Archive for November 3, 2018

Last night I invested several hours listening to the debate on populism between Steve Bannon and David Frum on the November Munk debate.  I turned out to me largely worth it, an enjoyable and surprisingly civil debate.  You can, of course, see the video of it on their site, which would allow you to digest it in smaller doses.

A few thoughts:

  1. The hype and protest against the debate because of Bannon’s “hate speech” was largely undeserved. Now, make no mistake that I disagree with Bannon very strongly and find some of his ideas disturbing.  However, I also believe that the standard has to be very high in order for something to be banned and labelled hate speech.  I saw the film on Bannon at TIFF (which was not protested) and have seen several other interviews, and I’ve never witnessed the level of hateful ideas that would be necessary to ban him as a speaker.  I can’t speak for all of his comments in past years, but what I’ve seen and what I saw last night did not rise to that level.  He’s not a David Duke or a Milo.
  2. I think that Bannon’s ideas are appealing because he is relatively good at pointing at real questions and issues. Like Sartre, he sees the problems, but has no acceptable answers.  I can agree that a form of “elite”, -the ones who caused the 2008 crash for example-, had and still have too much power.  I agree that there is a political class that needs to be shaken up.  But stating a problem doesn’t mean that any old answer/solution is worth trying.  Desperation is not a good motivator when it comes to political standards, and in this case the proof of the pudding was and is very much in the tasting.
    At the very beginning of his opening comment he stated that populism was inevitable and that the only question was whether it would be capitalist or socialist (like Bernie Sanders) populism.  Oddly, he never returned to that point in order to argue the benefits of one type over the other.  Personally I don’t think that either is inevitable, but if that was his thesis, it certainly would have been a point worth pursuing.
  3. The debate, as I said, was very civil and highly informative on both sides. It was worth the wait for it to get started (because of the protestors) and the hours of listening.  Unfortunately the ending was seriously marred by confusion over the audience voting on the question in order to determine a “winner”.  As is the tradition in debates, they polled the audience on the question at the beginning and at the end.  They also, however, added an additional poll as to what percentage of the audience considered themselves willing to change their minds as a result of persuasion in the debate.  The debate was running late and so the ending was rushed.  The result they announced was a win by Bannon with over a 30% shift.  This immediately seemed suspicious considering the amount of laughter at many of Bannon’s statements and the distribution of applause.  As near as I can tell, it turns out that they mistakenly used the numbers for those willing to change their minds instead of those that actually changed their minds, as those numbers are conveniently identical.  Later, on the Face Book site, they posted that the numbers did not shift from the beginning to the end, which makes far more sense.  Bannon’s performance was certainly not stellar enough to cause a 30 point shift.
    Of course this unfortunately gave rise to comments about “fake news” and a “liberal conspiracy”.  What is far more likely is that some poor tech person hit the wrong button or that the system glitched.  But hopefully they will issue a clear and accurate explanation on either the web site or FB page.  To not do this would place a serious blemish on the Munk Debates.
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