Tag Archives: Trump

Wehner On Tribes

Peter Wehner is one of those “homeless” Republicans--a category composed of principled people whose primary allegiance was to their country and intellectual honesty, not a political party. He is currently a contributing editor to the Atlantic. Wehner titled a recent article for the magazine “What I’ve gained by leaving the Republican Party,” and noted that he is “more willing to listen to people I once thought had nothing to teach me.”

Like so many of the people who have left the GOP, Wehner was anything but a “casual” Republican.

For most of my life, I’ve been closely affiliated with the Republican Party. My first vote was cast for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I worked in his administration, as well as that of George H. W. Bush; for seven years, I was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

Most of my professional friends and almost all of my former colleagues—those with whom I served in government as well as in the think-tank world—have been Republican. The GOP has been my political home since college, a party I was once proud to be a part of, and a source of cherished relationships. Part of my identity was undoubtedly shaped by my party affiliation.

Leaving a political party, or a religion, or a cause in which one has been deeply involved is like losing a limb. In my more charitable moments (which are admittedly few and far between) I sympathize with the lifelong Republicans still standing with their party despite its metamorphosis into an irrational and dangerous cult.

It’s their tribe, and we live in a very tribal age.  Wehner is eloquent on that subject.

When I was a card-carrying member of a political party, I wasn’t automatically blinded to other points of view, or unable to challenge conventional orthodoxy. I did it on issues ranging from climate change, to the Tea Party’s anti-government rhetoric, to the characterological and temperamental defects of Newt Gingrich; so have many others. Nor did I knowingly put party above country. That’s a common charge made against party loyalists, when in fact most members of a political party believe that the success of their party is tied to the success of their country. They might be wrong, but that’s how many of them see things.

 But here’s what I think does happen. People who are part of a tribe—political, philosophical, religious, ethnic—are less willing to call out their own side’s offenses. That’s human nature. To be sure, some are more willing to show independence of judgment than others, but none shows complete intellectual independence. I certainly didn’t.

Some of this has to do with feelings of solidarity, of not wanting to alienate those whose affirmation and support are important to us. Some of it has to do with the fact that our brains filter information differently, depending on whether it confirms or challenges our preexisting political commitments and affiliations. When we’re part of a team, we have a natural tendency to let our sympathies shape our views and opinions of others. As a result, we perceive the world differently, often more narrowly and sometimes incorrectly.

The entire essay is well worth the time it takes to read it.

The thoughtful Republicans who drew a line at Donald Trump–whose intellectual honesty demanded that they leave what had become of their “tribe”–deserve our profound respect. We can only hope that whatever ultimately replaces today’s GOP is their creation, and not that of the troglodytes who control the current remnants of a once Grand Old Party.

Negativity Isn’t Bias

I recently came across a blog post making what I think is a pretty important distinction between biased media coverage and negative media coverage.

A common complaint of President Trump and others in the GOP is that a high percentage of media coverage of him is “negative.” The official GOP Twitter account often tweets about this, sometimes citing a statistic from a Harvard study stating that over 90% of media coverage of Trump is negative. This, the President and his allies complain, is evidence of bias. In this post I argue that “negative” coverage itself isn’t necessarily “biased,” and is often perfectly fair. However, it is often easy to confuse negativity and bias, and it is similarly easy for them to overlap within the reporting of a story. As a result, many casual media observers feel like media sources have become recently more biased against Trump because of a seeming increase in negative reporting about him.

When is negative reporting simply unbiased reporting of the facts, and when is it bias? Almost 100% of stories about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults are negative, but no one says it is because newspapers are biased against Weinstein himself. Almost 100% of stories about drunk drivers are negative, but no one says it is because the local news anchors are biased against drunk drivers. We intuit that the reporting is appropriate because the sexual assaults and the drunk driving themselves are bad things. Often, when the news reports that someone did a bad thing, it’s because the thing was actually bad.

With their accusations of “fake news” and complaints that equate critical coverage with bias, Trump supporters are trying to de-legitimate reports on this President and this administration. That in itself isn’t new–partisans of all sorts engage in spin intended to counter bad publicity.

I think there are aspects of this pushback that are new, however. One is fairly obvious: this is the first President in my lifetime who is seemingly incapable of generating good news.  This administration is so ignorant of governance, not to mention venal, incompetent and mean-spirited, that the negative coverage isn’t a consequence of emphasizing the bad stuff and ignoring the good. There isn’t any good.

The second element that is new is demographic. The President’s critics are, by and large, educated people–both Democrats and Republicans. (I can’t think of any other President who has repelled so high a percentage of his own party’s elder statesmen and intellectuals.) His defenders tend to be people whose arguments–on Facebook, Twitter and right-wing publications–disclose a lack of even superficial familiarity with history, the Constitution and democratic theory. There are obviously exceptions to this broad characterization, but a case can be made that Trump appeals to people who share both his ignorance and his racist and sexist animus.

As the author of the quoted blog put it,

What does it mean when an historically conservative and/or Republican writer writes a piece that is “negative” about Trump? Does it mean that the conservative/Republican is now a liberal/Democrat? I argue that the answer is no, and many such journalists/writers have argued the same themselves.

Principled conservatives have recoiled from an administration that is anti-science, anti-democratic, anti-free-market, and anti-rule-of-law. Principled liberals who were prepared to work against a traditional Republican agenda have instead confronted a President whose only fidelity to that agenda has been its alliance with big money and its Southern Strategy.

No wonder genuine journalists from credible news organizations aren’t writing positive articles.

Grateful For Our Nation Of Immigrants

NBC, among other news outlets, recently ran an article showcasing Jin Park, a Harvard student who recently won a Rhodes Scholarship. Jin is a DACA recipient; he was brought to the US when he was seven years old.

“I’m thankful and I think it’s a testament to if you give immigrants in America an opportunity, if you allow us to live fully in our truth and see us totally in our personhood, this is the kind of thing that can happen,” he said.

Park is currently completing his bachelor of arts at Harvard in molecular and cellular biology,according to a biography provided by the Rhodes Trust. Park plans on pursuing master’s degrees in migration studies and global health science and epidemiology at Oxford, according to the biography.

Whatever one’s feelings about undocumented adult immigrants, Jin and other DACA recipients were brought here as children. They didn’t have the capacity to make a decision to enter the country illegally, and they shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions.

DACA aside, there are many reasons America should be welcoming immigrants, not trying to wall them out.

I’ve previously posted about the incredible contributions to the American economy made by immigrants–both documented and not– and their children.

More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.

I was reminded of those contributions when I opened last week’s issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal. The IBJ has a yearly feature called “Forty Under Forty,” in which the publication showcases up and coming “movers and shakers”–young people who have made a demonstrable impact in Indianapolis’ business, nonprofit and public organizations and civic life. Over the years, the diversity of those included has steadily grown–there are more black and brown faces and many more women than was the case some ten or more years ago.

There are also a lot more immigrants or children of immigrants. I didn’t count, but I’d estimate that the descriptions accompanying the photos identified nearly a quarter of this year’s honorees as either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. These young men and women are already making substantial contributions to our city and state–contributions from which all of us benefit.

Sentient Americans understand that Trump’s fevered and stubborn insistence on building a wall is both stupid (most undocumented people have flown in and overstayed a visa) and racist (he doesn’t want a wall between us and Canada, and he issued an invitation to Norwegians). That isn’t to say the wall wouldn’t have an effect, but that effect would be symbolic: it would send a message to brown people that they are not welcome here, and it would reaffirm the real basis of Trump’s appeal in the eyes of his supporters: his promise to make America White again.

As I looked through the accomplishments of this year’s list of 40 Under 40, all I could think of was the incredible amount of talent, entrepreneurship and work ethic that Indiana and America stand to lose if Trump and his supporters prevail.

I for one am immensely grateful I don’t live in a nation populated with versions of Don Jr. and Eric.

 

A Few Thoughts On The Recent Shutdown…

According to a number of reports, Donald Trump’s poll results declined significantly during the government shutdown. Since I cannot fathom why anyone still does support this ridiculous and pathetic man, I’ll leave it to others to mull the implications of those polls.

The shutdown and its aftermath were instructive, however, on a number of dimensions.

First and foremost, it delivered a striking rebuttal to the GOP’s constant refrain that government is never the solution, it’s the problem.  A post to Daily Kos  noted that the constant media references to 800,000 government employees understated the wider effect of the shutdown:  at least 40 million people were affected in one way or another. Many  endured long security lines at the airport, and uncertain safety in the air. Others couldn’t get tax questions answered (no one answered the IRS phones).

Businesses that depend upon patronage from government employees have seen steep declines: everything from food trucks at the National Mall to landlords accepting Section 8 vouchers, to cafes and delis accustomed to drawing their lunch crowds from nearby government buildings have seen fewer customers.

It’s not just business. Even anti-government ideologues rely on federal food inspections.  Even elderly Fox News viewers expect and need their Social Security checks. Local governments require the dependable remittance of federal program dollars. The list goes on.

The shutdown also exposed a previously unappreciated risk to private companies and not-for-profit organizations that do business with government–or more accurately, do the government’s business. Millions of Americans are effectively government workers due to the terms of outsourcing contracts–what we like to call privatization. (Estimates of the number of people who–although not technically employed by government– work full-time delivering government services run as high as 18 million.) The shutdown idled millions of those contract workers–and unlike employees who actually get their paychecks from government–they won’t be paid for their enforced “vacation.”

And of course, economists are busy calculating the amount of the economic “hit” caused by the shutdown, and estimated to be in the billions.

All of this damage was the consequence of a profoundly stupid demand for a wall that will never be built and would do nothing to deter undocumented immigration or drug traffic if it were.

The voters who still support this President want that wall as a symbol, not a barrier; they want to send a message to folks south of the border. We don’t want your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free–at least not if their skin is brown or black. I am more convinced than ever that Trump’s support comes from people who embrace a mythical American past in which white guys ruled the roost–where women were subservient and dependent, and other men were inferior by definition.

I do wonder how those supporters rationalize away the fact that Trump folded–completely caved–by accepting exactly the deal he’d initially rejected, and that the ignominious  end to his bluff was engineered by a highly competent woman.

That last fact is responsible for my shadenfreude.

I think I love Nancy Pelosi.

While Nero Fiddles…

Here is what truly terrifies me.

America is currently in thrall to the clown occupying the Oval Office. Every day there’s a new outrage, a new assault on democratic norms and the rule of law. If it isn’t the buffoon himself, it’s a member of what has to be the worst cabinet ever assembled. And we are all transfixed by the spectacle.

Meanwhile, the earth keeps warming.

Studies confirm that the rate at which the climate is changing is accelerating. Ice is melting faster than anticipated, the oceans are warming more quickly and feeding ever-stronger hurricanes, island nations are disappearing into rising seas.

And human health is endangered. According to a new review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Earth may experience a net increase of 529,000 adult deaths by 2050, due to food shortages caused by climate change.

While the report has several other “take aways,” including new evidence of global warming, here are a few bearing on human health:

There are a number of health risks that operate through both direct and indirect links to climate change, including malnourishment, diarrheal disease, malaria and heatstroke.

An example of a direct health effect of climate change is heat-related death.

Other health effects are linked to climate change less directly. For example, rising temperatures can lead to changes in the range and distribution of vector-borne diseases, like malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Climate change is also linked to health effects that vary by factors such as geography, race and socioeconomic status. For example, the relative socioeconomic status of a country will to some extent determine the ability to cope with or mitigate the effects of climate change. Hotter regions of the world tend to be poorer, and these economies will face additional challenges as global temperatures rise.

An estimate for climate change-associated adult deaths resulting from expected changes to the food supply predicts a net increase of 529,000 deaths worldwide by 2050, which vastly exceed previous estimates by the World Health Organization.
This is a conservative estimate, because it does not include deaths from other climate-sensitive health outcomes and does not include morbidity or the effects associated with the disruption of health services from extreme weather and climate events.

A World Bank estimate suggests that “climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.”

The authors of the report note that there would be numerous health benefits if  global carbon emissions could be reduced to zero.  There would be less exposure to air pollution (which is estimated to account for 6.5 million premature deaths yearly). Shifting to a plant-based diet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by  20 to 30 percent and would dramatically improve health outcomes, and shifting more transportation to walking, biking and public transportation from personal motor vehicles would not only reduce emissions, but would also encourage health-promoting physical activity.

Seems like a win/win to me.

This report adds to the steadily mounting evidence of the enormous threat to global civilization posed by climate change. Worse, the evidence shows that the threat is considerably more imminent than previous estimates suggested.

Meanwhile, rather than a sense of urgency, rather than a national effort to do what we can to avoid the worst of the likely consequences, we’re all watching the soap opera/gong show that is our current national government.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump tweets while the globe heats.

And we really, really don’t have time for this.