“Negative Polarization,” Bigotry, And Hillary

destroying America

Today in the Times, last week, and over the weekend, there were numerous essays (like this onethis and this) about a recent study that examined the growing phenomenon I have previously written about here and here. The paper’s authors, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, use the term “negative polarization,” but what they are describing is really a kind of bigotry, citizens making important democratic decisions purely on the basis of conditioned hatred and dislike based on gross generalizations about political parties and their supporters rather than dispassionate analysis and independent consideration.

Their conclusion isn’t original; it’s not even surprising. It closely follows last year’s study out of Stanford reaching the same conclusion. Americans increasingly demonize one party or the other and all their representatives and members, thus automatically rejecting policy initiatives, arguments and positions not because of their content, but based on their origins and the identity of their supporters—pure, blind cognitive dissonance. As a result, they will choose candidates and policies irrespective of any rational analysis, based solely on the assumption that the opposing candidate and policy come from a vile and intolerable source.

These studies indicate that Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other great divides— and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political associations. Americans increasingly live in neighborhoods with like-minded partisans, date and marry fellow partisans and disapprove of their children partying with members of the other party. They are, the data says, more likely to choose partners based on partisanship than physical beauty or personality.

The Stanford study concludes (the Emory study concludes similarly),

“Unlike race, gender and other social divides where group-related attitudes and behaviors are constrained by social norms, there are no corresponding pressures to temper disapproval of political opponents. If anything, the rhetoric and actions of political leaders demonstrate that hostility directed at the opposition is acceptable, even appropriate. Partisans therefore feel free to express animus and engage in discriminatory behavior toward opposing partisans.”

Naturally, this has set off the usual round of finger-pointing by pundits and the media, which itself shares much of the blame. I know who and what have seeded these dragon’s teeth, and the list is long, beginning with Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levine, Bill Press, the Clintons, Lanny Davis, Matt Lauer, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, the idiots who made out Florida’s 2000 ballot, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Paul Begala, Jerry Falwell, Mary Matalin, James Carville, David Axelrod, Chris Matthews, Ted Cruz, the Congressional Black Caucus, Fox News, Donald Trump, Truthers, Birthers, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, MSNBC, Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Eric Holder, the New York Times editorial board, Charles Blow, the Daily Kos, David Brock and Media Matters, Move-On, Breitbart, Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, Pat Robertson, Harry Reid, Tom DeLay, Nancy Pelosi, the Tea Party, Michael Savage, Salon, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and many others, a majority of whom made a conscious decision to exacerbate the divisions in our nation for their own gains in power, influence and wealth.

The result is bad for the nation in every way.  Some of the commentators in the essays linked see reasons for optimism: they are deluded. The phenomenon is government by bias;  bias makes us stupid and stupid people end up with incompetent leaders. The lazy division of the political world into good guys and bad guys just facilitates the greatest threat to democracy, which is an uninformed, ignorant citizenry. The current team system, suitable for mastery by Frankenstein’s Monster or the substantially brain damaged–-“ARRRRRR! That team goood! That team baaad!”— just eliminates any need for thought. Among the many terrible consequences of the 2000 election tie—for that is what it was—was the “blue” and “red” convention, coagulating dozens of nuanced issues and positions into fatuous and misleading labels. Everything is color-coded, so nobody has to think.

Predictably, the soulless political consultant class to whom our elected officials delegate their consciences use this to the advantage of their clients and their bank accounts, caring not at all about the damage to the system, the public or the nation. They make officials speak in talking points—bumper-sticker slogans focus group-tested and devoid of nuance and reason—and encourage citizens to believe that they are substantive. They use false statistics to bolster the deceptive phrases, and, finally, exploit current events to inject fear and emotion into the equation. Almost all of the issues have legitimate competing considerations, but never mind: the way the public is encouraged to see every issue is red and blue. That position is taken by the others, and we know they are corrupt, mean, lying monsters. That’s all you have to know.

I have a good friend who is an artist and like many artists if not most, liberal and gay. Almost every day he picks up some poison from the Daily Kos or Move-On or Michael Moore and will send it out with a generalization about “Republicans” or “conservatives.” I’m going to his page now—yup, here’s a new one. It features a video from some whack-job white supremicist group about rising up to save the race, and my friend writes,

“This is something that everyone should see so you can learn the kind of hateful crap that is being promoted by the conservatives in this country.”

And dozens of his Facebook friends will “like” it and pass it on.

This is a very smart man, brilliant, in fact. His famous father was targeted by McCarthyites in the 50’s, and his fellow gays have been the victims of vicious generalizations and characterizations with horrendous consequences throughout his life, and yet he engages in exactly the same conduct—bias…prejudice…hate…bigotry-every day. I call him on it every day too. My typical response: “You’re too smart for this!” —-because he is. Still, most of those infected by this national disease are not too smart for it. Indeed, it is because they lack the skills to make decisions for themselves that hate and bigotry has become a convenient substitute for reason.

I have three final observations on this topic.

1. This threatens the democracy. It’s that simple. It threatens the democracy because it eliminates any motivation for either party to be responsible and accountable. If the “team” will continue to ratify anything a party or its elected officials do, no matter how wrong, inept, harmful, negligent or misguided, and will reject all criticism coming from the reviled “other side” no matter how fair and valid, then there is no reason for either party or its leaders to worry about such values as competence, honesty, and effectiveness.

The template for this attitude is President Obama, the Democratic Party and African-Americans. Obama and his party know that he could turn to sex -trafficking and still be acclaimed by 97% of blacks, so they make little effort to earn black support. They know that blacks have been carefully conditioned to regard substantive criticism of the first black President as “racism.” Effective government is no longer a requirement for popular support, and when that occurs, democracy is imaginary. Dana Milbank quotes Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla), one of the most toxic members of Congress, who happily describes this a the status quo for the entire country, and he’s happy about it, because, to be blunt and crude, he sucks. He told the Post columnist,

“Essentially there are no undecided voters. Everybody has picked a team. The only question is, do your guys vote or not?…What side are you on?”

That’s not democracy.

That’s herding.

2. A threshold remedy, a start, is to point out the bigotry whenever it occurs. If we don’t want the nation deteriorating into government by bias, we have a duty to confront, condemn, and reject this conduct. Don’t argue the position of “the bad guys,” and you should call out such political bigots even if you happen to agree with the policies they think they espouse. Just point out that the “team member” before you is speaking and thinking in the language of hate and bigotry. If they have IQ points in three figures, some integrity, and once were human beings, this can serve as a slap in the face, or a splash of ice water in the face.

3. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy may show us whether there is any coming back from the precipice. It is evident that the Democrats are so certain that their team will vote for anyone or anything they run from the World of Blue—a bunch of grapes, a Blue Meanie, Hillary—that they will persist in this fantasy that she is a qualified and trustworthy candidate despite all the lies, corruption, and scandal, despite her terrible campaigning skills and lack of accomplishments, despite the fact that she has been an anti-female feminist, a venal and greedy advocate for the poor, and an influence peddler who decries big money contributers. It is as if the Democratic Party has decided to bet everything on “negative polarization,” with Hillary Clinton, the most self-disqualified and uncharismatic Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, as the acid test.

I think the failure of her candidacy may  serve as that slap in the face and splash of ice water for the electorate. A political culture that results in someone this bad being at the door of the White House may be just what the nation needs to show it the suicidal folly of government by hate.

At least, I hope so.

We shall see.


Sources: Washington Post 1, 2, New York, New York Times,

Graphic: Mischiefs Off Action

45 thoughts on ““Negative Polarization,” Bigotry, And Hillary

  1. This is what I’ve been saying for quite a while now: If the Democrats decide to run Hillary Clinton, and cannot find a better candidate, then they deserve to lose.

    BUT… if the Republicans cannot find a candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton, then they deserve to lose as well, maybe moreso.

    In my neck of the woods, former senator and governor Lincoln Chafee has said he’s thinking about running for President, mostly because he’s not sure about Clinton’s sound decision making power. Lincoln was a Republican, the only Republican who didn’t vote for the war in Iraq (Clinton did, I’m pretty sure).

    Chafee is a man who I believe wants to serve the public good. I believe he is an honest man with real convictions and opinions. I believe his migration from Republican to Democrat was not some strategy to get power, but a sincere change in his opinions as the parties shifted around him.

    Maybe Chafee is a pie-eyed fool (and maybe I am too, for liking him), and Clinton will almost certainly eat him alive if he does run, but of the five or six people who might actually run… Lincoln Chafee is the ONLY one I would vote for.

    • Sorry Jeff, but by using someone’s Iraq war vote as a (if not the only) determining factor in whom you’ll vote for, you make Jack’s eloquently stated point. You’ve been hornswoggled by a talking point (or God forbid, a litmus test) that’s made a lot of election consultants and pollsters and talking heads (not to mention politicians) a great deal of money and denied the country, in your case, a thoughtful voter.

  2. After 30+ years of negative campaigning making the numbers move faster this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise this coming time out if the GOP takes a leaf from Obama’s relentless attacks on Mitt this last time out and simplifies it all down to one goal: destroy Hilary, by any and all means possible. Frankly I have no problem with it if they do. The Clinton administration and the Democratic Party generally did a lot of damage and didn’t care who they rolled over getting to the top, it’s time they were met with equal ruthlessness, and the way to do it is to get Hilary’s opponents frothing with hatred. I remember seeing posts on Democratic Underground advocating all kinds of ruthless tactics, like firing employees you know are from the other side to prevent them from contributing to GOP candidates, arranging to be someone’s only ride to the polls and then not showing up, and posting “whites only, blacks please use rear entrance” signs on GOP headquarters, making sure, of course, that you do it late Friday afternoon so it will not be discovered for 2 days. I don’t see how anyone can take the high road against that.

    • Romney was destroyed by a large number of lies, as well as his own lack of integrity. Nobody should need to lie to expose Hillary Clinton. THose tactics you describe are disgusting no matter who does it. Politics can’t descend to that kind of Nixonian/Harry Reid Hell.

      • No one needs to lie – Hilary is already a master at getting people to ignore the truth or believe it’s no big deal, she has many skilled minions who are even better at it, AND there are many, many dyed in the wool Democrats who will parrot that same line without really thinking about it because it’s a very easy path to staying in power. I agree that those outrageous tactics are dead wrong, but I’m also afraid that your statement that politics can’t descend to that level is a little belated, it already has, as you yourself have pointed out very accurately several times here. When the government in power is using its enforcement apparatus to shut the other side out of participation in the process we are possibly even past Watergate and into Hugo Chavez territory, where the political opposition is frequently the victim of sham prosecutions. That’s why it’s important that we not let there be 16 years in a row of Democratic rule, because the longer they stay in power, the more cemented this kind of soft tyranny is going to become.

        • On what basis is she a “master”? She lost primary after primary to Barack Obama, whose major attraction was that he wasn’t her. She won the Senate in NY against pathetic opposition, in a state where Satan would be elected if he had a D under his name. What evidence is there of any political skill whatsoever?

          • Hmm, let’s see, burying Benghazi, getting most of the world to say lay off her husband when he was getting knob-jobbed on the side and perjuring himself, getting all the media on her side. I’d say that’s pretty skillful, or maybe it’s just force of personality.

  3. One problem is the beat-up. Any unfortunate phrase, any ambiguous statement, will be turned into a cause celebre by the other side.

    Both sides of politics cry “Wolf!” so often over trifles that all criticisms of “your side” are seen as just more propaganda.

    Hence Hillary.

    And hence all the GOP candidates I’ve seen too – but let’s just focus on the DNC’s annointed.

    There has to be someone better. I must say, none of the dyed-in-the-wool DNC fans I know of are enthused about her candidacy. It’s only because she’s (D). and all the (R)s are seen as so much worse that she has any support at all.

    • But the only reason the R’s are “seen” as worse is because they are “R’s.” Almost nobody is a worse Presidential prospect than Clinton…not based on history, experience, results, character or skills.

      • Bullseye. Dozens of people I know scrunch heir faces up the minute you mention anyone from the Republican party, like you just talked about the size of your last bowel movement.

      • Almost nobody is a worse Presidential prospect than Clinton…

        While I can think of many Republican politicians who would not just be not-terrible, but might actually be good – I have to say that those in the running are far, far worse. Huckabee. Santorum. Cruz….

        As for Democrats who might be better than not-terrible… give me a minute… I’m sure there has to be one somewhere….

        Anyway, the point is, we can argue and debate about this reasonably. Using evidence.

        I think common ground is that HRC, based on history, experience, results, character and skills makes Nixon look not too bad. I’m trying to think of any president less trustworthy. Her husband, maybe. Or less competent – Carter perhaps.

          • Re: Serious Contenders:

            ‘ll remind you you said that in about a year.
            I could be wrong of course, but I don’t think I am.

            The key is not winning the election – it’s winning the primary. The way things are now, the higher the chance of winning the primary, the lower the chance of getting elected. And very much vice-versa.

            This comment coming to you by not just a foreigner, but one on the other side of the world – so large quantities of NaCl should be taken.

  4. Now you’re getting a good look at why I have said repeatedly “We are doomed.” No one is actually interested in doing what’s best for the country, they are interested in getting elected/re-elected. Get that POWER. So we have Repubs pandering to latino’s anti-gays, anti-illegal aliens, gun owners and every body else they can think of, while at the same time, claiming to be for gun control, immigration reform, bi-lingual schools, etc. Dems are a little more honest, in that they blatantly want to attract every minority in the woods with extravagant promises, without the least intention of honoring those promises.

    After eight years of lying incompetence, you’d think both parties would look for an honest candidate who had a clue, but that apparently is not going to happen. My prediction is that Jeb Bush will be the candidate for the GOP, and he will lose a close election to Hillary Clinton, and the nation will not survive for her eight years.

    • I think it will be Jeb vs. Hillary too. He has the money already lined up to run — I don’t think anyone else can come close.

      We will survive 8 years with Hillary. We’ve had a Clinton White House before.

        • Bill might have been a detestable human being, but our economy was quite strong under his Presidency. There are lots of reasons for this of course — but overall the country did pretty well.

          • A successful President corrupts a nation more than an unsuccessful one. I have never had any problems with Clinton’s skills or leadership ability. He could have and should have been a great President rather than merely a successful one who set the nation on its current divisive path by corrupting the entire Democratic Party.

          • My opinion of why we had a strong economy and results in the Clinton Administration era is that he mostly neglected governing at all and had to spend his time covering up and fighting his own actions. I liken it to sort of a benign neglect that made the Feds Passive for most of that 8 years.

            • Bullseye. He had many more plans for economic activism, but was too busy fending off subpoenas to actually execute them.

            • Which is actually an argument that the market does self-regulate. It works best when the government isn’t interfering. Go figure.

  5. This is a quandary for me.

    I completely agree with you Jack (as apparently do most of us commenters) that the incessant, divisive nastiness has become endemic, and is a major issue. Agreed, 100%

    I also agree with you, close enough to 100% as to be total, in the list of violators you included as contributors to the phenomenon, including folks like Chris Matthews, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and other darlings of what is generally my side of the aisle.

    But here’s where I have trouble. I simply do not see, and honestly cannot even comprehend, your statements that:
    “The template for this attitude is President Obama, the Democratic Party and African-Americans,”
    “Hillary Clinton, the most self-disqualified and uncharismatic Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, as the acid test.”

    In my mind, these are grotesque, over-the-top characterizations. I have trouble understanding how someone as intelligent as yourself can even hold these views.

    Now, simmer down. I’m not trying to flame here, or to argue a point. I can’t imagine how I could convince you to change your views on those two; and if I’m honest, I can’t conceive of how you could convince me otherwise as well.

    And that’s the problem. Here we are, two educated-and-hopefully-intelligent people, at complete loggerheads about something so fundamental as whether two Democratic players who might conceivably team up for 16 years of Democratic presidency are horrible, or not.

    That’s a problem, don’t you think?

    For what it’s worth, I completely agree with dragin_dragon’s prediction that “…Jeb Bush will be the candidate for the GOP, and he will lose a close election to Hillary Clinton, and the nation will not survive for her eight years,” except for the last part. (I used to think the nation would not “survive” 8 years of Ronald Reagan, and while I still think he did great harm, I would have to retract the “survival” prediction. The world may be ugly, but it’ll probably survive X years of Hillary just fine).

    Serious question: how can such questions ever be resolved?

    Partial answer: Jonathan Haidt’s excellent work: here’s a TED Talk link:

    • As to Obama and blacks, I can’t imagine how anyone can disagree with mu chracterization, especially anyone who respects African Americans. Presumably they can discern a train wreck as much as anyone. They support Obama despite all the evidence that he won’t do his job, which includes horse-trading and compromising, won’t be accountable, won’t fire incompetents, won’t or can’t manage—add the DEA to NSA, CIA, FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Justice Department, TSA, VA, HHSD and the rest that have had unconscionable breakdowns in ethics and performance—won’t tell the truth, violates the law, breaks his promises, allows genocide, projects weakness, abuses his Constitutional powers, abuses the news media, promoted divisions, has undermined racial harmony. and is a raging narcissist to boot. Why? Group identification and nothing else. It’s obvious to anyone willing to accept the full awfulness of it.

      As “Hillary Clinton, the most self-disqualified and uncharismatic Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, as the acid test”—how can you deny it? She had the White House travel office fired and prosecuted under trumped up charges. She lied directly on the Today Show about her husband’s cover-up. She has lied about her e-mails; she destroyed evidence. She has accepted foreign donation that are obvious attempts to buy her favor. She lies all the time, about everything, just for the hell of it, like her commenst about being broke and her “immigrant parents.” I’m not making that stuff up. How could anyone—specifically, how could you—argue that such a woman is trustworthy? She just isn’t. As for positive accomplishments—what? She enabled Bill’s various corruptions. She won the Senate based on nepotism, as a carpetbagger. Her major legislative initiative was…what? She couldn’t defeat an unknown and inexperienced one-term Senator to win a nomination that was being handed to her. As Secretary of State, she left the world more dangerous than when she entered the job. She’s a terrible speaker, prone to say things like, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.’ She’s A Democratic Sarah Palin. Did you ever say that criticism of Palin was over the top? Hillary in much, much worse than Palin. I think she’s more like a Democratic Michele Bachmann. At least MB isn’t also s hypocrite. Hillary is condemning opposition to gay marriage when she opposed it right up to when she felt it was expedient to do so. She’s condemning a freedom of religion law that is essentially identical to the one her husband signed. Hell, the woman IS gay, and doesn’t have the guts or integrity to reveal it. (Don’t ask me how I know, but I know.)

      Spit out the Kool-Aid, Charles. It’s poison.

      What’s over the top is anyone claiming otherwise.

      • Jack, it’s sort of pointless to engage in this exchange of talking points (though I can’t resist responding to a couple):

        First, you say “I can’t imagine how anyone can disagree with my characterization [of Obama], especially anyone who respects African Americans.”

        You then note the fact that most African Americans do in fact disagree with you. But, no worries, you then proceed to blame it on THEM – “[It’s] Group identification and nothing else. It’s obvious to anyone willing to accept the full awfulness of it.”

        Unless, apparently, you’re black. Why is it not obvious to them? Why are they bamboozled? Because, you say, THEY are guilty of group identification. But not you.


        And, “Hillary is much, much worse than Palin. I think she’s more like a Democratic Michele Bachmann.” I am aghast that you actually seem to believe this.

        But in fairness, I know you are honestly equally aghast that I don’t agree with you.

        You and I are both aghast at the “whateverness” of the other. So, what is this “whateverness?” And how come reasonable people can’t seem to find common ground?

        Again, the only hopeful answer I’ve found is in what Jonathan Haidt has to say; I’d love to hear a comment on his talk from someone on the more conservative side of things.

        • No, it isn’t arrogant, because 95% approval by any group of a manifestly failed Presidency cannot be based on reason. Res Ipsa Loquitur. On THIS issue, Cornel West has it exactly right.

          I’m aghast that any rational person can ignore the obvious, for whatever reason.

          • A shared color and a shared history of resentment, coupled with your guy finally getting a crack at the top spot are pretty powerful drivers of approval. If I had a dime for every black person I heard say “you white people just can’t handle that ‘cho guy got whupped bah a black man,” when anyone leveled any criticism at Obama, I could be debt-free in a day.

          • It’s 84% black approval of Obama, not 95%. (And where’s the citation for ‘manifestly failed’?)

            By comparison:

            In 1958, 94% of Americans disapproved of marriage between blacks and whites.

            In 1966, 68% of Americans felt same-sex marriage “should not be valid.”

            Approval of the Vietnam War was 76% 6 months after the war began.

            Approval of the Iraq War was 72% the day after hostilities started in 2003.

            Barry Goldwater got about 70% of the ballots at the 1964 GOP convention (before he got buried in the general election).

            64% of white evangelical Protestants believe (now, today) that human beings have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

            That’s a whole lot of people disagreeing about what seems obvious to others.

            • You can’t compare polling on specific issues with opinions of specific leaders over time. Even so, I don’t know where you got that 84%: two weeks ago ABC News had it at 94% with a 3.5 sampling error, so it could be more. Bush I had an approval rating in the 90s for about 45 minutes after Saddam was sort of defeated the first time, but that’s not a fair comparison either.

  6. Well, Hillary Clinton has all the people that think “We need to vote for Hillary so we can have the first female president right after the first black president”. What percentage of Barack Obama voters were in this same group? It is probably a larger number than anyone wants to admit. I think that number will be larger with Clinton. When her husband won the presidential election, he won the female vote. When polled, the number one reason women voted for him was that they thought he was more attractive than Bush. That shows that rather shallow (and questionable) reasons are behind a lot of votes. I think “First Female President” will resonate well with the women of the US that have been raised on the current version of feminism. So, she has all the black vote, the union vote, the illegal alien vote, most of the fraudulent vote, all the remaining Democratic faithful vote, and the vote of most undecided women automatically, even if she urinates on the Constitution during a Presidential debate. So, any Republican challenger needs to get 100% or more of the remaining votes to win. Should be an interesting race.

    • Women are not as fond of Hillary as they were of sexy Bill, not even close. The #1 quality a Presidential candidate must have is likability. Nixon was the one big exception. It’s why Dole, and Kerry, and Gore, and McCain, and Stevenson, and Nixon #1 and Carter #2, all lost. Why nobody among the Democrats can see that is a real head scratcher.

      • Hilary isn’t likable, but I think there is a possibility that group identification might resonate stronger with enough women to turn the tide, although you will not see every girl who just turned 18 and every little old lady rushing to the polls to be part of history. What you will see is HUGE numbers with young and single women, who aren’t too concerned with running a household, leave alone starting a business, but who are VERY concerned that they keep the maximum amount of legal protection from all men except their hand-picked partners and unfettered access to birth control and abortion.

  7. Paraphrasing what the second hiker running away from the bear said to the first hiker, all she has to do is be more likeable than Jeb Bush.

  8. What frustrates and saddens me most about the polarization is that it is so unchangeably BIpolar: There really are that many people who are that stubborn, and/or that foolish, and/or that gullible, and/or that insane (using that perhaps over-used definition of “insane” as “doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result”). The public’s trust in the one pole (party) or the other continues, despite the greatness of the country having diminished for decades while the two parties which were the overwhelmingly predominant parties entrusted to safeguard and enhance that greatness betrayed that trust (and continue to betray it). To me, it’s an indictment of conservatism: Both polar camps are too conservative for their own good (or for any citizens’ good, for that matter). The result of the thus unavoidable, perennial (daily, even), ideologically enslaved, ethics-destitute, risk-averse, power-grabbing and power-hoarding muddling-through while playing the bloodsport of polarization has culminated in the worst possible unintended consequence: An un-governable governance of ever higher cost (and ever diminishing benefit) to The People. I will likely break from the bipolarity with my 2016 vote, but I am already assured that the bipolarity will only continue to get stronger. So, all I can do besides vote for neither of the bipolarizing parties is to say, “Let it burn,” and make decisions about what “fire” *I* will use, what I’ll burn with it, and count the likely costs of the burns *I* can reasonably expect to receive from the burning that others will be doing.

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