Tag Archives: GOP

Truly Terrifying Data…

Earlier this month, Thomas Edsall investigated the phenomenon that has most reasonable, rational citizens incredulous: the significant number of Americans who believe what has been dubbed “the Big Lie.

Just who believes the claim that Donald Trump won in 2020 and that the election was stolen from him? Who are these tens of millions of Americans, and what draws them into this web of delusion?

Three sources provided The Times with survey data: the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Poll, P.R.R.I. (the Public Religion Research Institute) and Reuters-Ipsos. With minor exceptions, the data from all three polls is similar.

Edsall quotes a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts for a summary of the data:

About 35 percent of Americans believed in April that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, with another 6 percent saying they are not sure. What can we say about the Americans who do not think Biden’s victory was legitimate? Compared to the overall voting-age population, they are disproportionately white, Republican, older, less educated, more conservative and more religious (particularly more Protestant and more likely to describe themselves as born again).

Once again, the evidence connects Trumpism, and the alternate reality inhabited by Trumpets, with racism and fear of the “other.” P.R.R.I. tested for agreement or disagreement with so-called “replacement theory” —the belief that  “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background” — and found that 60 percent of Republicans agreed, as do 55 percent of conservatives.

Edsall also probed the connection between authoritarianism and opposition to immigration, quoting from a recent academic paper:

Right-wing authoritarianism played a significant role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In subsequent years, there have been numerous “alt-right” demonstrations in the U.S., including the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that culminated in a fatal car attack, and the 2021 Capitol Insurrection. In the U.S., between 2016 and 2017 the number of attacks by right-wing organizations quadrupled, outnumbering attacks by Islamic extremist groups, constituting 66 percent of all attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2019 and over 90 percent in 2020.

As he explained, the term “social dominance orientation” refers to the belief that society should be structured by group-based hierarchies–that certain groups should be dominant over others. There are actually two inter-related components to the orientation: group-based dominance and anti-egalitarianism. People with a social dominance orientation prefer hierarchies and–importantly–approve of the use of force/aggression to maintain them. Anti-egalitarianism manifests itself as a preference to maintain these hierarchies through means other than violence, through systems, legislation, and social structures.

Studies of the 2016 primaries found that Trump voters were unique compared to supporters of other Republicans in the strength of their “group-based dominance.”

The column quotes from a scholarly paper, “The Existential Function of Right-Wing Authoritarianism,” to answer the question that most baffles the rest of us: why do people embrace authoritarianism?

It may seem ironic that authoritarianism, a belief system that entails sacrifice of personal freedom to a strong leader, would influence the experience of meaning in life through its promotion of feelings of personal significance. Yet right-wing authoritarianism does provide a person with a place in the world, as a loyal follower of a strong leader. In addition, compared to purpose and coherence, knowing with great certainty that one’s life has mattered in a lasting way may be challenging. Handing this challenge over to a strong leader and investment in societal conventions might allow a person to gain a sense of symbolic or vicarious significance.

Furthermore,

perceptions of insignificance may lead individuals to endorse relatively extreme beliefs, such as authoritarianism, and to follow authoritarian leaders as a way to gain a sense that their lives and their contributions matter.

In other words, right-wing authoritarianism, serves an existential meaning function–it provides reassurance “that one’s life matters.”

Political psychologists tell us that individuals who are “cognitively inflexible and intolerant of ambiguity” are more likely to become “captive audiences for ideological, political or religious extremists whose simplistic world-views gloss over nuance.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that–while today’s threats are mostly from the Right, Leftwing zealots are cut from the same cloth. Fanatics are fanatics.

Edsall quotes other academics who confirm the connection between authoritarianism and racism, and he explores what the research tells us about intellectualism versus anti-intellectualism, the conflicts between individuals with different moral commitments, and the elements that may lead to radicalization–especially the willingness to use violence in furtherance of one’s moral commitments. What, in other words, distinguishes those who hold extreme views from those who violently act on them?

I encourage you to click through and read the entire essay, which explains a lot. What it doesn’t explain, unfortunately, is what we can do to salvage the American Experiment.

 

 

A Sanity Backlash?

In a recent column for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin suggests that Texas Republicans may be doing something Democrats have been unable to do: they may be turning the Lone Star State blue.

Rubin says the GOP has alienated so many voters outside its hardcore base, it has  put the state in play in 2022, when the state will elect a governor in addition to the usual congressional  and local contests.

A new Quinnipiac poll suggests Republicans’ radicalism has put them at odds with a majority of Texas voters. In the wake of the Texas law offering bounties to “turn in” those seeking an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest, the poll reports that 77 percent of state residents say abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, including 66 percent of Republicans. Some 72 percent of Texans do not want the law enforced, and 60 percent want to keep Roe v. Wade in place.

Even on a quintessentially Texan issue such as guns, voters are not in sync with MAGA politicians. The pollsters found: “Roughly two-thirds (67 percent) of voters, including 58 percent of gun owners, say allowing anyone 21 years of age or older to carry handguns without a license or training makes Texas less safe, while 26 percent say it makes Texas safer. Half of voters (50 percent) say it’s too easy to carry a handgun in Texas, while 44 percent say it’s about right, and 4 percent say it’s too difficult.”

When it comes to the GOP’s incomprehensible posturing on the pandemic, the results are equally negative for Abbott and his hard-core supporters in the state legislature: polling shows that Texas voters are much closer to the positions taken by President Biden than to Abbott. Texans opine  47 – 38 percent that Abbott is hurting rather than helping efforts to slow the spread of COVID–and majorities support vaccine mandates.

Those numbers evidently persuaded Matthew Dowd, who was a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, to run for lieutenant governor–as a Democrat.

Dowd is betting that Texans want something other than pandering to the MAGA base. “The Texas Republican politicians are completely out of step with Texas values like integrity and community and no longer govern with common sense, common decency or for the common good,” he told me on Saturday. “They put their ‘me’ over our ‘we.’ ”

If Rubin is right–if Democrats can win Texas despite the frantic gerrymandering and the  various efforts to make it harder for urban and suburban voters to cast a ballot, we may finally be seeing the results of a political strategy that has always seemed short-sighted to me: relying almost entirely on turning out the GOP base.

In order to “motivate” that increasingly rabid base, the GOP has increased its appeals to racism, conspiracy theories and general fear-mongering. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who claim the Republican label continues to shrink. Earlier this year, Gallup reported that–even when they included independents who “lean toward the GOP,” they could come up with only 40%, compared with 49% of Democrats and independents leaning  Democratic.

It’s worth noting, too, that not all of those Republicans and Republican “leaners” are part of the base. I personally know a number of people who still claim the label, but report being repelled by the current  iteration of a party that is anything but the adult, conservative political party they originally joined.

The problem with relying on a shrinking base is similar to the problem faced by drug addicts: you need bigger “hits” to produce the same high. But the crazier and meaner the party gets, the greater  the number of voters it turns off.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but there does seem to be evidence that we’ve rounded a corner–that the GOP’s manifest preference for acting out over governing has finally gone too far for the majority of citizens who will find their way to the polls in upcoming elections.

Whatever their policy differences, Democrats, Independents and the few remaining sane Republicans can all come together under that well-worn slogan: It’s time for a change.

Urban Symbolism

There are a number of elements that tend to reinforce America’s increasing urban/rural divide–the sorts of differences that emerge among people who live in areas that are more or less densely populated. But we shouldn’t overlook the influence of symbolism–longtime images of dubious accuracy that have cemented our mental images of the country’s cities and countrysides.

Probably the strongest image that comes to mind when we hear the word “countryside” is bucolic–something between “Green Acres” and “Little House on the Prairie.” Mention “small town America” and we think “Mayberry.” Urban imagery is very different and much darker–as Paul Krugman pointed out in a column back in July, we tend to call up the various hellholes portrayed on television and in works of fiction.

But why do so many Americans still believe that our major cities are hellholes of crime and depravity? Why do so many politicians still believe that they can run on the supposed contrast between urban evil and small-town virtue when many social indicators look worse in the heartland than in the big coastal metropolitan areas?

To be sure, there was a national surge in homicides — although not in overall crime — during the pandemic, for reasons that remain unclear. But New York is still safer than it was a decade ago, vastly safer than it was 30 years ago, and, for what it’s worth, considerably safer than, say, Columbus, Ohio.

These stereotypes persist, despite the fact that, if anything, the roles have been reversed. While cities continue to have the challenges that occur when large numbers of people live together, emerging data locates more serious problems in the much-storied “heartland,” where–as Krugman noted– large numbers of men in their prime working years don’t have jobs and where “deaths of despair” have been steadily increasing.

If the waning accuracy of our urban/rural mythology was simply a product of imagery lagging reality, that would be one thing. But as Krugman and others have pointed out, the Republican insistence on the accuracy of that imagery is having destructive, even deadly effects on policy.

Some reporting suggests that one of the reasons the Trump administration downplayed the Covid-19 pandemic in its early stages was the belief that it was solely a large-city, blue-state problem; there were definitely many assertions that the risk was severe only in places with dense populations. And there were many pronouncements — some of them with an unmistakable tone of glee — to the effect that the pandemic would kill big cities and the states that contain them.

Of course, the harm done goes well beyond Trump’s fatally-flawed pandemic response. Support for the GOP is disproportionately rural, and the party responds to that reality by insisting to its rapidly radicalizing base that the inhabitants of rural America (overwhelmingly White and Christian) are the “real” Americans–and that their tax dollars are being siphoned off to support urban neer-do-wells.

Besides helping to cripple our pandemic response, the myth of rural virtue and urban vice means that many Republican voters seem unaware that they are among the major beneficiaries of the “big government” their party says it wants to eliminate. That is, they still imagine that the government spends money on urban welfare recipients, not on people like them.

For example, do red-state voters know that federal spending in their states — much of it taking the form of benefits from Social Security and Medicare — greatly exceeds the taxes they pay to Washington? In Kentucky, the most extreme example, the annual inflow of federal money per capita is $14,000 greater than the outflow.

Meanwhile, those of us who live in those urban hellholes of Republican imagination enjoy the benefits that only density can provide–not just the inviting coffee shops, restaurants and bars, multiple entertainment and education options, bike paths, parks and museums that are the stuff of tourism advertisements, but the salutary lessons to be learned through interaction with people who are, to varying degrees, unlike ourselves.

There are plenty of downsides to both urban and rural life, and good policy should address them. We need to figure out how to provide healthcare and stimulate economic development in rural areas. We need to improve police training and provide more affordable housing in our cities. Etcetera. But–as with so many of the truly serious challenges we face–we can’t solve problems we adamantly refuse to see.

Substituting mental images for complicated realities obscures our vision of both urban and rural America.

 

Voter Turnout

A good friend and former colleague of mine moved back to Canada a few years ago, to accept a prestigious position. (I say “back” because he was originally from Canada. He’d married a U.S.Citizen, obtained joint citizenship, and for many years was a highly respected bioethicist at U.S. institutions of higher education.) We continue to correspond, and in the wake of Canada’s recent election, he sent me a column from a Canadian newspaper, bemoaning that election’s low turnout.

He also sent the results of a Google search for turnout percentages in both the U.S. and Canada. (You know what’s coming, don’t you??) Here’s a portion of his message:

I did find it charming that the article bemoaning low Canadian turnout (which this year was a historical low at ~58%) is still significantly higher than in the US. 
 
Apart from the Trump v Hilary election in 2016 when it was 50%, the last time US voter turnout was above 50% was in 1912 if I am reading the charts correctly. 
 
Worth pondering, eh?

The newspaper article quoted Canadian political observers on the possible reasons for what the Canadians considered “depressed” turnout. The pandemic was one possibility, and attitudes about the need for this particular election were also mentioned. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

“We’ve historically had really high trust in our democratic institutions, in our election process … and I think that the challenges that they faced in this election are going to take some time to rebuild confidence in our elections.”

That prompted me to consider just where we are in today’s U.S. If turnout depends upon trust in the integrity of the electoral system, what can we expect in the wake of the GOP’s Trumpian assault on that integrity?

If a decision to vote requires trust– trust that one’s vote will count, trust that the election is being honestly run, trust that there is a meaningful difference between the candidates for office, trust that the people who’ve earned your vote will do their best to follow through on their promised agendas–what happens when a significant portion of the GOP believes, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that voter fraud is rampant and the 2020 election was rigged?

It isn’t just trust in the administration of elections–trust in government has been steadily ebbing in the US. The evidence goes well beyond our pathetic voter turnout figures. If that meant that we could count on a direct correspondence between low turnout and the distrust that has led to virulently anti-government sentiment, we might expect a lot of Republicans to stay home in 2022 and 2024 (and from my perspective, that would be a very good thing).

But of course, it’s never that simple.

One of the regular readers of this blog sent me a You Tube interview between a scholar with the Humphrey School of the University of Minnesota and  Stan Greenberg, the former Yale professor who’s been a Democratic pollster pretty much forever. Greenberg explained Trump’s 2016 win by pointing out that his racist appeal had generated turnout from people who’d never before voted—and according to his research, those previous non-voters remain engaged.

Evidently, they do have trust–trust that the current iteration of the GOP will protect White Christian dominance.

One of the oldest and truest rules of politics is that turnout is everything. It doesn’t matter how many Americans agree with party A or party B–as the saying goes, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

The only way to ensure robust turnout of voters for what is currently the only sane party is for the Democrats to pass their agenda–especially the expansive infrastructure bill and the voting rights bill–and demonstrate that government can work, that Democrats can be trusted, that the right to participate in democratic deliberation via the ballot box can be protected.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Democrats are right about everything, only that they are currently the only sane option. We are truly at an inflection point, and constitutional government is in the cross-hairs.

Meanwhile, the Earth keeps warming, the GOP is now entirely the party of the batshit crazies, and I am very afraid that the Democrats will be unable to control their circular firing squad.

The world my grandchildren will inherit looks very scary….

 

 

The Sane Folks Are Fleeing

Last Friday, Politico had an article that focused upon the decision of Republican Representative Anthony Gonzales not to run for re-election.Gonzales is young (37), attractive and well-funded, and he represents a safe district in Ohio. So why has he chosen to exit the political arena?

According to Charlie Sykes, the author of the article, “Gonzalez didn’t quit because he feared he couldn’t win, but because it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Winning, it turns out, is not winning if the prize feels a lot more like a loss.

This was the key to his decision to self-purge: He could spend a year fighting off merde-slinging deplorables, only to win another two years sitting in a caucus next to Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Paul Gosar (R- Ariz.) and the other avatars of Trumpism.

Defeat, even before a single vote is cast, might have been disappointing. It might even look to some like a conspicuous lack of competitive mettle. But that assumes the outcome is in doubt — which it isn’t. The Republican Party is already lost. And victory meant two more years trapped in a hellscape of crazified school board meetings, Trump rallies, My Pillow Guy insanity, Newsmax and Fox News hits, and a caucus run by Kevin McCarthy, a man without any principle beyond the acquisition of power.

That’s a pretty accurate description of where Republicans are right now.

As Sykes points out–and as everyone who reads this blog knows–the transformation of the GOP is pretty much complete. Today’s GOP embraces the members who “dabble in white nationalism, peddle conspiracy theories and foment acts of political violence. Neither bigotry nor nihilism is disqualifying.”

But telling the truth about the 2020 election is an  “unforgivable sin.”

The devolution of what used to be a major political party into a racist conspiratorial cult has prompted what Sykes calls “the self-deportation of the sane, the decent and the principled.”

Their political emigration is profoundly changing the face of the GOP, and it is happening at every level of politics, from local school boards to the United States Senate. Whatever the result of next year’s elections, the GOP that remains will be meaner, dumber, crazier and more beholden than ever to the defeated, twice-impeached former president.

It is worth emphasizing that the people leaving the GOP are not more “centrist” or (perish the thought!) liberal–according to FiveThirtyEight.com, Gonzales voted with Trump nearly 89 percent of the time in the 116th Congress. His conservative bona fides were impeccable. He even ran well ahead of Trump in an area where both won in 2020. But he happens to be sane and principled; he was one of only 10 GOP representatives who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Gonzales isn’t the only elected official who has decided to depart the No-Longer-Grand Old Party.

In 2018, according to Ballotpedia, 23 House Republicans retired from political life altogether, followed by another 20 who stepped away from political office in 2020. Others also retired, but ran for other offices. Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) continue to hang on, but they are increasingly isolated and outnumbered. The House retirees have been joined by centrist GOP senators like Jeff Flake, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who opted not to seek reelection. Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and North Carolina’s Richard Burr (who also voted to convict Trump) will also step down after next year’s election. They will be joined by Ohio’s Rob Portman, who voted to acquit Trump but was critical of his behavior….

Of course, there were many different motives for the Republican departures, but all of them understood that survival in Trump’s GOP required multiple acts of self-humiliation that would, in the end, only win them more years of self-abasement.

Gonzales and several others who’ve departed have indicated an intent to work for a post-Trumpian GOP. Those of us who departed years ago–in my case, when I wrongly assumed that George W. Bush represented the low point–applaud the sentiment, even if we doubt its feasibility.

There are only crazy and unprincipled people left in the party that locally once boasted people like Dick Lugar, Bill Ruckelshaus and Bill Hudnut. The GOP is now the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and Louie Gohmert. It’s a tragedy–not just for the party, but for the country, and especially for the possibility of governing in an age where rational, informed government is increasingly critical.

We desperately need two adult political parties, composed of rational, serious people who bring different ideological perspectives to the critical issues we face. Instead, we have one “big tent” party composed of everyone who cringes when they look at today’s wacko GOP, and one cult of crazies and racists that is today’s GOP.

We are in big trouble.