Tag Archives: Atlantic

Collaboration

This month, the Atlantic published a lengthy article written by Anne Applebaum. It addressed what is perhaps the most difficult-to-understand aspect of our contemporary political reality, what she dubs “collaboration.” Why do some people go along with–or even genuinely support–what they must know to be wrong, or even evil, while others do not?

What’s the difference between Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney?

Applebaum began the article with a story from Germany, a description of two similar East German officials. One defected; one collaborated. What made the difference?

Separately, each man’s story makes sense. But when examined together, they require some deeper explanation. Until March 1949, Leonhard’s and Wolf’s biographies were strikingly similar. Both grew up inside the Soviet system. Both were educated in Communist ideology, and both had the same values. Both knew that the party was undermining those values. Both knew that the system, allegedly built to promote equality, was deeply unequal, profoundly unfair, and very cruel. Like their counterparts in so many other times and places, both men could plainly see the gap between propaganda and reality. Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator, while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why?

Applebaum cites a historian, Stanley Hoffmann, for his classification of Nazism’s French collaborators into “voluntary” and “involuntary.” Many people in the latter group had no choice, but Hoffmann sorted“voluntary” collaborators into two categories–those who rationalized collaboration (we have to protect the economy, or preserve French culture)– and the “active ideological collaborators.” These were people who believed that “prewar republican France had been weak or corrupt and hoped that the Nazis would strengthen it, people who admired fascism, and people who admired Hitler.”

Hoffman’s description of the voluntary collaborators is more than a little relevant to today’s United States.

Hoffmann observed that many of those who became ideological collaborators were landowners and aristocrats, “the cream of the top of the civil service, of the armed forces, of the business community,” people who perceived themselves as part of a natural ruling class that had been unfairly deprived of power under the left-wing governments of France in the 1930s. Equally motivated to collaborate were their polar opposites, the “social misfits and political deviants” who would, in the normal course of events, never have made successful careers of any kind. What brought these groups together was a common conclusion that, whatever they had thought about Germany before June 1940, their political and personal futures would now be improved by aligning themselves with the occupiers.

There is much more in the article that deserves consideration and illuminates political and social realities, and I urge readers to click through and read it in its entirety. But the quoted paragraph could easily be a description of the Americans who continue to support Donald Trump.

It is impossible for any sentient person to observe Trump and conclude that he is fit for office (or even sane). So why does he still maintain the support of roughly 40% of Americans? Hoffman’s two categories are explanatory: that “natural ruling class” that is being “unfairly deprived of power” describes the educated cohort of white “Christian” males who are mortally offended by the prospect of sharing social dominance with uppity women and people of color. And our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are full of pictures and videos of the “social deviants”–waving Confederate flags, carrying assault weapons to government buildings to assert their “right” to infect their neighbors, attacking black joggers, and flourishing misspelled placards insulting the “libtards.”

Whatever either group had thought about Trump before November, 2016, they decided that their political and personal futures would now be improved by aligning themselves with him.

Describing the members of both categories is one thing. Figuring out why people become who they are is another–and much harder.

Why do some people grow up to model the virtues society preaches– compassion, empathy and self-reflection (or at the very least, human decency), while others enthusiastically reject and demean those values?

Why do some people work to make a better world, often at considerable risk to their own well-being, while others cheerfully collaborate with evil?

An Excellent Summary

My husband recently recommended that I read a lengthy article from the Atlantic by Ed Yong.  Despite the fact that I am a pretty devoted reader of that publication, and a subscriber, I’d missed it.

If you are trapped at home with nothing pressing to do (clean out the refrigerator, or knit face masks, or whatever), you should click through and read the article in its entirety. In case you don’t have the time or inclination, I am cutting and pasting paragraphs that–in my estimation–are insightful and important.

A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”…

As my colleagues Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer have reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a faulty test in February. Independent labs created alternatives, but were mired in bureaucracy from the FDA. In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases.

The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure….

With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.

Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

The quoted paragraphs are followed by predictions of what will come next–best and worst case. Bottom line: even in the best-case scenarios, this isn’t going to be over any time soon. The “President” may think a vaccine or cure can be magically discovered and mass produced in a couple of weeks, but scientists and sane people know better.

And then there’s the aftermath…

As my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote, the economy is experiencing a shock “more sudden and severe than anyone alive has ever experienced.” About one in five people in the United States have lost working hours or jobs. Hotels are empty. Airlines are grounding flights. Restaurants and other small businesses are closing. Inequalities will widen: People with low incomes will be hardest-hit by social-distancing measures, and most likely to have the chronic health conditions that increase their risk of severe infections. Diseases have destabilized cities and societies many times over, “but it hasn’t happened in this country in a very long time, or to quite the extent that we’re seeing now,” says Elena Conis, a historian of medicine at UC Berkeley. “We’re far more urban and metropolitan. We have more people traveling great distances and living far from family and work.”

After infections begin ebbing, a secondary pandemic of mental-health problems will follow. …People with anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder are struggling. Elderly people, who are already excluded from much of public life, are being asked to distance themselves even further, deepening their loneliness. Asian people are suffering racist insults, fueled by a president who insists on labeling the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Incidents of domestic violence and child abuse are likely to spike as people are forced to stay in unsafe homes.

The article does end with a thin ray of hope–or perhaps “challenge” is a more appropriate word. Pandemics can catalyze social change.

Perhaps the nation will learn that preparedness isn’t just about masks, vaccines, and tests, but also about fair labor policies and a stable and equal health-care system. Perhaps it will appreciate that health-care workers and public-health specialists compose America’s social immune system, and that this system has been suppressed.

If we are very, very fortunate, in November we will not retreat further into authoritarianism and fear; instead, we’ll recognize that all diseases aren’t physical, and all tests aren’t medical.

Our test is whether America will repudiate the virus of bigoted “America first” politics, reject kakistocracy, and pivot from isolationism to international cooperation.

 

 

Just Get Them To The Polls…

These days, good news is rare, so a recent article in The Atlantic-one of my favorite publications–brightened my entire week.

It appears that Trump has “reshaped” American public opinion, but not in the way I  feared he would.

Recent polling shows that Donald Trump has managed to reshape American attitudes to a remarkable extent on a trio of his key issues—race, immigration, and trade.

There’s just one catch: The public is turning against Trump’s views.

The article noted Trump’s increasingly obvious racism, characterizing it as a strategic effort to firm up his base. (I’m less inclined to apply the word “strategy” to anything Trump does–I think as he gets more and more out of his depth, he becomes more unhinged and his true “character” emerges…) Whatever the impetus, however, instinctive or strategic, it isn’t working.

Quite the opposite, if survey research is to be believed.

The Reuters analysis also found that Americans were less likely to express feelings of racial anxiety this year, and they were more likely to empathize with African Americans. This was also true for white Americans and whites without a college degree, who largely backed Trump in 2016.

Among the details, the number of whites who say “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage” has sunk nine points since last August. The percentages of whites, and white Republicans, who strongly agree that “white people are currently under attack in this country” have each dropped by roughly 25 points from the same time two years ago.

The article reports that there has been a 10 percent drop in the number of Americans who espouse white identity politics since Trump entered office, and that Trump’s increasingly explicit racist rhetoric turns off voters who may express some degree of racial anxiety, but who aren’t classical bigots.

The article also notes that Trump has radicalized Democrats, especially white Democrats. By several measures, they have become more liberal on race –on some measures, more liberal than Democrats of color.

Reuters found that more Democrats say blacks are treated unfairly at work and by the police than in 2016—remarkable given how coverage of police violence toward African Americans has dropped in the past few years—while Republican attitudes have remained unchanged.

When it comes to immigration, which the article calls “Trump’s signature issue” (and which is clearly race-based),

Reuters found that white Americans are 19 percent more supportive of a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants than they were four years ago, and slightly less supportive of increased deportations. Other polls find related results. A record-high number of Americans—75 percent—said in 2018 that immigration is good for the United States. Although the Trump administration took steps last week to limit even legal immigration, the Trump presidency has seen an increase in the number of Americans who support more legal immigration—not just among Democrats, but even slightly among Republicans.

Ironically, as the article reports, although Trump has managed to force a national conversation around the issue of immigration, rather than bringing more people to his anti-immigrant views, he has convinced them he’s wrong.

And it isn’t simply his bigotry. His obvious ignorance on issues of economics and trade has also moved public opinion.

One big problem for Trump is that voters have now gotten a chance to see him implement ideas that seemed novel or at least worth a shot during the campaign, and they don’t like what they’re seeing in practice. A trade war with China might have seemed worthwhile in summer 2016, but now that there’s actually one being fought, the public is having second thoughts, and fears of a recession are growing. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday found that 64 percent of Americans think free trade is good, up from 57 in 2017, 55 in 2016, and 51 in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage who say free trade is bad has dropped 10 points since 2017.

As reassuring as these results are, they won’t mean diddly-squat unless the people who hold anti-Trump opinions go to the polls in 2020. As I have insisted ad nauseam, the name of the electoral game is turnout, and in 2020 that is truer than ever.

Fortunately, the Atlantic article even had some encouragement on that score.

Raw polling can, admittedly, be somewhat misleading on its own. Progressives have for years lamented the gap between the fairly liberal policies that the public says it favors and those that its elected representatives actually pursue. One reason for that is not everyone votes, and those who don’t vote tend toward the left.

But the Reuters poll offers reason to believe that the shifts it documents are directly relevant to the coming election. The poll found that “people who rejected racial stereotypes were more interested in voting in the 2020 general election than those who expressed stronger levels of anti-black or anti-Hispanic biases.” That wasn’t the case in 2016, when Americans who held strong antiblack views were more politically engaged.

Again, I repeat: we shouldn’t waste time talking to voters in Trump’s base. Anyone who still supports him is clearly beyond reason. Instead, we need to get every non-racist, non-crazy person who cares about this country–especially those who took a pass in 2016– to the polls!

America’s future depends on turnout.

 

 

 

 

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.