“Who are these jellyfish?”: Bill Maher attributes Democratic losses to wokeness

November 15, 2020 • 1:00 pm

We all know that the promised “blue wave” of Democratic victories didn’t occur. While Trump has been given the boot (but got nearly half the vote), the Dems lost seats in Congress, failed to flip state legislatures, and doesn’t look as if it will control the Senate, either. Why, with a President who is so palpably unfit for office that his coattails should have swept many Republicans out of office as well.

In this bit from his latest Real Time, Bill Maher has what I think is a pretty good analysis: he attributes it largely to wokeness. While the GOP may be an unpalatable alternative, so are Wokies to many Americans. And that’s what I was afraid of. While, thank Ceiling Cat, Wokeness didn’t keep Biden from being elected (but might have done so for Bernie Sanders), it didn’t, says Maher, inspire many Americans to vote for Democrats. You may disagree, but we still need an explanation for why so many Americans cling to regressive parties, and why so many members of minority groups still voted Republican.


By the way, the New York Times article that Maher mentions has been retitled, and you can access if by clicking below:


h/t: Paul, Enrico

114 thoughts on ““Who are these jellyfish?”: Bill Maher attributes Democratic losses to wokeness

  1. but we still need an explanation for why so many Americans cling to regressive parties, and why so many members of minority groups still voted Republican.

    The other weekend, I went to pick up some food at a local bar. A group of people, all wearing logo-emblazoned biker gear was at the establishment. Curious as to what ‘UMF’ stood for, I googled while waiting. It’s apparently a social club, started by a ‘lunatic’ whose sole purpose was to end women’s suffrage. This is from their own website. The group was half women, half men. Why would women join a social club like that, I pondered. And I came to the conclusion that is must be a calculated bargain – they will receive a certain amount of protection and privilege by acquiescing other things. Maybe they think that by extension, they’ll be better off than other women.

    Long story short, that’s my hypothesis here too – a calculated decision based on what people think will protect them by margins and at the expense of their fellow citizens.

    1. My theory, which is mine, and almost certainly wrong to greater or lesser extent, is that a significant factor in why so many people support someone like a Trump even in the face of enormous evidence of his incompetence is machismo. A significant percentage of humans, both male and female, are impressed with machismo. So many aspects of our culture venerate it.

      Perhaps in tribal prehistoric times machismo had a selective advantage. In modern times it is as likely to get as all killed. If there is anything at all to the concept of toxic masculinity, this is it.

      1. Yes! I have often run across men who have a macho look and, if I learn their political bent, it is almost always Republican. This has been a Republican trope for a long time. Trump definitely saw that too and tapped into it.

        Macho women are harder to spot though being with a macho man is a good indication. 😉

  2. Many commentators and politicians have pointed out the cost of the Dems embrace of Wokeness (or at a minimum, of being Woke-adjacent). Of course the Wokest people are claiming they were not the problem; the problem actually turns out that Dems were _not Woke enough_.

    The fringy Left will never accept responsibility for disenfranchising the moderate voters and will continue marching for views they see as right.

  3. Good rant by Bill. While googling his wiki I see that he’s now dating the mid-30s daughter of good friends of mine, Anjulie Persaud. I knew Anjulie as a baby. Haven’t talked to her mom in a few years. We used to play squash together. Small world.

    1. Maher is 64. I hope he’s abiding by what I’ve always understood to be “the French rule” — that it’s unbecoming to be involved in a romantic relationship with anyone younger than half your age plus seven years. 🙂

      1. Had a quick phone call with my friend and Anjulie is holed up here now (Oakville, ONtario) with her parents because covid and LA fires. I’ll get more info later, but it doesn’t seem as if she and Bill are any kind of item anymore, if they ever were. Might be fake news on wiki.

  4. Both the right and the left have their fringes, but I fear the fringy left helps Repubs more than the fringy right helps Dems. I suspect that middle America sees right-wing fringe groups as marginal loonies but sees wokeness as a real threat leaking into their campuses and newsrooms and art museums, facilitating tantrums on their city streets, etc. And their assessment may be correct.

    1. Agreed, but I would not say campuses, etc., but rather leaking into their workplaces, their checkbooks, their churches, their law enforcement, their second amendment, and their personal behavior.

    2. Yes, that seems right. It is the Dems allowing Wokeness to get into our institutions that is most troubling. I suppose there’s a parallel with the GOP with their embrace of conspiracy theories at the elected office level but that is probably not as scary.

  5. I watched the Maher monologue yesterday when it was posted below the line – his take seems very plausible to me.

  6. Anyone who voted for Trump “because of wokeness” is either a liar who was looking for an excuse to back an authoritarian ignoramus, or is so morally bankrupt and clueless that their opinion is not worth seeking.

    As to why minorities voted for Trump, a large proportion of white people don’t vote according to what ostensively are their own interests. Why should non-whites be expected to do so?

    (And why isn’t it racist and sexist to say politicians will do ‘A’ to get the Latino vote, and ‘B’ to get the women’s vote? I think US political culture is deeply deeply flawed.)

    1. Anyone who voted for Trump “because of wokeness” is either a liar who was looking for an excuse to back an authoritarian ignoramus, or is so morally bankrupt and clueless that their opinion is not worth seeking.

      And when they see things like the above quoted, they say “fuck you” and vote for Trump because they know it will piss you off.

      1. “Anyone who voted for Trump “because of wokeness” is either a liar who was looking for an excuse to back an authoritarian ignoramus, or is so morally bankrupt and clueless that their opinion is not worth seeking.”

        One area that may push people who are neither liars or ignoramuses over to Trump is his policy on trade and globalization. It really is true that millions of jobs that once formed the bedrock of the American middle class have been sucked away to other countries by globalization, and Democrats were among those leading the charge for this. The irony is that many of the good arguments against globalization (such as the environmental and human rights issues that it raises) are generally ignored by Trump and the Republicans!

        Still, there are and were many Trump voters who saw him as someone who could save their town and their jobs from “the giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot described in the early 90s.

        1. Still, there are and were many Trump voters who saw him as someone who could save their town and their jobs from “the giant sucking sound”

          True. Joke’s on them, eh?

  7. I strongly dislike wokeism, but I do not think that was the cause of the Democrat electoral failures. I think, and some polls have indicated, that it was law-breaking disorder in the streets coupled with calls for deep police defunding and a failure of the Democrats to separate themselves from these events that caused many people to vote Republican, particularly white, middle-class voters.

        1. I believe it largely originated there, in the humanities departments, and if it stayed there it would be less trouble. But the main problem is that it has been adopted outside of academia to an alarming degree.

        2. As has been noted many times on this site, Wokeism has moved into journalism and corporate America. On the other hand, the pushback is increasing too. I hope that the Dems considering their losses in the recent election will be part of that pushback. They supposedly are having some big arguments right now behind somewhat closed doors. AOC is on the Woke side but may doom her future by sticking with it for too much longer.

          1. Yeah, it has been seeping out of academia into the real world. But I see street violence as something different than wokeism, emanating from publicized police abuse. True, the woke don’t condemn street violence. In fact, some describe looting as reparations.

      1. It is, though it is peripheral to their religion. But more importantly, in the eyes of the public, it cannot be separated from them either. I agree with darwinwins; it was the defund the police nonsense that cost the Dems the most, down ticket.

        The Democrats response to the looting and violence feeds into an (accurate) perception that the Dems are under the thrall of the woke. I do not think they will learn any lessons from this election and will lose the house in 2022.

        1. Back in 1968, when there were similar riots in the streets and on college campuses, the country responded by electing Nixon.

          I doubt that most of the rioters were Biden supporters. Radicals see him as just another establishment politician, and Kamala Harris as an Uncle Tom who locked up countless Black men. But read the comments on Youtube videos of riots, vandalism, looting, demonstrators blocking streets, etc. and you’ll see that a lot of people do assume that this is what Democrats support. It’s like when Bill O’Reilly would describe anyone even slightly left-of-center as “far-left:” (“Newsweek is a far-left publication.”) Many conservatives apparently make no distinction between “liberal” and “far-left.”

          Most Americans do not approve of throwing Molotov cocktails at police or toppling statues of Lincoln and the Democrats need to make it clear that they don’t approve of these things either. The radicals aren’t going to vote for you anyway.

          1. Back in 1968, when there were similar riots in the streets and on college campuses, the country responded by electing Nixon.

            I think that’s a bit of a reductionist view of the ’68 election. If Bobby Kennedy hadn’t’ve been croaked in LA on the night he won the California primary, I think he’d’ve beaten Nixon like a gong. Or if the Democrats had nominated their other anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy, they might still have won. Or if Nixon hadn’t used Anna Chenault treasonously to scuttle LBJ’s last-minute Paris peace deal, Humphrey (who only lost the ’68 vote by just .3%) would have probably won.

            The riots of ’68, especially those outside the Democratic convention in Chicago in August, hurt Hubert’s chances, no doubt, but the main reason he lost the ’68 election was his inability to shake his close association with LBJ’s misbegotten pursuit of the war in Vietnam.

        2. “I do not think they will learn any lessons from this election and will lose the house in 2022.”

          Prognosticating all the way to 2022 now? Haven’t you learned that 3 weeks is a lost cause with predictions, and you’re jumping 2 years ahead? Take a second. Calm and focus. There is no woke “thrall” over the near future of governance under Biden et al. Can we at least get through the Trump demise bullshit before crumbling and making up shit about woke Armageddon?

          1. My guess is that the pros in Democratic politics—Pelosi, Schumer, Perez—have been working overtime to understand the political calculus of woke appeal. The problem they have is allowing their policy-making to reflect the woke agenda just enough to keep the wokies on side in future elections but not more than that, lest they lose the prosperous suburbs that in Pennsylvania and Georgia enabled them to dispatch Trump and seal the electoral deal. It’s the political analogue of Romer’s Rule, and the success of the Dems up the line depends crucially on them making that calculation correctly.

  8. “By the way, the New York Times article that Maher mentions has been retitled, “

    Do any other NYT subscribers find this practice of re-titling articles to be annoying?

    They do it all the time: an article that hangs around the front page can be re-titled even 3 times. Why? It feels cynical to me, like they just want to make it look like the content keeps changing when it isn’t, and/or getting you to click through articles you’ve already read.

    1. The BBC website does it quite a bit too – and the titles of online and print versions of articles in The Guardiandon’t always match. Yes, it’s very annoying!

    2. They must be gaming the click algos to look more popular or recycle stories that resonate with their audience to boost viewership like likes or reposted content on Youtube.

      How this is not journalistic fraud is beyond me. First, they’re pestering their own valuable readers by risking they re-read their articles. Second, does the print NYT re-title articles from last week’s paper and reprint them?

  9. Could the explanation be that Biden’s pitch was “nothing will fundamentally change” at a time when hundreds of thousands have died, millions are on the brink of homelessness, and wages in real terms haven’t increased in decades?

  10. I’m a bit distanced from it all, here in the UK, although I follow a lot of political channels on YouTube and read quite a few US newspapers. What I feel is more of a problem than wokeness, specifically, is a two-pronged failure in marketing. On one hand, the Dems largely campaigned on a “not Trump” platform, rather than offering a tangible set of policies that would excite voters, which was clearly not enough reason to vote for them for a significant percentage of the population. Secondly, the label of “Socialism” that seems to stick, in spite of the majority of Americans being in favor of socialist policies on their own – just not associating those policies with Socialism. I guess, from a US perspective, Socialism gets associated with authoritarian regimes, whereas, from a European perspective, it’s associated more with governments like those in the Scandinavian countries, which have a very high standard of living. I think the Dems just need to be less afraid of picking policies that could be seen to be socialist, because the label will get applied to them regardless – just embrace it and market the shit out of the benefits. At the end of the day, people vote because they think there will be a net benefit to their standard of living (for the most part – the religious whack jobs will vote the way their leaders tell them, regardless).

    1. I think this is a bit unfair. It seems clear to me that it was the voters thinking in terms of thumbs up or down on the Trump presidency. This is traditionally the case when an incumbent president seeks a second term but was particularly the case with Trump and his divisiveness and lack of competence. Biden has a platform but he correctly read the voters in realizing that this election was not so much about that. If anything, he de-emphasized his platform in order to prevent Trump’s ability to weaponize it against him. He tried to minimize the effect of “defund the police” but it hurt him anyway.

    2. I think it’s been clear for a long time now that, at least in modern US history, policies are not a factor.

      For one example, the often quoted claim that Hillary didn’t have any good policies that would benefit the working class, and or she didn’t talk about them. That is actually completely 100% untrue and I find it perplexing and a bit infuriating, that so many people on “our” side say this, perceive this to have been the case. Hillary had lots and lots of technically impressive policies, many of which were aimed directly at improving the lot of the working person. She is after all a policy wonk. Furthermore, she talked about her policies all the fucking time. Constantly. Anytime you saw her, including during the debates, she was talking about her policies, giving the outline of them and carefully telling you were to go, her website, to see them in their entirety.

      The same is true about Biden’s campaign, no doubt to a lesser degree than Hillary’s (which is a very high bar because she was, again, a policy wonk). So where’s the disconnect? Is it the media? Or is it the people. Some of both I’d say.

      It’s not so much that the media doesn’t show Democrats talking about policies, it does. Go back and review ads, interviews and debates and it’s all right there in plain view. But what the media does do is give priority and much more air time to exciting crap that gains views and clicks. Apparently, for a lot of people, including lots on the liberal side, this distracts them from what is in plain view. Democrats talking about their policies.

      Unfortunately, having good policies and talking about them doesn’t win elections. No, what wins elections is more primal appeals to emotion. And for that nothing works better than fabricating divisions, or pounding open existing ones.

  11. As always and with all elections different pundits will come up with different explanations as to why they ended up as they did. For this particular election, I think we need to differentiate between leftist principles and wokeism. They are not the same. Leftist websites are claiming that the Democratic vote would have been higher if the candidates had more forcefully championed such policies as medicare for all, the green New Deal, and jobs. Foolishly, Democrats let Trump and the Republicans set the narrative by claiming such policies as ill-defined socialism. Of course, such policies are not socialism (not that the masses know what that is) in any meaningful since at most they only constrain capitalism around the edges. I think the leftist analysis may have merit, but it is too early to tell. We need to wait for further dissection of the vote.

    On the other hand, the Democratic failure to condemn forcefully the riots and violence earlier this year probably also contributed to party losses in close races. I think mainstream Democrats overestimated the power of the far left, allowing Trump to bellow about law and order. I would guess that what hurt the Democrats more than anything else was the chant “Defund the Police.” This is an example of the majority ideological middle in the party cowering in fear of a radical fringe.

    Biden won because Trump is so despised. But, many middle-of-the-road voters voted Republican as to way to offset the radicals, which they perceive as taking over the Democratic Party. It is early, but Democratic control of the House may be lost in 2022. The Democrats need to do two things quickly: 1) they must sever any connection between economic programs, which most people like, from any taint of socialism; and 2) while promoting racial, social, and economic justice, they must make it clear that these goals in no way condone or approve riots or violence. Let’s see if they can succeed.

    1. > 2) while promoting racial, social, and economic justice, they must make it clear that these goals in no way condone or approve riots or violence.

      Combined with that, they need to disassociate from the Woke scolds who continuously tell people how inherently racist they are. Those kinds of identity politics based insults are not the way to build bridges.

    2. What do I know, Non-American. But I am sceptical of this. As posted below Jerry’s last Sullivan commentary, the situation doesn’t seem to support such conclusions.

      From my very subjective point of view, and prior anything else, I would say that social democratic ideas should be popular in the USA; no space to argue why. Then I also saw the buzz around Sanders. When I gauged this using my thumb in the wind, I’d say he was easily the most popular candidate in 2016 and 2020. However, I knew that this impression (on the internet no less) can be deceptive, so I said, alright, Americans, if you insist, I’ll accept your assessment that this internet hype may be insignificant.

      When I go by knowledge of US politics, how both parties marginalise voters (one also tries to suppress voters), how everything follows the money, how big interests just don’t align with popular social democratic ideas, I would bet on it that both parties would try to prevent social democratic ideas and invent any reason to make this seem plausible. My expectation is that any negative outcome will always be pinned on the “left”. There is no chance, ever, that a US party says “we weren’t left enough” even if all major polling institutes told them this is what voters want. Not in the USA.

      Now, what do I see? That’s what I see. I can try to falsify my impressiom, but I can’t find solid reasons. Surveys say two thirds Americans want some form of government-organised health system. Sanders was popular on the internet, at least, while nobody really liked Clinton, and nobody really liked Biden, either. I saw zero popular support. None of the big, popular podcast liked either of them. I know, they are “just” some podcast (e.g. Joe Rogan) it’s not gospel, but it’s yet another thing pointing in the exact opposite direction.

      I was always sceptical about Clinton, then Biden, but Americans assured me there is a Hidden Majority out there who will carry Clinton to presidency and Biden will easily win. Simple. We know this didn’t happen. Biden did win this one, but it was a nail-biter, and there is a consensus that this victory was weak, especially against Trump. Again, I am at a loss. I have to put a lot of faith in assertions by Americans that just seem to not align with reality as I observe it.

      I would never underestimate talk radio, fear mongering on Fox, and the right wing internet where a few antifas were hyped up to be a real big threat. No doubt, a lot of hay was made out of wokeness, too. But all things considered, it really looks like that a sizeable number of Americans are sick and tired of establishment politicians that do nothing for the people, while the elites have record year following a record year. That’s why they backed Trump, the molotov cocktail. A lot more Americans appear to share the diagnosis, but disagree to the molotov throwing.

    3. While socialism doesn’t scare me much, I don’t see how redefining it in the mind of voters would have been a winning strategy in 2020. It couldn’t even succeed in the primary so, IMHO, it would have completely lost the general. Bernie did as good a job as possible defusing “socialism” but he shouldn’t have even gone there. The American people will accept socialistic programs, as they do already, but not “socialism”. In fact, several commentators have pointed out that many socialistic propositions in various states won in this election. For example, I believe Florida approved the raising of the minimum wage.

      1. Agreed. The nice thing about the American people is that they generally despise bureaucrats and centralization, but are strongly in favor of communitarian programs like Social Security. Whatever the name of the ideology will be that transforms American society into something more humane, there is zero chance that it will go under the label “socialism” or “communism”. The wrongheaded attachment of pro-liberty leftists to these phrases is unstrategic in the extreme. Let the few remaining actual proponents of centralization have this odious mark as theirs.

        Unfortunately for Bernie, he had no choice but to face this issue head on and own up to the label, since he made this mistake long ago in his political career. He did flip it around to call out “corporate socialists” at one point, and it was cute for about a minute.

        1. Sticking with “socialism” and “defund the police” seems to be motivated by Woke purity. They are thinking in terms of some revolution that’s never going to happen, just like overthrow of the white patriarchy. Making it less white seems like it has a much better shot.

  12. Istnieje teoria że będzie jeszcze całkiem inaczej.W takich sytuacjach potrzebni są ludzie którzy jednoczą ludzi ,słuchają nauki i nie gardzą ludźmi oraz nie brak im wiary .Tak przypadkiem Joe Biden spełnia te wszystkie wymogi.

    Trump nie spełnia żadnego.

    1. Google Translate to English:

      There is a theory that it will be quite different. In such situations, people are needed who unite people, listen to science and do not despise people and do not lack faith. So by chance Joe Biden meets all these requirements.

      Agreed, though “by chance” might be controversial. Perhaps it was meant to be more about how it was our fortune that Biden was the candidate.

  13. I also question whether wokeness was the primary cause. I suspect that the Democrats inability to frame their approach to immigration and police reform in positive terms might be a larger problem. They let the Republicans, backed by right wing news outlets, to set the tone.

    1. Agreed. If wokeness didn’t exist, Fox News would have invented it to tarnish liberals.

      Dems just really suck in getting a coherent message out from all the right-wing propaganda.

  14. … why so many members of minority groups still voted Republican.

    Trump did marginally better with the black vote this year than he did last time, but it was still an embarrassingly minuscule showing for one of the two major US political parties — particularly for the party of Abraham Lincoln, a party that still had a moderate wing (and even a liberal wing) as late as the 1960s, a party that could muster 27 votes to help pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 (something that would be unimaginable from today’s right-wing senate Republican caucus led by Mitch McConnell).

    1. With reference to “a party that still had a moderate wing (and even a liberal wing) as late as the 1960s”, I think the date of its passing could be pushed up a little. Mark Hatfield of Oregon retired only in 1996. Jim
      Jeffords of Vermont left the GOP only in 2001. Of course, by these late dates, they
      were so isolated in the GOP that I guess they constituted more a prayer than a wing.

      1. True, there were a couple moderates who lingered on after the band stopped playing, but they were isolated as RINOs. (Vermont’s Jeffords was driven into Democratic arms soon after Dubya’s election, as Pennsylvania’s Snarlin’ Arlen Specter was at the end of W’s term.)

        But long gone before that was the old “eastern establishment” wing of the GOP — the Rockfeller wing of the party, the Cabot-Lodges, the Lowell Weickers, the William Scrantons, the Jacob Javitses, the George Romneys, and the Prescott Bushes. Those that weren’t pushed out by Nixon’s southern strategy didn’t survive the Reagan years.

        Try to imagine anyone in today’s US senate Republican caucus voting for anything resembling civil-rights legislation, or opposing the platform of the religious right. (Although Maine’s recently reelected Aunt Clara — Susan Collins — might fret a bit before capitulating.)

  15. People like to blame things they dislike for the existence of other problems. I despise wokeness and would love to blame it for Dems’ problems, but I’m more inclined to blame the right-wing media machine, which would tarnish Dems with socialism and wokeness regardless of its truth. For those that *claim* they voted Trump because of wokeness, I think that’s often an excuse rather than a reason.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head. The Democrats could have campaigned on Ayn Randian dog-eat-dog hypercapitalism, and they still would have been painted as “socialist”.

  16. The Republicans have many news and radio outlets hammering home their “brand”.

    Democrats do not. During elections Democrats never run against Republicans in general, but always narrowly against their opponent.

    While wokeness certainly does not help, it also does not help that Democrats do not draw clear distinctions about what it means to vote Democrat vs. Republican. They need to show concretely that Republicans undermine national security, favor the wealthy, etc., etc.

    Everyone should know what Republicans really stand for, and they should know what Democrats actually stand for.

  17. The Woke are the new Catholic Church: they are in possession of absolute truths, they can excommunicate you, they can pronounce you heretic, they determine what is a sin or what isn’t, and the penitence for your sins, and they only can absolve you. In fact -and I was a Catholic when I was younger-, it’s much easier to be absolved by Catholic priests than by the Woke.

    1. And Trump, on the other hand, it’s the opposite of sanctimonious (that’s what Sam Harris says in hid podcast).

      The Woke should be aware that even Jesus preferred the company of sinners rather than being with the sanctimonious.

    2. Reading your comment, I had a thought. How many of the “woke” are Catholics? Might be an interesting stat. Never thought of “woke” religious folk, but I imagine they are multitudes as well. Where’s it end? The same place all mortal coils end, but the meantime is always so interesting and confounding. I subscribe to the epicurean mindset, so enjoyment flows ahead. Covid stops most of that feeling though.

      1. The woke are mostly not Catholic. They are Mainline Protestants whose original beliefs all but vanished as they secularized. Their awokening rekindled their old zeal with a new cause.

  18. I think the wokeness argument is some of it, but it is too easy. I remember reading an interview with Anthony Bourdain after the 2016 election. In the interview Bourdain actually argued that one of the reasons Clinton lost was because of smug people like Bill Maher. He said Maher specifically. In general, I think that there are prominent democrats that have a very bad tendency to condescend to regular people. I think Hollywood has some of these people. That behavior alienates people. I also think there is a substantial portion of the US that has some very disturbing religious fantasies and they are never going to vote for more progressive policies.

    1. But isn’t there a lot of behavior among Trump voters that is worthy of ridicule? The conspiracy theories, the gun-toting idiots, the anti-government types, the racists, the bald-faced climate change deniers, the COVID deniers, etc. There are those on the left that should be ridiculed as well, which Maher does regularly. Some want to practice cultural relativism where everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want but I think we have a right to call out bad behavior and false beliefs wherever we spot them. Ridicule is one of our most potent weapons but it should always be accompanied by explanation and rational discussion. It should be made clear why we consider the behavior bad.

      1. The behavior of many of Trump supporters is disgusting. There is no way to defend a good deal of what these people believe in. I see videos of Proud Boys and it makes me sick. Also, your concerns about cultural relativism are completely warranted and I certainly don’t practice it. There have been some self identified centrist intellectuals, such as Dave Rubin, that have thrown their support behind Trump. For all of their criticism of postmodernism, they have a lot in common with it.
        Maher is very smart and funny. I really like how he does not conform to the party line. A lot of his criticisms of the right are dead on. All of the good things you mentioned about Maher can be true and his smugness can still turn a lot of people off. They are not mutually exclusive.

        1. Yes, it’s not hard to imagine people who really dislike Bill Maher. He’s also wrong on occasion. He was a mild anti-vaxxer for a while but I think he’s come around. He’s definitely vulnerable on any subject involving science and technology.

          1. “anti-vaxxer for a while but I think he’s come around.”

            I’m not sure this is true, unless you consider the anti-vaxxer trope “I’m for safe vaccines” to be coming around.

            1. Are you saying you think Bill Maher is still anti-vax? He rarely says anything about it but, when he does, he seems to be hinting that his lack of science knowledge means that he should trust the experts. In his gut, he’s a bit of a conspiracy theorist but this fights with his rational side which tells him that these things should be decided by listening to scientists and doctors, not one’s guts.

              1. I believe he is still anti-vax. Unless someone can show me evidence to the contrary, the only thing “reasonable” on the subject that I’ve seen is the “I’m for safe vaccines” trope you hear all the time from anti-vaxxers.

              2. You may be right. I guess we’ll see soon. Everyone will be urged to get their COVID shots and he’ll have to come out on an actual decision. My guess is that he’ll do the responsible thing.

  19. Beyond the obvious tribalism involved, I suspect that statistical ignorance is, of course, a big factor in why people voted for Trump despite his many obvious failures.  That is, because of the nature of our media platforms, people think the woke movement is bigger than it actually is.  How widespread is wokeism?  Does anyone actually know?
    Here’s my hypothesis:  Because of the coverage of the woke movement by folks on the right and public intellectuals from the centre and centre left, many people have gotten the impression that the woke movement is so large and scary to the point where they’ve turned down their critical faculties on so many other important issues.  I suspect tribalism via podcast is also at play here too–there’s been a large cultural influence on the subject of wokeism over the last few years with the increasing popularity of the so-called IDK.
    Yes, wokeism is absolutely a problem, but when communicating that problem people should be careful in how they present the proportion of the problem (see Utilitarianism).  It’s not going to help to talk about wokeism as if it’s taking over the political left when there isn’t much reliable data on the size of the problem.  And unfortunately some of the people I respect have made this error.  I think a lot of people wouldn’t have voted for Trump if their fear of wokeism was in proportion to reliable data.

    I mostly agree with the centrist criticism of the woke left.  I just think many have made a serious error in not communicating the proportion of the problem accurately which has resulted in many people losing focus on the many other important issues facing democracy. Trump had more than 70 million votes for Christ’s sake! 

    The irony is, a lot of the criticism you hear–even from some public intellectuals–often involves a general claim that the left are shooting themselves in the foot by driving more folks from the centre left to the right.  But what these people (many of the so-called IDK) don’t seem to understand, is by addressing wokeism by using sweeping generalizations, they themselves are also driving more folks away from the centre and to the right.  Again, some of these people I really respect.  So it’s frustrating to see.

    And then you have these influencers like Gad Saad, Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson etc.  They’re nothing more than a cover band of marauding pseudo-intellectuals who are only interested in persuasion insofar as it feeds their own egoes.  They have much in common with PZ Myers, but on the other side of the political spectrum.

    1. I found this a poll from last month showing 1/3 of registered US voters consider themselves “woke”. There was also a Rasmussen poll from July indicating only 26% of Americans think we have free speech, with 65% thinking that people need to observe political correctness to avoid getting into trouble.

      It’s hard for me to know what to make of this. I’m generally in favor of PC-observance in the workplace, which to my mind amounts to not acting in a boorish manner. I think at least some of the motivation for identifying as “woke” has to do with acknowledging American’s ugly past regarding slavery, discrimination, and genocide, and also acknowledging the wide gaps that remain. Unfortunately, these elements are too often coupled with defenses of rioting, property destruction, and over-the-top callouts (re: cultural appropriation, racial platitudes, etc).

      You mention the popularity (outside of the far left) of Peterson and others, and I do find that puzzling. How can people not sniff out a charlatan like Peterson from a mile away? Just take a look at his ridiculous figures from “Maps of Meaning”, his magnum opus. From his more recent output, Peterson’s main message seems to be: tend your own garden, don’t engage in politics. It’s exactly the sort of thing you would expect elites to spread in a time of social upheaval.

    2. “And then you have these influencers like Gad Saad, Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson etc.”

      I’m making my way through Gad Saad’s “The Parasitic Mind.” (It might be more accurate to say “parasitized.”) So far so good.

      Starting on pg. 11, Professor Saad greatly emphasizes what he calls “The Truth Ideal.” On page 12 he says: “The quest for truth should always supersede one’s [sic] ego-defensive desire to be proven right.” On page 13 he says, ” . . . I am so offended by individuals who exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect, that is, a self-assuredness and supreme confidence despite one’s [sic] idiocy . . . .”

      I can’t disagree with that. However, from reading his Twitter comments and listening to his podcast, he does not apply this ideal/standard to Trump. I don’t recall his saying one word about Trump’s lying. (His excuse may be that the focus of his book is Wokeness, not Trump and his ilk. I don’t see how that reasonably prevents him from otherwise holding forth on Trump’s lying, his perversion of the truth.)

      He advises one to separate Trump’s behavior from his policies (a couple of which are good – like his opposition to CRT used in diversity training and the requirement for reasonable due process in sexual harassment/assault cases). IIRC, he has said that he has no problem with Trump’s behavior. (I could possibly see that IF Trump did not lie. Perhaps in Dr. Saad’s view Trump simply cannot lie too much, “The Truth Ideal” notwithstanding.)

      He expertly employs satire in pricking the bubbles of ego and delusional thinking. He also advocates humor, though to me it wears a little thin in his periodic, repeated reference to Biden as “avocado brain.” To my knowledge he has not yet voiced a vegetative comparison to Trump’s brain. Why not? Perhaps there is no vegetable sufficiently worthy to be compared to Trump’s scintillating cognitive prowess.

      1. ” one’s [sic] ego-defensive desire to be proven right.” On page 13 he says, ” . . . I am so offended by individuals who exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect, that is, a self-assuredness and supreme confidence despite one’s [sic]”

        Why the “sic”s ? “one’s” is correct here, as the possessive.

        1. “Why the “sic”s ? “one’s” is correct here, as the possessive.”

          Based on a brief Google search, I cheerily acknowledge the efficacy of your statement, and the existence of, so to speak, (somewhat arbitrary) “Received Grammar.”

          I take it that one examines the structure (“context”?) of the sentence to determine whether one is dealing with the possessive or with “one is.” I reasonably think that “ones” would dispense with the necessity of having to make that determination. In this regard, I see no fundamental difference between “one” and “it,” in that the apparent “Received Grammar” has decreed that the possessive of “it” is “its.”

  20. As a non American these elections do not make sense. Usually the party and it candidate gets the boot as the people vote for change. In this election.. assuming there was no fraud..only the President lost.. Republicans have gained seats in the house and are almost on the verge of taking the senate.

    1. I don’t thinks it’s all that odd. In 2016, Trump won the presidency, but Democrats did expand their numbers in both the house (+6) and senate (+2), but just not enough to take control of either chamber. Now 2020 is somewhat like an inversion of 2016, except that control of congress will presumably be split between the parties.

    2. The Republicans are still losing Senate seats though they may yet retain control. If the two runoff elections in Georgia on 1/5 go the Democrats way, then the Republicans will lose the Senate by making it 50/50 with the Vice President (ad Democrat) breaking the tie. The Republicans are expected to win those runoffs but I think they may not because Trump won’t be on the ballot.

  21. An aspect of this that recently occurred to me – I think that all the donations from the mega-wealthy to Woke groups played a role in voter dissatisfaction. I notice that all of the sudden some of the conservatives I know seem to have developed kinda paranoid feelings about companies like Amazon, whereas before Prime was kind of an all American thing that we all loved. It made me realize that lavish financial support from “the 1%”, done in such a public way, was probably viewed as a slap in the face by people who were not in agreement – especially in the face of riots and looting that really hurt small businesses. I mean from their perspective, some of the most powerful people in the country were loudly supporting the rioters, which would be a frightening dynamic. Fringe groups of college students with blue hair is one thing, those with real influence are another.

    I think that people already have very on-the-fence feelings about the mega wealthy in this country (on the one hand, such companies being American companies is a source of pride and standing on the world stage; on the other, there is increasing anger over income inequality,) and suspiciousness about the amount of influence, money, and power that is concentrating in the hands of a few people. I think watching them really pushing a political agenda made people pretty nervous, especially since it was a political agenda that turned out to be unpopular with a large percent of the population. That it happened right before the election made it even worse.

  22. It seems that many on the left, including people on this board, are committed to the easy explanation that people who vote for Trump are stupid racists.

    Fine, they’re all stupid racists. But in times past, such as the 80s, 90s, and early 21st century, many of these people voted for Democrats, including Barak Obama. So, it seems that their stupid racism often did not manifest into any discernable racist policies of the Democratic Party. Weird, eh?

    Perhaps, as Andrew Sullivan discussed on a recent podcast with Coleman Hughes, the things that keep him up at night about Trump and the Republicans, such as the long-term damage they are doing to our political systems and institutions, are simply not the concerns of the average person.

    Sullivan has a PhD in political science. I’ve heard him talk at length about political systems and the history of democracy…his knowledge of this topic is literally spans millennia. Next to him, I’m like an amoeba on this subject.

    Now let’s turn to a much more typical person…

    My neighbor is a very nice, Italian-American ex-cop who voted for Trump. He’s also somewhat xenophobic and anti-immigration. He embraces some 911 conspiracy theories. He’s been over many times at our house for the (pre-Covid) get-togethers we’d host.

    During one of these, I did (with the help of a friend who majored in US History) probe him a bit on his anti-immigration stances. We tried to leverage the fact that he himself was the product of fairly recent immigrants (his paternal grandparent). We talked about all the waves of immigrants that came to the US, the harsh conditions they faced, and the horrible stereotypes that they had to deal with. Did he know, for instance, that people from Southern Europe were considered by many in early 20th century to be “feeble-minded” based on the crude intelligence tests that they were subjected to?

    He did not know of this, and had only a vague understanding of the breadth and deep history of immigration in his own country. The two things my friend and I were trying to convey were a) that the waves of immigrants to the US were overall a huge benefit to the country and b) that your own ancestors were subjected to inaccurate stereotypes, so perhaps you should not use them against today’s immigrants!

    My buddy also recommended some books and podcasts on the topic so that he could read for himself.

    Where we successful in prosecuting these points? I don’t think so, as I heard him repeat the exact same Trumpish talking points on immigration to another neighbor a few months later.

    Which of course, is usually the case in these situations.

    Most people’s concerns, and their sphere of knowledge, are very local to them. Most people seem to form opinions on matters based on limited evidence, and emotion, and then….never really consider alternative evidence. Most people don’t read a lot of books (particularly of the nonfiction variety), and certainly not on matters that don’t affect them directly.

    The left need to reach these people at the level that concerns them. Ridiculing, lecturing, preaching…none of this will work. Figure out the concerns of the average voter, even if yes they are a bit racist, parochial, philistine, and generally underinformed compared to you, and then meet them there.

    Either that, or keep getting “surprised” at these elections….

    1. “The left need to reach these people at the level that concerns them.”

      You seem to provide evidence that directly contradicts your advice, to “meet them there”. You failed to do so. How do you propose “the left” accomplish the task?

      1. I do think the Dems need to reach these people but they shouldn’t indulge their fantasies like Trump does. For many, their jobs aren’t coming back. They need to come to grips with that and not get sucked in by people that promise the moon. Also, many of them think that while they are poor and don’t like their jobs, most who live in cities or on the coasts are relatively well-off. That may be statistically true but probably not to the extent they believe. This makes them susceptible to “the system is rigged against you” arguments.

      2. “You failed to do so. How do you propose “the left” accomplish the task?”

        Right, I failed to do so.

        I think what would have been better was to try to find the underlying reason for the anti-immigration (perhaps it is fear of losing jobs), and try to focus more on that. An abstract history lesson won’t do it.

        The fact that I can’t execute a winning strategy does not necessarily mean the strategy is wrong. If I were talented in that way that good politicians need to be, I’d try to run for office myself.

        I’m not a professional politician…I expect more of those folks the way I expect more out of the elementary school teacher as opposed to me trying to teach a class of kids.

        1. Well, that’s pretty easy advice to give…. “You should do better. I have no idea what you should do.” And not very useful.

          My own view is that Democrats should push for good policies that broadly enhance the lives of citizens whether they be supporters or not. Worrying about how to convince a xenophobe to not fear immigrants is a waste of time.

          1. I have to disagree here. It’s reasonable to describe a problem in detail while admitting that one doesn’t know the solution. In fact, it is a necessary first step in coming up with a solution.

            Your “solution” is not much either. “Push for good policies that broadly enhance the lives of citizens” is hardly a detailed platform. Everyone should advocate for that solution all the time.

            It is going to be hard to convince people they shouldn’t be xenophobes but I believe it can be done. Much of it will take care of itself as immigrants increase their presence in all communities. Once there are taco trucks on every corner, it will be harder and harder to maintain the xenophobia. In fact, I suspect that many young voters who have classmates from other countries are already over it. There are probably things that can be done to hurry the process along.

            1. I note that the two things you identify are not actions that you have taken to convince anyone of anything… they are simply allowing time to pass. You finish with exactly what blitz offered, “something”, an unspecified mystery meat, a shrug and a hope.

              1. True but I didn’t say it was the only thing that can be done. I’ll admit it is a tough problem.

          2. “Well, that’s pretty easy advice to give…. “You should do better. I have no idea what you should do.” And not very useful.”

            It’s a bit more than “you should do better.” It’s a call to recognize things like identity politics, elitist pet projects like 1619, radical transgenderism, Defund the Police, and the general disdain the left seems to hold for those who are not as ideologically pure as them, as the massive failures that they are.

            That means rolling up one’s sleeves and tackling real problems that affect typical folks, even if they are Trump voters.

            Again, the fact the I can realize that my basement keeps flooding and needs attention does not necessarily mean that I have the knowledge to fix it. But ignorance of the latter does not mean I have incorrectly diagnosed the underlying problem.

            1. We are all actors on the political stage. Calling on somebody else to figure out solutions while claiming to be diagnosticians seems (and I mean this without insult) lazy.

              1. Ok, how about this…

                “Hey, left politician. I’m interested in improving the plight of black people. But I think that the left has largely misdiagnosed the problems that affect black people and therefore the solutions, to the extent any have been proposed, are doomed to fail.
                So rather than focusing so much on vague references to racism, “hate speech laws”, etc. can you do something more concrete? For example, Dr. Glenn Loury has proposed a number of practical initiatives to empower black people, things that require hard work not just sloganeering. If yo u promise to work towards these kinds of solutions, you’ll have my vote, and I’ll do whatever I can as a private citizen to support your efforts.”

              2. That works for me, assuming these specific initiatives actually exist. (I’ll take your word for it.)

        2. My take is that opinions that are formed via emotion often have to be changed via emotion. There are various “emotion driven” ways one can go about that – moving personal testimonies, social pressure, charismatic speakers talking about the topic, etc. – but for better or for worse, I think this is how human minds often work.

    2. Trump voters are not all racist but, for those that aren’t, racism is either unimportant or ignorant of what Trump stands for. Perhaps this is why Clinton only put half his supporters in the “deplorables” category.

      Many legal immigrants are against illegal immigration. They feel like they worked hard to get here and don’t like to see others make it without also working hard. Some are against legal immigration, perhaps feeling like every new immigrant dilutes their prestige as members of an exclusive club, or simply more competition.

      1. “Perhaps this is why Clinton only put half his supporters in the “deplorables” category.”

        You mean “her”. It was Hillary who said that, at least initially.

        I don’t think Bill would have done that…seemed to many observers that it was a political misstep and for all his faults, Bill did have a better way of connecting with people.

          1. Right, but either way, not a good move on her part.

            How generous of her to put only half of Trump’s supporters in that category.

            I guess it was a gamble…alienate millions of voters in exchange for energizing your base or something?

              1. Also probably not true empirically. HALF of his voters…really? How did she define “deplorable”, and what data did she use to get to 50%.

                Granting that some of his voters were truly “deplorable”, the actual number of those folks was/is probably a lot smaller than 50% of his base.

                So, it’s not like she was bravely stating a politically inconvenient fact…it was probably an exaggeration in the first place. So it’s a double-error.

              2. I think many people will say “half” when they really mean “some”. IMHO, it’s allowable when the property being claimed is also vague. This makes it not a very serious statement. Clinton shouldn’t have said it but I also think that it shouldn’t have been blown up in the media as it was.

    3. I think your point is a good one, about trying to meet those with whom we disagree. But has your neighbor revised his prejudices? What is the pathway forward when someone actively resists any self-reflection or is immune to evidence and reason? It’s quite the conundrum.

  23. “What is the pathway forward when someone actively resists any self-reflection or is immune to evidence and reason?”

    People may be immune or resistant to certain types of evidence and ways of reasoning, but perhaps there are other ways of reaching them.

    To use the teaching analogy again…very talented teachers are able to reach kids that lesser teachers can’t. I’m sure studies have been made of why these teachers are more effective, and how others can use that information to improve their own teaching performance.

    I’m assuming something similar for politicians.

  24. It could be a backlash against wokeism, but I think Occam’s razor might suggest a simpler solution:

    Republican voters that voted for Biden are still Republican voters that voted for Republican candidates down-ballot.

  25. Bill Maher addressed the seeming mystery of citizens who voted against Trump, but then also voted against down-ticket Democratic candidates. His point is that the Democratic Party has gotten itself identified with positions and types of verbiage that do not help its electoral prospects.

    Abolition of prisons and the police has long been a major hobby-horse of Angela Davis. [On the other hand, Professor Davis took a far more favorable view of the police/prison system in East Germany, extolling the heroic guardians of the Berlin Wall during her 1972 pilgrimage there.] In 2020, acolytes of this campaign backed off from the phrase “abolish the police” in favor of the odd, bureaucratic-sounding “defund the police”. This bit of weasel-wording could be called comical, were not the word “asinine” so much more appropriate. Next, in a few places City Councilors who describe themselves as “Progressive” chose to meet this proposal halfway. Their measures, half-defunding the police, are most charitably described as half- asinine. Seattle authorities enhanced the image of laxness by allowing a small section of the city to become a police-free protest summer camp for 3 weeks.

    In the election, it is likely that quite a few citizens voted against Donald Trump, but then, in light of precisely the word games summarized above, voted against down-ticket candidates associated with “Progressive” verbiage. As Bill Maher points out, the public mind will associate Dem candidates with every remark made by other “Progressives”, unless the candidates disassociate themselves strongly from both the asinine and the half-asinine.

  26. The hypothesis to test here is: “The Dems under-performed down-ballot largely because of Wokeness”. Like a scientist we can ask what observations might strengthen or weaken this hypothesis?

    1. the Dems never tied Trump to Republicans but rather considered him an aberration to otherwise “decent” GOP; in fact they went out of the way to say that Republicans are (kind of) fine and the main problem is Trump (they even welcomed GOP’s John McCain’s wife as their campaign advisor, welcomed the Lincoln project calling them the good republicans and even had John Kasich give a speech in Biden’s nomination conference). Should the Dems have forced the message that the Republicans are just as toxic as Trump? Could it be that the fact that they did not do so meant people shied away from Trump but not his party?

    2. could it be that the Dems had a really bad ground game / personal campaigning – this is stuff that is widely acknowledged that the Republicans invested in while the Dems did not. In absence of this, the down-ballot stuff really suffers (everybody knows Biden whether you have a “ground game” or not)

    3. could it be true that the Trump campaign had an excellent ‘digital outreach’ where they freely peddle lies and conspiracies, especially potent during the pandemic. Beto O’Rourke (no flaming radical) admitted as much – see his email here: https://twitter.com/PatrickSvitek/status/1326965359744864257

    4. can the toxicity of the “Woke” agenda explain how Biden lost somewhat moderate Ohio (in spite of the blessings of local GOP guy Kasich) but still won in deep-red Georgia (where Stacey Abrams’ “woke” machine put in the hard work as is widely acknowledged in the aftermath of the election?)

    5. did Biden or down-ballot democrats start dropping down in opinion polls / people’s voting intentions since some of the defining “woke” events of the last few months – eg: BLM protests, tearing down statues, etc? Note – there were opinion polls that showed people did not like some of these protests but it did not change their voting intentions

    6. contrary to the point above which says Biden did not have a ‘ground game’ at all, the real get out to vote work in the ‘blue wall’ states of Michigan and Minnesota was done by the “woke” machine of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (not Biden) – if it had not been for the efforts of these “woke” politicians in Detroit and Minneapolis, Biden was unlikely to win either of these 2 states almost certainly throwing the election outcome in jeopardy (especially given the GOP shenanigans in Pennsylvania). In presence of a competent ground game in Michigan and Minnesota (which the Biden campaign did not have anywhere else, least of all in Florida) did the down-ballot races for Dems have a better outcome compared to states where they had no ground game?

    7. while more minorities voted for the GOP this time, do we have the data for whether this happened in states outside of Texas (where a massive digital propaganda campaign was unleashed by Trump targeting minorities) and Florida (which has disproportionately large numbers of Cubans and Venezuelans who are sympathetic to the GOP and who were also targeted on whatsapp by false memes and conspiracies)?

    8. does the hypothesis we are testing explain how woke politicans who pushed policies such as ‘Medicare for all’, ‘$15 minimum wage’, ‘student debt cancellation’, ‘legalising marijuana’ almost all won (as far as I can tell of the 100+ members of the House progressive caucus, only 1 pushing Medicare4All lost – this is a much bigger success rate than ‘blue dog’ anti-woke democrats in this cycle). These “woke” politicians also won in swing districts (eg: Katie Porter, one of the new additions in the House in the last cycle)

    9. does the hypothesis we are testing explain how anti-woke politicians like Colin Peterson who explicitly and very vehemently expressed how anti-woke he is lost in Minnesota; as did Max Rose in NY who ran his campaign opposing BLM and Bill de Blasio’s alleged fondness for them?

    Now one may agree with some of the above points or not; perhaps some of the above points are incorrect and may be explained by some other mechanism. However one cannot just wave them all away and stick with their favourite hypothesis. When we make a claim in science we test it in various ways – perhaps use control cases if they exist. Social science is just as complicated and one has the right to embrace their pet theory. But it does not make it right. Someone (it is beyond my paygrade and intellect) would need to put in the hard work and then draw conclusions whether “wokeness” caused Dems the down-ballot races. Bill Maher and his people certainly haven’t put in this work. My hypothesis till then is that this is just a kind of “confirmation bias” – all the more remarkable because there is an article today on this website excoriating just that.

    1. Pity you had to diss the host here as well as making a comment that was too long. I never claimed my argument was based on scientific data, but was my opinion alone. Learn some civility if you’re going to post here; you either will apologize or never post here again.

      1. When we offer opinions on what are considered topics in “hard” sciences such as physics, biology, etc, we are all far more circumspect, hedge our views and defer to experts. We would not care much what Bill Maher thinks of quantum mechanics or evolutionary theory. While topics in social sciences seem superficially accessible, I would be more interested in the views of academics who put in the hard work than what celebrities with a big soapbox think.

        I do acknowledge that on rereading the previous post it does come across as a little uncivil – this was not my intention – for that I apologise.

      2. Post #30 raises some interesting points, worth explication. On point #6, it would be informative to see data on the role of Reps. Omar and Tlaib, and of their local machines, in the overall results in their states. As to Minnesota, Wiki reports: “Biden flipped four counties Trump carried in 2016: Clay, Nicollet, Blue Earth, and Winona (all won by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). Biden improved on Clinton’s 2016 margins in the Twin Cities metro area,[4] and he performed well in the Iron Range[5] — he had the backing of United Steelworkers (USW)[6] based on Biden’s stance on collective bargaining and worker’s rights. Per exit polls by the Associated Press, Biden carried whites with 51% and union households with 55%.” Likewise in Michigan, Biden carried union households by 56% to 42%, per exit polls. Accordingly, support from organized labor, rather than the machines of woke politicians, seems to have been an important factor at the top of the ballot.

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