. Rep. Nunes is the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and is known nationally primarily for being a fierce defender of President Trump and a deep skeptic (blocker?) of the various investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
What’s interesting to me about Nunes is that he is from California.
The thing that is interesting about California is that, while many people think of it as the “poster child” of a blue state — the iconic liberal lawmakers Pelosi, Feinstein & earlier Boxer, Goofy Jerry Brown, etc — in fact nearly the entire eastern portion of the state — well more than half geographically — and significant portions of the coastal south are red districts. Nunes represents one of those districts.
Many blue Californians are prone to denouncing the voting propensities of distant “flyover states” like Texas, the Midwest and the deep South. Therefore it is noteworthy that one of the most powerful and lynch-pin national supporters of the Trump movement is actually from The Golden State.
These people who vote so differently, they aren’t too far away to actually visit and understand. Really they are just a very reasonable drive from either Hollywood or Marin. If a blue Californian wanted to influence a key red district, it seems like a logical place to start would be to actually engage with Nunes’ district, rather than simply criticize Huntsville, AL from afar.
So, actually, I have had conversations with San Francisco Bay Area friends about this topic. And several of them are involved in exactly this activity — working to undermine Nunes’ reelection in the mid terms. They aren’t the only ones, it turns out.
But the question is, if one finds the political behavior of a geographically separate population objectionable, what is the most effective way to attempt to address that behavior? Is it to try to force one’s way of thinking upon that separate group, by, for instance, simply “bulking up” Nunes’ Democratic opponent with campaign funding and support?
My premise is — if one wants to unseat Nunes, the way to do that is not to attempt to convince the agricultural economy of District 22 that they really should be more concerned about the progressive priorities of global warming, minority rights and gun control. It is to reach into that district, understand what its anxiety points are and support candidates offering solutions that make sense in addressing those anxiety points. A classic, San Francsico-style progressive Democrat is not going to win there. The wiser approach, actually, may have been to support a GOP candidate whose platform resonated with local voters but who wasn’t also willing to sacrifice national security in order to kow-tow to Trump. I actually don’t even know if that would have worked, Nunes seems fairly ensconced in his district.
But the point of all this is, if we want to figure out how to improve the situation in the Congo, I suspect we could start by figuring out how to evolve the situation in California District 22. There are parallels. In both situations, “progressive” outsiders find behavior in a geographic region to be objectionable and they want to influence that “for the better.” One’s initial, knee-jerk propensity is to project one’s own values upon that situation. But as we’ve addressed above, that is not likely to work in the case of District 22.
So what will work?
(PS: I realize the most obvious counter to this argument is that District 22 elects its leaders whereas the Congo currently appears to be under the control of an emerging dictator, albeit once democratically elected. But I suggest that is a simplistic differentiation. Any society is a collection of competing, collaborating, negotiating and sometimes warring power structures. That is true in Congo, just as it is in District 22. How that power structure goes about selecting its leaders may differ, but in the end the leader is the result of the will of those who hold power. Either enough of the powerful fight for him/her, or enough do not. So in either case one needs to influence those holding power and/or somehow influence the amount of power they hold.