Tag Archives: GOP

Denial Isn’t Just A River In Egypt

Sorry about that bad pun, but these day, even pathetic humor is a respite from the daily news…                                                                          
                                                                    
And speaking of the daily news–according to one recent report on the pandemic, new cases have increased by 84% in states that don’t require the wearing of masks, and fallen by 25% in states that do.
 
You might consider that a clue-just a small hint that we should trust science.

After all, those numbers would seem to confirm what all those doctors and epidemiologists have been saying: mask-wearing protects us (or more accurately, protects other people from being infected by those of us who are asymptomatic). Evidently, however, America’s tribal polarization has overwhelmed sanity.
 
The polls tell us that a sizable majority of Americans strongly favor measures to control the spread of the pandemic over efforts to “reopen” the economy. When those numbers are broken down, however, Republican voters disagree—prioritizing the economy.
 
Self-identified Democrats are significantly more likely to wear a mask and engage in social distancing than self-identified Republicans.
 
The polling reminds me of a survey I saw a couple of years ago—well before the pandemic—in which significant numbers of Americans who would not object to their children marrying across racial or religious lines strongly disapproved of the prospect of that child marrying someone of the opposite political party.
 
Talk about “identity politics”!
 
In today’s highly polarized America, an individual’s self-identification as Republican or Democrat has come to signify a wide range of attitudes and beliefs not necessarily limited to support for a political party. Political scientist Lilliana Mason has argued that “A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preferences as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood and favorite grocery store.”

Democrat and Republican have become our new mega-identities.
 
The fact of extreme partisan polarization doesn’t, however, explain why identifying as Republican means being substantially less likely to believe the science that tells us Covid-19 poses a genuine threat. Of course, there’s President Trump’s determination to ignore the threat—to insist it is an artifact of testing (!), or a Democratic “hoax,” but in a recent New York Times column, Paul Krugman offered a different theory, arguing that the G.O.P.’s coronavirus denial is rooted in a worldview that goes well beyond Trump and his electoral prospects. Krugman argued that Covid-19 is like climate change: It isn’t the kind of menace the party wants to acknowledge.
 
“It’s not that the right is averse to fearmongering. But it doesn’t want you to fear impersonal threats that require an effective policy response, not to mention inconveniences like wearing face masks; it wants you to be afraid of people you can hate — people of a different race or supercilious liberals.”
 
As Adrian Bardon of Wake Forest University recently wrote in The Conversation, Americans increasingly exist in highly polarized, informationally insulated ideological communities occupying their own information universes, and engage in what political scientists call “motivated reasoning” to dismiss inconvenient or unwelcome facts.

In all fairness, this phenomenon isn’t limited to today’s GOP; the “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-GMO” activists tend to come from the left side of the political spectrum and are equally dismissive of science that doesn’t fit with their ideological preferences.
 
In his book, The Truth About Denial, Bardon reminds us that our human “sense of self” is intimately tied to our tribal membership and our identity group’s beliefs. We are all prone to engage in confirmation bias (what we used to call “cherry picking”), accepting expert testimony that confirms our prejudices and rejecting facts and data that contradict them.
 
Unfortunately, in some situations, ignoring facts can kill you. Or grandma.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

How a cognitive failing explains why so many people reject the facts about the pandemic

Psychology and Autocracy

A recent op-ed in the New York Times warned that would-be autocrats–yes, Donald, we’re looking at you–get very dangerous when cornered. As Trump finds it more and more difficult to live in the fantasy-land he has constructed, there’s no telling what he might do.

This caution is similar to worries I’ve heard expressed about the time period between the election and January 21st, when (hopefully!) a new President assumes office. Both concerns are valid–and we all need to recognize that the feckless Republicans in Congress are responsible for whatever happens.

A reference in that same op-ed made me think about the blind obedience of those Republican elected officials.

After noting the departure of ethical Executive Branch officials and their replacement with “an army of pliant flunkies and toadies at the agencies, combined with the always-enabling Mitch McConnell and an increasingly emboldened attorney general, William Barr,”  the author wrote

Three years ago, a friend of mine shrewdly pointed out that Trump’s election would be like one long national Milgram experiment, the famous psychological study from the 1960s that revealed just how susceptible people are to authority, how depressingly willing they are to obey even the most horrifying commands.

Readers of this blog undoubtedly remember learning about the Milgram experiment, (initially undertaken to investigate why so many Germans had insisted that they had participated in genocide because they were “just following orders.”)

Volunteers were told that they were participating in an experiment in which they would be “teachers” administering electric shocks when “learners” gave incorrect answers. In reality, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram was studying the willingness of people from a variety of backgrounds and a diverse set of occupations to obey an authority figure who ordered them to perform acts that were in conflict with their personal morality.

The fake electric shocks gradually increased to levels that would have been fatal had they been real. The experiment demonstrated that despite the discomfort and reluctance of most volunteers (and despite hearing the “learners” screaming in pain), a very high proportion of the volunteers continued to obey the authority figure’s instructions and administer the shocks..

Milgram himself summarized the experiment in 1974, in an article titled, “The Perils of Obedience”:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not.

The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

I’m still mulling over the applicability of the Milgram experiment to those we might consider Trump’s Republican “troops”–and what the results of the experiment might mean for America over the next few months.

The Real Objection To Vote By Mail

I have some truly brilliant Facebook friends who regularly enlighten me.

For example, I have been puzzled by the degree of opposition displayed by Trump Republicans to voting by mail. The research shows pretty conclusively that vote by mail  doesn’t benefit either party (although it does increase turnout, and there are those who believe that larger turnout benefits Democrats.) It just seemed odd that the Trumpers would get so hysterical– and spend so much time and energy– fighting mail-in ballots.

Now I understand.

One of my Facebook Friends is David Honig, an Indiana lawyer whose posts are always informed and perceptive. However, his post this week–in which he answered the “why” question–was especially brilliant, because he cut through all the speculation and explained what is really motivating Republican opposition to vote by mail.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities telling them the election has been rescheduled, or their polling place changed, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities on election day, telling voters to relax, the Democrat has already won, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, calling out the “Militia” to intimidate voters won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, a “random” road block near a black neighborhood on election day won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, closing down the polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods, and leaving the only polling place miles from the populace, without any public transportation, won’t work.

As David argues–pretty persuasively– this isn’t about managing expectations, or creating an argument about errors in the vote in the event of a close Trump loss. This is about Republicans not being able to use their usual tactics– their time-honored strategies to suppress minority turnout on election day–to eke out a win. (The links will take you to recent examples of those tactics.)

GOP opposition is about the fact that vote-by-mail would eliminate most of the cheating we actually see every election.

As one of my sons pointed out in a comment, an additional problem Republicans have with voting by mail is that it returns the system to good old-fashioned paper. Voting by mail, with paper ballots, eliminates concerns about computer hacking and (with many of the newer voting machines) the lack of paper backup.

With “vote by mail” there is a paper trail that can be checked for accuracy in the event of a dispute or recount.

Ironically, it turns our that the arguments about vote by mail actually are arguments about voter fraud– just not in the way Republicans are framing it.  Vote by mail is a way of preventing fraud–preventing games the GOP has perfected and played for years–preventing voter suppression tactics that are every bit as fraudulent as casting an unauthorized or impermissible ballot. When we talk about rigging an election, these are the methods that have been used for years to do the rigging.

Ultimately, vote by mail isn’t just about preventing the spread of disease, or about accommodating the schedules of working folks, or even about facilitating the casting of more thoughtful and considered ballots, although it will do all of those things. It’s about keeping elections honest.

I just didn’t see it before.

No wonder the Trumpublicans oppose it.

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

As it has begun to dawn on the Trump criminal enterprise that it is in danger of losing in November, it’s ramping up its efforts to destroy federal agencies and the rule of law–and in its haste, abandoning efforts to be subtle about it.

The Republican National Committee and the Trump Campaign has budgeted twenty million dollars to fight efforts to expand voting by mail.  Wouldn’t want to make it easy for people to vote…..

Congressional investigators are asking for information about loans and other bailout funds that the Trump Organization has tried to get from Britain, Ireland and other foreign governments, to cover the wages of employees who’ve been furloughed from the company’s golf properties in Europe due to the pandemic–setting up a conflict-of-interest that probably violates the Constitution.

Then, of course, there’s the astonishing move by Attorney General and Trump lackey William Barr, who has petitioned the court to drop the Justice Department case against Michael Flynn. Tellingly, the filing was signed only by Barr’s hand-picked US Attorney for the District of Columbia–not by a single career prosecutor.

In order to understand how stunningly improper this request is, it may help to remember the behaviors for which Flynn was prosecuted–and for which he twice pled guilty–and why, after the election, President Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn.

Flynn was evidently being watched because he had suspicious connections to Putin. When the Obama administration announced retaliatory measures for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, he immediately made five phone calls to the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. When the FBI interviewed Flynn, he lied about those calls, prompting the famous warnings from Sally Yates to the White House that Flynn was compromised and vulnerable to blackmail.

Trump ignored Yates’ warnings, and when Comey wouldn’t drop the investigation into Russia–focused largely on Flynn’s activities– he fired Comey.

Flynn subsequently offered to testify about the campaign’s connections to Russia in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution, but was turned down. When it became obvious that Mueller had enough evidence to bring criminal charges against both Flynn and his son, he began to cooperate with the investigation. He subsequently pled guilty to lying to federal investigators. (Evidently, he was not sentenced at that time because he had not yet finished cooperating with the special counsel’s office.)

These are hardly the actions of an innocent man, but when Mueller’s investigation ended–and, presumably, heartened when the Senate GOP supinely refused to convict Trump despite evidence of impeachable offenses– he moved to withdraw his guilty plea.

Barr’s pleading (it would be a mistake to attribute it to the professional Justice Department since none of the career prosecutors would sign on) is based on an astonishing assertion: any investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election was unfounded and illegitimate. It’s a flatly dishonest assertion, one clearly dictated by Trump, who is talking about rehiring Flynn.

We learn something new–and appalling–about this horrific administration every single day.

The fossil fuel lobbyists currently dismantling the EPA are continuing their assault on the environment–the number of regulations they have rolled back or eliminated is approaching one hundred. Betsy DeVos continues her efforts to gut public education and to funnel our tax dollars into private and for-profit schools. The Interior Department is busy giving away public land. Etc.Etc.

And Trump, of course, is barreling ahead with his insistence on “opening” the economy, in an effort to salvage his re-election prospects– despite universal warnings from health officials that we are not nearly ready and that many people will die unnecessarily.

His administration is already killing people with increased pollution, so I’m sure a few thousand extra deaths won’t bother them.

If the voters don’t throw this crew out in November–and by “this crew” I very much include the Republicans in the Senate, whose partisanship and lack of patriotism have enabled it all–we can just bid farewell to the America we thought we knew.

 

 

 

 

 

Elitism? Or Respect For Knowledge?

One of the many lessons of the current pandemic is that electing leaders who sneer at expertise and make war on science was a big mistake.

In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis defended the federal bureaucracy, and pointed out how significantly the tasks they perform – from maintaining nuclear waste to  forecasting the weather–depends upon knowledge and training. In a recent interview, Lewis pointed to the Trump camp’s “glaring ignorance” of government’s responsibilities and the expertise required to discharge those responsibilities.

I’ve previously blogged about Trump’s effort to eject scientists from the federal bureaucracy–a fixation exceeded only by his determination to purge anyone responsible for oversight–but the excessive anti-intellectualism of this administration isn’t simply due to Trump. It’s the result of a longstanding Republican “culture war” strategy in which educated folks are demonized as “elitists.”

“Real” Americans don’t put on fancy airs, or point out when policies aren’t based on facts.

As the “Big Sort” has accelerated America’s cultural differences, the GOP has found it easier to sneer at the effete intellectuals who flocked to congenial urban neighborhoods.(I recently read that House Democrats represent 78 percent of all Whole Foods locations, but only 27 percent of Cracker Barrels.) Trump doesn’t understand much, but he does recognize that most of those remaining in the dwindling GOP- -whiter, older and more Christian than the country as a whole–don’t care about policy, or about voting what others might consider their own self-interest. They see themselves as an identity group under threat, and they’ll follow anyone who speaks to their sense of grievance. It’s easy to convince them that coastal “elitists” look down on them.

The GOP’s constant assault on knowledge, professionalism and education has had a predictable effect on trust in all the institutions necessary to democratic self-governance.

A recent report from the Brookings Institution focused on the degree to which the erosion of trust has made us more vulnerable to this pandemic, and noted that Trump is “merely the apotheosis of a political approach that has animated much of the conservative movement for a half century or more: undermining trust in the media, science, and government.”

For America to minimize the damage from the current pandemic, the media must inform, science must innovate, and our government must administer like never before. Yet decades of politically-motivated attacks discrediting all three institutions, taken to a new level by President Trump, leave the American public in a vulnerable position.

Trump has consistently vilified the national media. When campaigning, he called the media “absolute scum” and “totally dishonest people.” As president, he has called news organizations “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” over and over. The examples are endless. Predictably, he has blamed the coronavirus crisis on the media, saying “We were very prepared. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was the media.”

Science has been another Trump target. He has gutted scientific expertise and administrative capacity in the executive branch, most notably failing to fill hundreds of vacancies in the Centers for Disease Control itself and disbanding the National Security Council’s taskforce on pandemics. During the coronavirus crisis, he has routinely disagreed with scientific experts, including, in the AP’s words, his “musing about injecting disinfectants into people [to treat COVID-19].” This follows his earlier public advocacy for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, also against leading scientists’ advice. Coupled with his flip-flopping on when to lift stay-at-home orders, the president has created confusion and endangered people.

Finally, President Trump has consistently demeaned essential government agencies, labeling them part of a “deep state.”

An article originally from Salon looked at the history of empiricism and its importance:

What Galileo established as separating science from other types of “revealed” truths was this: facts and the ability to make testable predictions mattered. There weren’t anymore your facts and my facts, neither were there facts and “alternative facts“. There weren’t revealed facts or aspirational facts. Facts came in only one flavor — observable. Observations, experiments, and reasoning based on reliable data became the only acceptable methods for discovering facts about the world.

In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt summed it up:

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

Since at least the 1960s, the GOP has waged a sneering assault on “elitists” who respect empirical inquiry, and pursue facts, knowledge and expertise. The result is that today’s Americans occupy alternate realities. Denigrating knowledge, however, is equivalent to a demand that we disarm the front-line soldiers fighting our wars.

That is no way to fight a pandemic–or run a country.