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Liberal politics in RDR2? [SPOILERS]


joe6869
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I know I'm probably going to get a lot of flak for it and so want to be clear going in. I am not an anti-SJW or whatever, or some sexist, racist ultra-conservative. I just think that both implicit and explicit harping on political or social justice issues in games is irritating, especially when it is out of place and seems to be included for the sake of including it, whether that harping is pro-liberal or pro-conservative. Also, I am not completely against politics in gaming or female characters, because that would be ridiculous, and loved, as examples, the anti-capitalist Bioshock 1/2 as well as Bioshock Infinite, which is predicated pretty centrally on fighting racism, and Perfect Dark, Resident Evil, and the Last of Us are three of my all-time favorite games, and I definitely enjoy the new Lara Croft games.

With that said, though, it does seem like Rockstar went out of its way to appease social justice advocates: there are multiple negative references in the game's literature to the U.S. president's tariff policies and anti-immigrant positions, which seem like they may be veiled attacks on Trump (this is admittedly somewhat of a reach, but thought I would include as long as I am writing this); Dutch's gang is relatively diverse and tolerant, especially for the time period (e.g., Tilly, Lenny, Charles, Sadie), and they make a point of that diversity/tolerance in mission dialogue that you presumably have to listen to in order to fully understand the story; almost all members of the gang, particularly Arthur, magically have preternaturally progressive attitudes on everything from women's suffrage/rights to race issues; you cannot kill any Native Americans, off the reservation or otherwise, despite being able to kill virtually everyone else; you take the side of the oppressed workers in Guarma, against the evil capitalists/colonialists (relatedly, Sean talks about how much he loves burning down manors of (evil) landowners in the field burning mission) and the Native Americans are likewise portrayed very sympathetically, contrary to the soldiers; the Murfree Brood (who are characterized as essentially animals) and the Lemoyne Raiders, and to a lesser extent the Skinner Brothers - three gangs which, incidentally, I really liked - appear to be caricatures of rural, presumptively conservative, white cultures; you cannot buy a Confederate shirt despite being able to buy a Union one; Sadie suddenly becomes a badass, seemingly senior member of the gang (I actually liked her becoming a badass, as it is explained that in living alone on the frontier she was experienced in hunting, etc., and the trauma of losing her husband realistically may have precipitated a psychotic break, but her suddenly, sometimes aggressively, barking orders at Arthur (in the final chapters) and John (in the epilogues), men who've been outlaws their entire lives and have been with the gang for decades, seems really misplaced even if she did help move the gang, especially because the game forces you to follow those orders and Arthur/John just meekly accept them (also, why did she take the lead in moving the gang and not Charles, the more logical choice, if not solely as a mechanism to attempt in establishing her as a strong, female leader?)); two of the three survivors of the main gang that John interacts with in the epilogues, and the only two he interacts with in extended missions, are Charles - who is (a double) minority and was central to the Native Americans' resistance efforts - and Sadie - the badass female gunslinger; there are at least two crossdressers in the game, one possibly transgender, (Margeret and the French artist); and so on.

I realize some of the above may seem nitpicky, but when considered collectively, it honestly does seem to me that Rockstar went out of its way not to offend liberals, whether because they simply did not want the headache of activists targeting them for supposedly being bigots or insensitive or whatever or because doing so actually accords with their political beliefs. I honestly think it's the second - that Rockstar is becoming incrementally more progressive in developing its games - anyone recall Trevor's weirdly progressive monologue in GTA V? - but who knows.

Edited by joe6869
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I'm not that knowledgeable on US politics of the period IRL to know if the game is an accurate representation, but nothing in the game came off as trying to push any so-called liberal agenda to me. If there was, I certainly didn't notice it. You encounter a total of three female outlaws that could be considered gunslingers in the entire game (Sadie, Karen, Black Belle, and one that's part of a random encounter ambush), so if Rockstar was trying to push gender equality (at least, beyond a neutral level), I would think you'd find more like them all over the game world on a regular basis. As for the French guy being a cross dresser and possibly transgendered, I don't think that's the case as he even said he was only dressed as a woman to escape Saint Denis. I'm not really sure what to think of "Margaret", though I lean more toward it being an act. The guy clearly has daddy issues, that's for sure.

I also doubt any of the commentary on US politics in the game was directed at Trump simply because Trumpism became a thing rather late in the game's development. And the US was a fairly xenophobic place at the turn of the 20th century, and Rockstar is pretty well known for satirizing all sides equally. One thing you have to consider about the Van Der Linde gang's progressive tendencies, though, is that every one of them are looked upon with the same ill regard as Indians and minorities simply because they prefer to remain outside the accepted social constraints of civilization. They really can't afford to be picky in that regard.

I'm no SJW, either. In fact, I'm about as politically incorrect as they come without being racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic (I hold no such discriminatory attitudes). My beefs with the left and the SJW crowd are the constant attempts to police language and simply how unfair and hypocritical the social favoritism shown toward minorities, women, and LBGTQs these days is, but I digress. I just don't see RDR2's progressive elements being shoehorned in at all.

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So, your take on it is actually pretty close to mine initially, certainly in regards to the gang's seeming progressiveness and the state of politics during the time period.  And, because I agree that Rockstar has historically satirized all sides in roughly equal measure, I was certainly ready to give them the benefit of the doubt on everything else.

Near the end of the game, though, two things prompted me to change my mind:  1) Sadie developing overnight into one of the gang's de facto leaders (recall when Bill returned to Lagras how he asked Sadie to get him a drink - a stereotypically chauvinistic thing to do - and Dutch, out of nowhere it seemed to me, jumped down Bill's throat about it); and, 2),  the fact that you are unable to kill any Native Americans at all.  Both seem to stick out like sore thumbs, Sadie because no matter how I think about it, it just doesn't make sense to me that hardened, career outlaws would accept her as any kind of leader that quickly (which at least Arthur, John, and Dutch appeared to do in some way), something that Rockstar should have known and which makes me think she was moved towards a leadership role for ulterior reasons; and not being able to kill Native Americans because you can kill literally everyone else in the game, outside your established allies. 

Given then that these two developments don't make sense to me from a narrative perspective, I plugged in everything else that I had noticed while playing but glossed over, making it seem collectively that there were conscious development choices made to, at the very least, avoid controversy by attempting to placate the left.  This - namely that Rockstar is at the very least attempting to skirt controversy - also seems in line with not being able to buy any Confederate gear despite being able to buy a Union shirt and the fact that Rockstar secretly scrubbed the suffragette NPC after the YouTube fracas over feeding her to an alligator, etc., because why do either of those things if not to head off protest?

Also, not really material, but I was more thinking of Margaret as the one who was possibly transgendered.

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1 hour ago, Parzival said:

In fact, I'm about as politically incorrect as they come without being racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic (I hold no such discriminatory attitudes). My beefs with the left and the SJW crowd are the constant attempts to police language and simply how unfair and hypocritical the social favoritism shown toward minorities, women, and LBGTQs these days is, but I digress. 

Also, totally with you on this.

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22 hours ago, joe6869 said:

it honestly does seem to me that Rockstar went out of its way not to offend liberals, whether because they simply did not want the headache of activists targeting them for supposedly being bigots or insensitive or whatever or because doing so actually accords with their political beliefs.

You hit hte nail on the head.  They did do that, and that is also one of the reasons they said why there won't be a GTA 6.  

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Thanks - I honestly don't see how you can get around it.  I totally forgot about the GTA 6 thing, so I just searched it again now and along the way found an interesting quote from Dan Houser on RDR2:

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As they embarked on their lengthy research, Rockstar's team learned that they would have to feel their way through a balance of history and fiction, not least to find a way of being sympathetic to problems like racial and gender inequality. “It was oppressive, when you look at what was going on,” Houser says. “It may be a work of historical fiction, but it’s not a work of history. You want to allude to that stuff, but you can’t do it with 100 percent historical accuracy,” he said. “It would be deeply unpleasant.”

“This is a time when the women's movement had begun in its infancy. Women were beginning to challenge their very constrained place in society, and that gave us some interesting characters. We’re not trying to tap into ‘He’s a black man so he should speak this way, and she’s an Indian woman so she should speak that way’. We’re trying to feel what they’re like as people. Maybe that’s my own idiocy, naivety or delusion about what people are fighting about now; I know that there are some people who believe that the only fiction you should do is basically your own autobiography, but I think that’s really limiting and you can’t tell stories. I hope that we’ve found a sensitive way of discussing those issues.

Original article (https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/red-dead-redemption-2-interview), underlined in above quote for emphasis.  Not exactly a smoking gun, but that last line seems to me pretty much as close as you'll come to an admission that they played with things to be "sensitive," one of the few departures from what was otherwise a hyper-realistic game.

Edited by joe6869
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As far as I understand, he's talking about Houser saying there wouldn't be a GTA 6 during the Trump era, or at least that he was very hesitant to release it during the Trump era, as he feels it would be difficult to satirize the rapidly changing, often already parodic, culture while at the same time trying to avoid offending everyone.

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11 hours ago, joe6869 said:

As far as I understand, he's talking about Houser saying there wouldn't be a GTA 6 during the Trump era, or at least that he was very hesitant to release it during the Trump era, as he feels it would be difficult to satirize the rapidly changing, often already parodic, culture while at the same time trying to avoid offending everyone.

right. bad choice of words on my part i guess.  there won't be a GTA 6 in the near future.  There's a number of 'news sites' out there about it, if you can believe anything in the news anymore.  The news all depends on who pays more to have their version heard.

https://www.altchar.com/games-news/579348/grand-theft-auto-6-not-coming-any-time-soon-due-to-politics

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"it's really unclear what [Rockstar] would even do with [GTA6], let alone how upset people would get with whatever we did". His opinion is that GTA6 would find itself under fire from both progressive liberals and intense conservatives as both sides are "very militant, and very angry".

So for at least the next 5 years or so Rockstar's focus will be on the Online games - GTA and RDR2

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It really is kind of a sad commentary on American culture currently, and in a meta way, this thread too I suppose.  Just did another quick search on it, and I think the GQ article linked above is actually the source interview everyone else is reporting on. The whole quote:

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Dan Houser is "thankful" he’s not releasing Grand Theft Auto 6 in the age of Trump. “It’s really unclear what we would even do with it, let alone how upset people would get with whatever we did,” says the co-founder of Rockstar Games. "Both intense liberal progression and intense conservatism are both very militant, and very angry. It is scary but it’s also strange, and yet both of them seem occasionally to veer towards the absurd. It’s hard to satirise for those reasons. Some of the stuff you see is straightforwardly beyond satire. It would be out of date within two minutes, everything is changing so fast."

 

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I got this from the game a bit but not as much as you did. This is the way of entertainment right now, at least in the US. They all leak their own political views into the games anymore. I just ignore it and if I can't, I don't play said game. I am fine with people losing their marbles over politics and thinking they know anything about how a country is run but when you start spoon feeding it to people who clearly don't want to eat, you can just piss off. lol

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So, I will admit that because of my background I am very, very plugged into the discussion around political/social issues, and consequently am almost certainly keying off things many people would just gloss over.  And I would agree that the politics pushed in RDR2 were not what I would term "invasive." The real reason I posted, I suppose, is that to me the inclusion of this level - whatever we want to term it - of the liberal worldview is for R* unprecedented and thus to me is very irritating, particularly as they were one of the last major studios to succumb to the left's social justice agenda.

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In Rockstar's defense, they never really recovered fully from the Hot Coffee scandal (though I think the reaction to it was way overblown), so I can totally understand them feeling that way.

Just don't start watching Supergirl. That show will literally beat you to death with liberal politics.

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My partner is way too conservative to let me watch Supergirl. 

Lol.  And yeah the Hot Coffee point is a good one, but I guess I would question why Rockstar had three major releases - RDR1, GTA IV, and GTA V - in between that and RDR2 and yet none of them seemed to toe the social justice line near as much as RDR2.  Sure, some of it may be a function of the present political climate, but I would also ask how much institutional memory there is left of the Hot Coffee incident after a decade, especially given that they did not overtly seem to make significant developmental choices based on it earlier.

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18 hours ago, Parzival said:

I guess everybody just has their own tolerance level for this kind of stuff, because, for me personally, RDR2 never felt like it was pushing any liberal politics to an invasive level.

I agree. I never got any political vibes from it in the sense of modern day politics. It is hard to compare two different timelines but I think the progressive sense of the west dying out can seem very liberal leaning. 

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I never got any political vibes from it in the sense of modern day politics. 

It's important here I think to distinguish between traditional, concrete political narratives (e.g., the left opposing Trump's wall or supporting healthcare expansion), which are relatively easy to spot, and the subsuming of social debates into politics in recent years (e.g., and perhaps most notably, the importance of being conscious of power dynamics in interpersonal relationships, particularly societal or personal relationships between those in historically marginalized subcommunities - such as women or African-Americans or Native Americans - and the putatively dominant social class - such as men or whites), which seem much more difficult to catch, especially if one is not particularly politically aware or is not actively watching for such themes. 

To me, it seems that the second grouping is much more in line with what Rockstar played with in RDR2, as those are the types of themes the modern left would watch for, while at the same time many outside groups would notice only minimally (i.e., implicitly incorporating certain social justice themes consistent with the contemporary left's ideology would head off potential protests but stop short of alienating fans who would not respond to politics being openly thrust on them). 

I would also argue that the absence of certain things - such as not being able to kill Black Belle despite being able to kill the other three outlaws in the first Calloway mission; not being able to kill Native Americans despite being able to kill everyone else; and/or not being able to buy a Confederate shirt despite being able to buy a Union one - did not occur in a vacuum and in fact indicate conscious developmental choices, choices that to me seem politically driven.

To me, then, it is not only the forced, albeit implicit, inclusion of liberal themes that was concerning, but also the forced exclusion of politically charged subject matter that the left seems likely to have objected to had it been included.

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I consider myself to be a conservative-leaning centrist I guess you can say. I am more on the right side than the left but I am also in the middle. I can see what you are saying but I was so caught up in the game, none of this even registered to me. 

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I would say, just be glad any liberal politics being pushed is done as subtley as it is (honestly, I would have never noticed the suffragette NPC missing if it hadn't been mentioned here), because everywhere else practically beats you to death about it and won't let you escape. And speaking up about it gets you labeled as racist, homophobic, or misogynistic.

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6 hours ago, Parzival said:

I would say, just be glad any liberal politics being pushed is done as subtley as it is (honestly, I would have never noticed the suffragette NPC missing if it hadn't been mentioned here), because everywhere else practically beats you to death about it and won't let you escape. And speaking up about it gets you labeled as racist, homophobic, or misogynistic.

That isn't real liberalism though, that is being a complete leftist. I have no issues with liberals. I may not agree with everything but they at least want to have discussions and meet somewhere in the middle. The left is all about avoiding personal responsibility and blaming everything and everyone else for your problems. They are basically socialists now and it freaks me out to see everyday people falling for this crap. 

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That isn't real liberalism though, that is being a complete leftist. I have no issues with liberals. I may not agree with everything but they at least want to have discussions and meet somewhere in the middle. The left is all about avoiding personal responsibility and blaming everything and everyone else for your problems. They are basically socialists now and it freaks me out to see everyday people falling for this crap. 

Isn't traditional liberalism more or less dead in the West though anyway?  From my perspective, liberalism was abandoned by the left during the 1960s in favor of progressivism, which has led to incrementally more post-modernist, Marxist, and identitarianist positions in the intervening years.

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wow reading your post clearly shows that the red dead 2's story went way over your head, you didnt understand the characters, the gangs, dutch's gangs views on his people, Arthur's views on life, etc.. the Natives vs Army is clear as day. even the random strangers you come across all have details as to why/how they are. Sadie doesnt become a savage overnight smh the game has you progress at times for a few weeks, to months and so on. 

someone including yourself mentioned "all white cultured gangs you face" or "you cant even kill any natives" somehow missed that the Mexican De Lobos are in the game, there are black groups in the swamp that attack you, blacks in other gangs, and the Skinner Brothers consist of many Native Americans that obviously left/lost their tribes.

you clearly didnt understand or follow the story nor the timeline and its plots.

 

it is a shame considering Arthur was one of the greatest characters alone, not including the story which was also one of the greatest.

 

this topic literally just seems like an excuse to have Conservatives complain about "the liberals" or "the left" and sh*t that doesn't even matter.

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wow reading your post clearly shows that the red dead 2's story went way over your head,

Since you decided to take it there, in reading your post, I'm pretty sure I understand RDR2's narrative far, far better than you will ever be capable of.

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you didnt understand the characters, the gangs, dutch's gangs views on his people

I understood the characters, gangs, etc., entirely.  My only observation in that regard was that there seemed to be a historically disproportionate amount of progressively minded characters, both in the broader game and in Dutch's gang itself, something I was prepared to overlook as from a certain standpoint it does make narrative sense, but by the end of the game, based on several factors, decided was part of a larger pattern of catering to social justice views, a pattern I mention in subsequent comments had you bothered to read the thread before posting, and an observation which you wholly fail to address.

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 Arthur's views on life, etc.. the Natives vs Army is clear as day.

Again, I understand this, it is simply that his views seem historically inconsistent and possibly included for ulterior, political, reasons.

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even the random strangers you come across all have details as to why/how they are. 

Which, as explained above, results in a politically lopsided narrative, something that seems both intentional and historically inaccurate. Just because there are arguably plausible reasons for something doesn't mean there are not also implicit political machinations in play.

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Sadie doesnt become a savage overnight 

In my first post, I clearly wrote that I liked the fact that Sadie became a badass, just not that she was suddenly accepted as some kind of senior gang member, a transition which took place very rapidly in in-game time after Guarma and which seems completely inconsistent with other gang members' levels of experience, and thus possibly (I would say likely) included for political reasons.

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someone including yourself mentioned "all white cultured gangs you face"

I mentioned two gangs, not all the gangs, which objectively do seem to caricaturize, southern, predominantly white, often conservative subcultures - the Murfree Brood and Lemoyne Raiders - caricaturizations which I wrote that I actually liked, in spite of their adding to the game's implied political bent.  The Skinner Brothers were included to a lesser extent as they are not as clear an example of such caricaturization, which is, again, plainly stated in my first post.

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somehow missed that the Mexican De Lobos are in the game, there are black groups in the swamp that attack you, blacks in other gangs, 

This entire clause makes no sense as I never said all the gangs in the game were white or wrote anything directly about either Hispanics or African-Americans.

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and the Skinner Brothers consist of many Native Americans that obviously left/lost their tribes.

Literally the only good point in your entire post, though I wouldn't say "many Native Americans" were in the Skinner Gang.  I was actually waiting for someone to point this out though, as I should have clarified it earlier, but it doesn't change the fact that the game doesn't allow you to kill innocent Native Americans (or at least to easily kill, apparently there are workarounds with sniping and bumping into Native American NPCs repeatedly to push them outside the safe zone), despite being allowed to kill innocents of every other variety.

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you clearly didnt understand or follow the story nor the timeline and its plots.

See my first comment in this post.

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this topic literally just seems like an excuse to have Conservatives complain about "the liberals" or "the left" and sh*t that doesn't even matter.

My complaints are actually apolitical - as mentioned above, I am against forcing politics into entertainment, whether the politics in question are conservative or liberal. It just so happens that at present, the side of political spectrum largely controlling culture is the left, and that, consequently, they are the political actors most often successful in influencing entertainment, but I would be just as against Reagan's so-called Moral Majority pushing conservative themes on entertainment were it around today. As evidence of this, throughout this thread I've never explicitly attacked the substance of any left-leaning policy or opinion, but instead simply the shoehorning of such policies and opinions into RDR2. And the reason that it matters is because overzealous social actors enforcing arbitrary cultural norms via coercion and intimidation undermines free and democratic society and weakens the common sociological ties that bind us all together (which is admittedly not exactly a dire concern in this specific instance, but this instance is nonetheless irritating given its place in the wider context).

Also, totally unclear as to why you used quotation marks to denote phrases I never wrote.

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Are you bothered by it? I mean I picked up on some of this but it didn't bother me. Politics has been in everything for many many years. People are only more aware of it now because it became a mainstream thing that people openly crap on each other over. Watch old TV shows and play old games with stories, you will see what I mean.

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I am bothered by it, but mostly because of what is going on in the broader culture, not because of the content of the specific political issues at play.  To me, it seems that there is a very vocal, aggressive part of the left that is presently attempting to enforce certain cultural ideas on the rest of the country by shaming and bullying transgessors of those certain cultural ideas until they fall into line, consequently making others more hesitant to speak out and invoke the wrath of this cadre of leftist activists.  And, at least to me, that doesn't seem healthy for either society as a whole or government itself. 

As far as RDR2, I believe that R* felt forced, at least in part, to cater to the left in order to avoid potential protests or similar actions, and that such catering both detracts from the quality of the game and signals to activists that their current, aggressive approach yields results and is sustainable, further emboldening them.  

And yes, there has absolutely been politics in the entertainment industry for years - though I would argue to a lesser extent than in recent years and in a less confrontational manner. That is not specifically what I am against though, although I would point out the obvious, namely that overtly embracing controversial political issues in mainstream entertainment brings with it the very real possibility of alienating significant portions of the country, to say nothing of the unintended consequences of well-meaning social engineering efforts. And, I am happy to debate almost any political or social issue on its merits, from Marxism to religion in politics.  What I am against, without reservation, is social actors taking it upon themselves to shut down debate by yelling louder than everyone else and using bullying tactics to force people to fall into line and suppress their real views on political and social issues.  And that is what I think happened here:  R* fell into line.

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