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The Marshmallows-in-the-Tea Effect.

If you don’t have marshmallows in your tea today, tomorrow you may have none.

In politics, much of the discourse and legal wrangling arises from alternate realities of what could happen. Slippery slopes are one form among many, where the claustrophobia of the many possible futures leads otherwise reasonable (if conniving) people and organizations to make bad law and bad claims.

There is probably a better term for this, but being ignorant I made my own. Call it the marshmallows-in-the-tea effect. Your sister and you, feeling the cold of winter, decide to make some warm beverages. You elect for cocoa and she’s having tea. But when serving time comes around, she demands half of the marshmallows. “In tea?!” you ask her. But she insists, and even though it ruins the tea, she plops her marshmallows in there.

Your sister, bless her heart, doesn’t want marshmallows in her tea, but she fears that if she willingly gives up her ration of marshmallows today, she might not be able to claim them in the future.

It seems that about half the stupid positions taken by organizations can be traced back to this FOMO-related reaction. It’s better to take a tax cut and not need it than need one and not be able to take it, the agent for the rich person believes. The Office of Legal Counsel readily argues for executive supremacy even when it weakens the design of the Constitution. Business lobbies and Republicans alike fearmonger over the slightest and most reasonable changes to law, to policy, and to regulation, by playing up fears that it’s not just a slippery slope, but an express elevator to hell.

The underlying problem that gives rise to the practice is insecurity. If an organization feels like they will get a fair shake in the long run, they won’t need to raise bad-faith defenses to protect their turf, because they know if a change overreaches, it will be swiftly corrected. It is only when the systems at play become so unwieldy and strangled by factions that these actors feel they must resort to protecting even the tiniest authorities or theoretical powers they hold.

For example: CNN: Erica Orden: 8 June 2021: “Why the Biden Justice Department wants to help Donald Trump fight a defamation lawsuit”. It’s obvious that the presidency does not empower defamation. But the Justice Department and the executive want to burn no bridge, even a bridge to nowhere. The idea is that at some future battle for Middle Earth, this supposed authority could be all that stops Sauron’s push to reconquer the lands of men. Yawn.

There is another side of the marshmallows-in-the-tea, which is in our own lives. What small changes or different ways of thinking or acting do we resist out of fear it will change you too much? We all have insecurities in our lives and in our minds, the things that bug us. And our minds have the marshmallow-in-the-tea defense mechanism in place to keep us from moving too quickly in any direction, only to find our lives completely destabilized.

But we, like the institutions and politicians, must be careful not to drink tea with marshmallows when we could simply choose not to.

Conservative Insecurity and Media

Cultural insecurity weakens conservatives’ cultural role, creating a feedback loop.

Not all media pleases us. A statement that is true for all. I don’t follow sports, for example. The conservative view of media is different. To some extent they may even believe the mainstream media is meant to attack them for who they are rather than attacking their political positions. Even when they don’t, they often see mainstream media and culture as nothing but a middle-finger to them. It’s a cultural issue, but also one of how conservative tastes seem to run.

If you spend some time in the history of media (say, 1800–present), one fact stands out: for a long time and continuing to today there has always been an element of pandering, of coddling the readership. If you read about how southern newspapers treated the civil rights movement, for example, it was often to spare the feelings big and small of the White southerner and to be vicious and remorseless toward the Black population. At other points in history and in various contexts, similar behavior against various out-groups.

And that is what conservative media reminds most of. It is that warm, soft blanket wrapped around the shoulders of the poor victim of the big bad world, the conservative reader or viewer. That seems to be key to their taste in media. At times and places the mainstream media retains that tendency toward its new audience. It’s not as constant or obvious, partly because of the diversity of the mainstream audience, but it does still exist. And at other times the target of affection remains the conservatives, particularly when they cry outrage, convince the mainstream that an issue is important or controversial, that reversion to the old media comes out: poor downtrodden conservatives, oh huddled mass of conservative Christians being set upon by the evils of diversity or common sense.

The loss of local and regional publishing likely has made the media world all the harsher for conservatives, as they no longer have their woobie. While conservative media is successful at pandering and peddling bullshit to sell bullshit, they do not have the same local touch that the bygone papers did. The biggest factor in local and regional publishing was that it was the paper of record, being required for all business-types, and therefore a privileged publication whose pandering was seen as part of the very fabric of society, business, and culture. The modern talk radio or right-wing websites have no such honor or distinction.

But as lame as it all is, yes, there is still sympathy in my heart for their frustration. I don’t want to subscribe to Fox News, particularly as it becomes more racist and extreme (partly in response to other, even worse conservative media), but good luck finding a streaming service or cable service that lets you opt out. Hell, I don’t necessarily want to subscribe to MSNBC or CNN, either. I avoid cable news, and I only watch local news when there’s bad weather.

Not subscribing is one thing, but trying to avoid the general mainstream viewpoints about the world would be about as easy as avoiding plastic. So, damn tough for conservatives who genuinely feel affronted by the media. It’s usually not media bias—the world is the world—but it’s still uncomfortable for them.

Even things as wholesome as children’s media has problems for conservatives. Their kid’s friends all like some wizard orphan thing, and oh God! are they inviting that devilry into their home? It’s tough to think your values are pitted against letting your kid seem normal to their peers.

The setting-apart of conservatives, whether in conservative media or conservative Christian media, results in a kind of feedback loop. They are a smaller portion of the mainstream audience and their political policies are unpalatable (except for some business policies), so they get a harsher treatment by the media and culture. That makes them even less likely to engage in mainstream media, and they cut themselves off even more.

Longstanding issues that have taken on new outrage, like cancel culture, must be looked at in terms of the overall conservative relationship with the media. Conservatives often try to organize boycotts and other retaliation for particular media targets they find offensive, and their actions must be understood in terms of defensiveness and insecurity, rather than as noble exercises in protecting family values. Meanwhile, their exceptions to cancel culture are mostly virtue-signaling about their general distaste in the mainstream culture.

The value of families and cultures is that ultimately we get to decide what’s appropriate, mediated through our communities. While one hopes there’s broad agreement that economic structures that prevent, for example, unsubscribing from media outlets we despise, and while we do suffer some loss of beloved media, there’s no question it’s a valid expression of the public to make their voice heard.

Any attempt to reform conservativism needs culture-policy reform. That’s especially apparent when seen in terms of the media issues. More moderate conservatives likely already don’t care that much about the mainstream media, except when it rails on conservatives per se. They count themselves in that group, even as they aren’t particularly insecure or down for the more extreme conservative media. Having some kind of moderate-conservative movement would allow the mainstream media and culture to create a distinction: mod-cons and the rest. That would spare the moderates from the shame and bother that is put upon the far-right, while giving those farther to the right a real path back toward the mainstream.

Don Bigly and the Budget of Doom

Mathematically incoherent. Cruel and unusual. Just plain dumb. All apt descriptors of the new budget proposal by the Trump Administration.

The budget proposes to cut all sorts of things for no good reason. If this were the product of a federal contractor, they would be ripe for a suit under the False Claims Act for defrauding the government by providing a work that missed the mark so widely it could only be intentional.

Without going into detail (I like to keep this blog to a strictly R rating), this budget may qualify as obscenity. It certainly appeals to the prurient interest of certain partisans, and it does depict an excretory function in a patently offensive way (i.e., through numbers). It is unclear whether it holds any value.

But the Republican legislators largely acknowledge it’s another bad deal by the king of bad deals. Even the White House gave that fact a nod. So why put this forward? Under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 (31 USC) they have to submit a budget.

This is another pro forma, half-assed attempt by this president. Instead of coming up with something that tries to strike a balance, tries to set the legislature on the path to a real deal, to real progress, he just has his under-equipped staff of loyalists throw together whatever they want, and then he will say it’s the greatest thing ever.

Every presidency has missed opportunities, but for an unlikely presidency such as this, there seem to be no real attempts to hit anything. The budget doesn’t define any real goal. It doesn’t say that some programs are priorities. It says they’re all liabilities and we should just cut everything. Republicans like to talk about tough choices, but in practice that seems to be saying no to everything.

No to weather models and no to cancer research. No to SNAP, but also no to trade assistance. The tough choice this president offers is “no” or “no.”