28

On March 4th, a user posted the question "Is President Donald Trump a racist?". Moderator Philipp closed this question a few minutes later with the reason "Promotes or discredits a specific political cause". The author of the question criticized this decision in the comments as follows:

Your assessment is completely wrong. I came at this with an open mind, and looking for answers. The fact that I haven't found any evidence to support the charge of racism against President Trump does not mean I have "got an opinion". You are abusing your power as a moderator. Shameful!

This question is thoroughly researched and referenced. It is impartial and transparent (no ulterior motives). It asked for fact-based answers. All you've done is shut down the conversation and demean the site.

Lastly, my friend, since you're speculating about my motives (which I thought wasn't allowed on this site), allow me to speculate about yours: You have your own personal views about Trump (I've read your comments in the past) and are unwilling or unable to fairly moderate the comments / answers that may be posted here. So instead of handling the job, you shut down the entire conversation.

How does the moderation team reply to these accusations?

  • 13
    My 2 cents: while it is possible to get evidence to back up or contradict a question such as "is X a racist", it is mainly a judgment call on their character. You could equally say "is Trump an idiot" and there could be evidence provided from either side of the debate. A problem about character assessment though is that it is, by definition, ad-hominem! A more meaningful question, in my opinion, would be "are X's political policies racist in nature" or whatever – Stumbler Mar 14 at 15:51
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    Why wasn't it closed for being not about politics as defined in the help center? iirc, this is a Skeptics question already. – Mazura Mar 15 at 0:49
  • It's a fairly fact-based yes or no question. The definition is straightforward and Trump talks a lot, so there should either be supporting evidence, or no supporting evidence. – Chloe Mar 18 at 20:55
35

I have been a moderator on this site for quite a while and am pretty active on the site myself. So I think I have quite a lot of experience with how the community reacts to certain questions.

Let me tell you what would have happened if I had left that question open.

Phase 1: The big Trump roast

The mostly Anti-Trump audience of the community would have had a field day with this question. They would have combed every statement by Trump ever made which could be interpreted as racist. They would have posted several answers which would have displayed Trump as the greatest racist since Hitler. And all of these answers would have received plenty of upvotes from like-minded people who enjoy reading Trump getting roasted.

Phase 2: The HNQ crowd arrives

Due to all the highly upvoted answers, the question will become a hot network question. People from all around the Stack Exchange network flock to the question. The few but vocal Trump supporters among the whole Stack Exchange community will not have it that their president gets discredited like that. They will jump into the comments and attack the authors. The comment threads will begin with angry rebuttals and then drift into whataboutism and petty name-calling.

Phase 3: The mod shutdown

Confronted with dozens of flags for "harassment, bigotry, or abuse", "unfriendly or unkind", "no longer needed" and "rollback war" we have no choice but to shut down these flamewars. All the comments get nuked, a few answers get protected and a few people (on both sides of the issue) get suspended for abusive behavior.

Phase 4: The Pro-Trump faction retaliates

Feeling censored by the mod shutdown, the Trump supporters will feel like they have to respond in kind and make similar questions about their political opponents. Expect questions like "Is Bernie Sanders a Stalinist?", "Is AOC financially illiterate?" and "Does Nancy Pelosi hate America?". And because we allowed "Is Trump a racist?" we can not close those unless we want to get accused of favoring one side over the other.

Conclusion

Yes, I "shut down the conversation", but I did so in the interest of the site and also in the interest of the Trump supporters, because they would have gotten the short end of the stick here.

Did my personal opinion of Donald Trump affect this decision? Of course I have a personal opinion about Donald Trump. How can one have any interest in politics and not have one? But the fact is, as a European, it isn't really that relevant for me what happens on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Not completely irrelevant, but there are still things which happen around here which occupy my mind a lot more. Yes, US politics make for good entertainment in Europe, but I am not actually as emotional about it as you might think.

What I do care about, though, is that the current political climate in the United States polarizes the community into two blocks which are incapable of talking to each other in a civilized manner when it comes to certain topics. And if we want this website to fulfill its purpose of being a question & answer website which explains politics and political processes in an objective and neutral manner, we can not allow it to turn into another flamewar battleground.

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    Phase 2 becomes irrelevant/non-applicable after a few hours – Put on-hold for 24hrs and re-open, this problem will no longer be one. // This polarisation is visible on quite a few other items. Try a divisive topic about Russia, Germany, socialism, atomic weapons, economics, death penalty, etc. That list is endless and the polarisation increases in all fields. I guess we shouldn't preemptively shutdown all those 'conversations'. You diagnose a social problem and propose a technical solution. As the wrong tool for the job in principle, I think that's a mistake. – LangLangC Mar 6 at 12:43
  • To clarify: PoliticsSE esp doesn't benefit from having a POB close reason, and the pushy reason is also sometimes hard to follow in its logic. But it suffers from tribalist identity behaviour of quite a number of users informing their battle-ready voting and commenting behaviour and expectations. If that gets amplified via HNQ, most threads are lost regarding "our model": votes being reflective of quality. Have no solution for 'social' either, but I think a more general approach to be applied to all topics and posts equally is needed. As HNQdeterioration is technical: why not auto-hold those? – LangLangC Mar 6 at 13:01
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    Phase 4 - retaliation - is the best reason to shut down those partisan questions ASAP. – Sjoerd Mar 6 at 22:20
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    Now I want to ask whether Bernie Sanders really is a Stalinist :-) – Valorum Mar 7 at 15:13
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    Is this a new policy? Does it apply to older questions? – Alexander O'Mara Mar 7 at 22:01
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    @AlexanderO'Mara It is not a policy. It was a one time judgment call. – Philipp Mar 11 at 10:14
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    I hope so... I'd hate to see this done to otherwise on-topic questions... Fortunately, this wasn't one of them. – Alexander O'Mara Mar 11 at 19:41
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    Re HNQ again: Updating the Hot Network Questions List - now with a bit more network and a little less "hotness"! Could mods and comunity form an opinion and policy on this, rather quickly? – LangLangC Mar 12 at 1:30
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    "The few but vocal Trump supporters among the whole Stack Exchange community will not have it that their president gets discredited like that." Why are you asserting that Trump supporters are few on Stack Exchange? – jpmc26 Mar 14 at 1:37
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    @AlexanderO'Mara the title of that q is certainly much more flexible than the one under discussion - note it doesn't say 'Is Hillary Clinton an x...' but 'what did she say or do to seem' which clearly allows for the answers to say 'this, but it was misinterperated' – Orangesandlemons Mar 14 at 12:48
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    @Orangesandlemons But on the other hand, the actual question of "untrustworthy" is ridiculously subjective, especially compared to racism. That question is and always was off-topic, for other reasons than Philipps answer suggests. – Alexander O'Mara Mar 14 at 19:05
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    "incapable of talking to each other in a civilized manner" - "The few but vocal Trump supporters among the whole Stack Exchange community will not have it that their president gets discredited like that. They will jump into the comments and attack the authors." - So that's "their" problem, and your job to delete those crap comments. Asking for a list of everything he ever said that could be construed as racist is a valid SE question (valid at this specific site, perhaps not). Closing a question because people will be idiots is not a valid reason. – Mazura Mar 15 at 0:22
  • Hey man, we're just about to get the feature to manually kick a question from HNQ. – Joshua Mar 19 at 23:16
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    @Orangesandlemons : If I understand correctly, a question labelled "What specifically did Donald Trump say or do to seem racist?" would have been closed by Philipp for the very same reasons : fear of the four phases described above. – Evargalo Mar 20 at 9:48
  • I'm afraid that tit-for-tat bad questions are becominng the norm lately politics.stackexchange.com/questions/40642/… – Fizz Apr 16 at 17:52
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I agree with SamIAm that your question is too meta, and because of that seems to promote a specific cause, which is off-topic (I would disagree with Philipp, that a potentially on-topic question can/should be closed because it could cause additional off-topic commentary).

I would remove all that irrelevant meta commentary (which would basically leave you with the last quote).

But I would also shift the question. "Is Trump a racist?" goes to the very core of his character, which we can't really analyze (and which nobody has even claimed in the comments you highlight). Why does Trump act the way he does? Does he believe what he says, or does he say it for other reasons? Is someone who says racist things, enables racists, or pushes racist policies a racist, even when he doesn't believe in it?

These questions are very difficult to properly answer in the SE format (though anyone can easily form their own opinion by eg looking at the racial views of Donald Trump).

But let's get back to your comment that led you to ask the question:

I haven't been able to find a single policy by this president that is predicated on racism.

"Are there policies by the Trump administration that disproportionally negatively affect non-white people?" or "Has the Trump administration strenghened or weakend civil rights policies?" would eg seem like specific questions that could be answered.

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    This. There were some good reasons to close that question. I just don't understand why Phillip saw the need to apparently invent a new one, and disappear when asked about it. – Alexander O'Mara Mar 9 at 19:54
  • Thanks for the feedback. – Michael_B Mar 12 at 3:28
  • I'm not sure I see the connection though between a question being "too meta" and "promoting a specific cause". What's the correlation? Maybe I just don't understand what you mean. – Michael_B Mar 12 at 3:37
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    One of the few times I'm in agreement with you. One thing I can't stand about progressive discourse/approach is their tendency to label things with subjective negative labels to demonize the opponents. Specifically, one can objectively argue over disparate impact, based on facts; the moment you start labeling disparate impact "racist" you are imposing your own subjective definition to shut down debate ("you are a cat hater because by my own subjective definition anyone who doesn't hunt dogs is a cat hater"). – user4012 Mar 18 at 2:46
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I'm going to go ahead and post some of my thoughts on the question in question, specifically, where it might have problems.

  1. The majority of your question is a meta-commentary about other questions. This meta-commentary is mostly dead weight, and should be drastically reduced if not outright removed from your question.
  2. Your question cited a Professor and an Encyclopedia, and included a fair bit of analysis. I understand that many top users on Politics.SE ask you for this stuff, but for me personally, it triggers the part of my brain that tells me it's a push question. You're actually better off without it. I wish people would stop encouraging this stuff.
  3. You chronicled an argument you had with other users. That adds instant baggage to your question. Your question contained an argument in comments before there were even any comments on the question.

If I were you, I'd reduce your question to just the core question.


Here's how I'd do it:

I left an answer to the following question: How does the Trump administration compare and contrast to historically fascist regimes?

In my answer, I included the following paragraph:

I haven't been able to find a single policy by this president that is predicated on racism. Not one. On the contrary, this president literally can't stop bragging about how his policies have led to record low unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics (examples here and here). Fascists persecute and oppress minority groups.

Comments on my answer indicated that it should be obvious to me that it should be obvious that Donald Trump is a racist.

Is Donald Trump a Racist, and what evidence is there to prove so? I am looking for evidence such as policies, appointments, proposals and business practices.

A few things about the proposed question:

  • Yes, it exposes what your opinion is. You are allowed to have an opinion, you are allowed to let us know what it is. Knowing your current opinion helps craft answers that you can better understand. Just make sure you avoid trying to convince everyone else of your opinion.
  • You do not have to chronicle everything that happened with that answer. You included a link to it, if readers want to, they can go look at the question, answer and comments themselves.
  • Some People might ask you to prove something or other about your question. If I were you. If you think it will help them come up with a more appropriate answer, then you can respond, but otherwise I'd just ignore these comments. You're the one who's seeking an answer here, trying to validate your own opinions in the comments only leads to off-topic discussion
  • corollary to the above: That being said, if you even have a claim that needs proving, that could be a red flag. You may have to re-evaluate whether or not the claim even needs to be there.
  • Bullet 2 is really a thorn here, and on other sites. It's OK to have different standards on different sites, but it's not OK that different users on the same site try to enforce multiple and actually contradicting 'standards'. Has this been somehow subjected to community consensus here on meta? If not, that needs clarification? – LangLangC Mar 8 at 17:28
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    Since this metaQ was posted by Philip, I find the use of prononuns slightly confusing. (But it's actually great to see a proposal for how to fix the mainQ…) – LangLangC Mar 8 at 17:31
  • Thanks for the feedback. – Michael_B Mar 12 at 3:29
  • I like you're proposed question for its brevity and simplicity. Any thoughts on a possible title? – Michael_B Mar 12 at 3:43
  • I definitely agree with you about references for questions. Unless the quote is itself what you're asking about, it's probably better to leave it out (or just link to it). Answers, on the other hand, do benefit from those things. – Bobson Mar 15 at 21:04
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The answers so far show some current models of moderation, but none of the moderators address the question of whether or not racism is a objective fact. That is, depending on the definition or standard, one might be racist:

  1. by creed, membership, (in an avowedly racist group, like the KKK) or ideas.

  2. In deeds and actions, or sometimes inactions.

  3. Both.

But determining either might be ambiguous:

  1. the creed and ideas might have various interpretations, as with Christianity, which has at times been embraced by racists and anti-racists. One's membership might be in a group so diverse that it includes, or has formerly included, racists and anti-racists.

  2. the deeds and actions might have various short-term consequences that both help and harm the causes of racists and anti-racists alike, and the long-term consequences might be unpredictable.

"Is President X a racist?" seems like a valid question, and the reasons for the answers "Yes", "No", "Uncertain", "Somewhat", "Too soon to tell", etc. would be interesting to read.

Some contrasting examples:

  • Was President Wilson a racist? Yes.
  • Was President Obama a racist? No.
  • Was President Franklin Roosevelt a racist? Sometimes.

Surely those are valid questions, so the mods should address what makes President #45 any different. The fear that it might be more difficult to moderate the question seems irrelevant with respect to the question's validity.

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    I think these can be valid questions, but the question needs to specify what form of racism they're talking about (personal bigotry, support for structurally racist policies, some combination thereof, whatever). Otherwise, particularly for modern political figures, they'll get bogged down in answers working off totally different definitions, and likely totally opinionated. – Obie 2.0 Mar 10 at 22:17
  • Consider the question at hand, which obviously is written with the aim of "proving" that Trump is not racist. It's going to get, at the least, all the following answers: "Trump is not racist, look at the unemployment rate of black Americans!", "Trump is not racist, he likes a few specific black people", "Trump's not racist, he's telling the truth," "Trump is racist, he's made bigoted statements," "Trump is racist, he's supported policies that harm people of color," "Trump is racist, he believes white people are superior." – Obie 2.0 Mar 10 at 22:23
  • Whereas as if it's edited to ask whether Trump has disproportionately promoted policies that harm people of color, there's only one correct answer, yes. Sure, there will be some "no" answers, but they'll be objectively incorrect since the question is well-scoped. – Obie 2.0 Mar 10 at 22:26
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    I think the hypothetical question about Obama illustrates even more how important a properly scoped question is, since if it's just asked as "Is Obama racist?" it will also get answers like "Yes, he hates white people," "Yes, his policies hurt white Americans", "Yes, he's just another American imperialist." If it's "Is Obama racist?" and the body of the question says "specifically, has he expressed bigotry against black people" or even better, that's in the title, then all those answers will be non-answers and deletable. – Obie 2.0 Mar 10 at 22:30
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    @Obie2.0 but then the question wouldn't be 'is X a racist', as that's more complex than the scope you narrow it down to. I agree that the narrow scope is better suited for the Q&A model, but maybe then it's better to leave the term racist out of it as that might (my guess) attract the low-quality responses. – JJJ Mar 11 at 14:24
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    @Obie2.0, In that view the question boils down to differing definitions of racism, therefore it's best to make the question about only one such definition. Yet most political questions are just so: trivially answerable, so long as one partisan definition is agreed upon, or dictated. To the contrary, the best non-trivial political questions often are about contrasting the relative values of varying definitions in the minds of their respective adherent tribes. Such exchanges expose partisans to opposing systems; think of it like dining out at an unfamiliar ethnic restaurant. – agc Mar 12 at 4:51
2

From this answer:

Yes, I "shut down the conversation"

This is the largest problem with such a question. It's not a question with an objective answer; it's the start of a conversation. Stack Exchange is not the right venue for conversations. The closest would be chat.

So a question like this should either be posted elsewhere (not on Stack Exchange), or in chat. Not on the Q&A site. The very fact that we're talking about conversations makes this the wrong place for it.

For that matter, that I'm quoting from other answers is a sign that this subject is inappropriate for Stack Exchange.

From this answer:

Was President Obama a racist? No.

I would disagree. To me, it is quite obvious that Obama was (and is) a racist.

Take for example, the following situation. There is a physical altercation between a multi-racial community organizer with a history of complaints about racial injustice in policing and a single race teenager. With whom does Obama identify? In background, one would expect the former, as he sounds rather similar to Obama. In actuality, Obama identified with the latter. The former being George Zimmerman and the latter being Trayvon Martin.

Obama consistently views things through the lens of race. To my mind, that makes him a racist. The two arguments that he is not? One, there is an argument that black people can't be racist (in the US), because they lack the power to enforce it. I disagree, but that's an argument. The other is that it is possible that if he were white, he would have the same beliefs. And of course that's possible, but I would call such people racists as well. To me, racism means giving weight to race in places where it is not relevant. By that measure, Obama is clearly a racist. He empathized with people making racial claims, not with people acting in a race neutral fashion in the face of racial claims.

And that's the real problem with a question like this. It invites a great deal of argument in favor of people's views. But it transfers very little knowledge. Worse, the asker isn't trying to get knowledge. He already had an opinion on whether or not Trump is a racist. At best, he was soliciting responses from people disagreeing with him so as to hone his argument. At worst, he was trying to promote his opinion. And questions are a lousy place to promote opinions.

Did anyone reading that change their opinion on whether Obama was a racist? I bet not. Because people read arguments like that within their biases. And pretty much everyone already has an opinion on Obama's racism.

The truth is that it doesn't matter whether Donald Trump or Barack Obama are racists. They are perceived as racists. And perceived as not racists. Lyndon B. Johnson most emphatically was a racist, as any black person who met him could attest. But he's not remembered that way due to his role in getting civil rights legislation passed. But that is far more a historical question than a political one.

We often answer current events trivia because we are probably the best place on Stack Exchange for that. Which when it's trivia is fine. But we shouldn't confuse that with the purpose of the site and try to extend it to more controversial areas. Some questions are easier to answer than to close. This would not have been one of them.

-3

Philipp, thanks for putting this matter up for discussion. My answer below is a response to your answer.


Your dire predictions.

The four scenarios in your answer are extreme and apocalyptic.

They portray this community as a dystopian wasteland.

They assume the worst about the people who contribute to this site.

I don’t share this perception, so I must respectfully disagree. On all fronts.


A potentially false premise.

Let's start with the fundamental premise of your argument, as articulated here:

"The mostly anti-Trump audience of the community..."

and here:

”The few but vocal Trump supporters among the whole Stack Exchange community...”

Are you sure about this?

Are these assertions based on empirical data or your own personal experience?

How do you know that there isn't a large contingent of Trump supporters here, but they choose to remain silent so they aren't called "racists", "fascists" or "nazis"? For many, it's better to keep a low profile than trigger a vicious ad hominem attack.

But beyond name-calling, Trump supporters face much more serious backlash.

How do you know there isn't a large contingent of Trump supporters here, but they choose to keep quiet so they aren't:

Unless you have reliable data to back up your premise, you could be making the same mistake the pollsters did in 2016.


The 2016 polls.

Throughout the 2016 general election the polls had Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by a wide margin. On Election Day, here are some of the numbers from prominent sources:

The New York Times, Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton has an 85% chance to win.

The Huffington Post, Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton has a 98% chance of winning.

The Princeton Election Consortium made the following prediction on Election Day:

The [Clinton] win probability is 93% using the revised assumption of polling error, +/- 1.1% ... Most probable single outcome: Clinton 323 EV, Trump 215 EV.

The polls were wrong. And they weren't just slightly off. They were ridiculously inaccurate.

A national association of major pollsters (AAPOR) produced a report in 2017 evaluating the reasons for the polling inaccuracies. They determined that a primary cause of failure was "Trump voters who participated in pre-election polls did not reveal themselves as Trump voters".

One particular pollster attributed the failure entirely to: "Non-response among a major core of Trump voters."

It's worth keeping this experience in mind when observing that a group of people (such as the Stack Exchange community) appears to be mostly anti-Trump.


This community can handle controversial questions.

Circling back to this site, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that combustible subject matter can be handled respectfully and responsibly by this community. Here are three examples:

So, again, I believe your scenarios are exaggerated and you don't give the members of this community enough credit.


Is President Donald Trump a racist?

You ended your answer with:

What I do care about, though, is that the current political climate in the United States polarizes the community into two blocks which are incapable of talking to each other in a civilized manner when it comes to certain topics.

I guess you didn't notice that my question was asked in a civilized manner and was an attempt to engage all sides in a conversation.

And if we want this website to fulfill its purpose of being a question & answer website which explains politics and political processes in an objective and neutral manner, we can not allow it to turn into another flamewar battleground.

Even the risk of pandemonium should not be enough to justify the exclusion of controversial political questions. That approach makes this site mediocre, as important issues aren't being discussed out of fear.

Maybe my question does need to be reformulated. Maybe it's too long. Maybe the association with fascism is unnecessary. I've received plenty of constructive feedback. I may post a new question in the future. (I won't edit the original in order to keep this meta discussion intact). Thank you.

  • Re: "...the polls were wrong...": apparently, but if so pollsters aren't yet unemployed, leaving room for doubt. – agc Mar 12 at 5:18
  • "The few but vocal Trump supporters among the whole Stack Exchange community... - Are you sure about this?" Yes, Philipp is 100% right here. For example, I would do so personally. See e.g. the current "Should Kissinger be tried by the ICC?" question - if that one stands, I could ask "Should Obama be tried by the ICC for droning?" So let's close that one quickly, before the itch to ask the similar question gets too strong. – Sjoerd Mar 13 at 15:42
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    Actually, the polls were pretty accurate if interpreted correctly, and they changed significantly in the last few days (after the Comey letter), so any predictions based on polls before that are just going to be wrong. That said, I don't see what the 2016 polls have to do with this at all. – Bobson Mar 17 at 15:18
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    More on-topic, I've said elsewhere that "Is..., Should..., and Why did..." questions (and similar) are probably going to be off-topic as opinion-based, regardless of what they're about. Personally, that's what I'd have done with your question. "Is X a Y" is almost always a matter of opinion. "Does X do Y" is not. "Does X behave like a Y" is very borderline. – Bobson Mar 17 at 15:25
  • @Bobson, I mentioned the 2016 polls because a degree of their inaccuracy was attributable to Trump supporters not revealing themselves. Therefore, it serves as a real-world example that refutes the assertion that Stack Exchange is mostly anti-Trump. Without reliable data, we don't know if that's true. With regard to your second comment, I agree. Thanks for the feedback. – Michael_B Mar 17 at 16:15
  • Hey man, this would be good content for a question "Why do we have the secret ballot" but it doesn't quite fit here. – Joshua Mar 19 at 23:14

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