Tag Archives: GOP

Someone To Blame

One of my all-time favorite movies was 1995’s “The American President.” I loved its full-throated defense of the ACLU, its “rom-com” elements, and the excellent acting, but most of all, I loved the part where the President, played by Michael Douglas, turned to his antagonist–a slimy, political “dirty tricks politician” named Bob Rumson (played by Richard Dreyfuss)– during a press conference  and said

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. A perfect description of Donald Trump and his despicable tribe.

As political scientists have continued to amass data in an effort to explain the 2016 election and figure out why any sentient American would cast a vote for Donald Trump, that scene looks more and more prescient.

As Paul Krugman noted in a recent column, there is little if any support in voting data for the notion that “economic anxiety” drove people to vote for Trump. The data pretty clearly shows that what distinguished Trump voters wasn’t financial hardship but “attitudes related to race and ethnicity.”

Those attitudes tend to manifest themselves largely, although certainly not uniformly, in the more rural parts of the country–in areas Krugman identifies as economically “lagging.”

Yet these attitudes aren’t divorced from economic change. Even if they’re personally doing well, many voters in lagging regions have a sense of grievance, a feeling that they’re being disrespected by the glittering elites of superstar cities; this sense of grievance all too easily turns into racial antagonism. Conversely, however, the transformation of the G.O.P. into a white nationalist party alienates voters — even white voters — in those big, successful metropolitan areas.

I remember attending a session at an American Political Science Association conference several years ago, and being fascinated by the presentation of research analyzing the role of “dissing” in (primarily teenage) violence. As I recall (and my recall, unfortunately, isn’t so hot in my dotage), the feeling of being “dissed,” or disrespected, was the single most important factor triggering rage in teenaged boys and in members of socially marginalized groups.

In parts of the country where young people are increasingly leaving for cities offering better job and social opportunities, where small farms and mom and pop enterprises are overwhelmed by corporate enterprises, where main street shop windows continue to be boarded up and the grandkids who moved to the city not only have friends who don’t look, love and pray like they do, but hold and express opinions that would once have been considered scandalous, it’s entirely understandable that many of those remaining would feel disoriented, discounted and left behind, even if their own finances are secure.

These are people who fear losing the America they thought they knew, people who are angry and resentful at what they see as a lack of respect, a “dissing,” from those in the nation’s growing and affluent cities.

Fox News and Trump’s GOP feed that fear, and tell them who’s to blame: people of color, Jews, Muslims, uppity women, smarty-pants intellectuals and self-satisfied “experts.”

And of course, Democrats.

“The American President” was ahead of its time.

Identity Partisanship

A recent Vox “explainer” by Ezra Klein rebuts some post-2016-election punditry–while confirming emerging political science research on partisan identity.

Klein’s article began with an important point that is often overlooked: the term “identity politics” is too often used to diminish the importance or legitimacy of political demands made by historically marginalized groups. It is a handy way to dismiss demands by African-American voters for action on police brutality, for example.

Corporate CEOs asking for tax cuts or suburban voters demanding action on health care costs, well, that’s just normal politics.

This narrowed definition obscures the true might of identity politics. Virtually all politics is identity politics, and the most powerful political identities are the biggest political identities — Democrat and Republican, which are increasingly merging with our racial, geographic, religious, and cultural groups to create what the political scientist Lilliana Mason calls “mega-identities.”

These mega-identities influence the way we interact with reality. Who we are influences not just our policy preferences, but what we believe is true. The column quotes from a recent, important book titled “Identity Crisis.”

  • During Barack Obama’s presidency, polling showed Republicans making more than $100,000 a year were more dissatisfied with the state of the economy than Democrats making less than $20,000 a year. Economic anxiety was “in large part a partisan phenomenon.”
  • It was also a racial phenomenon. Prior to Obama, measures of racial resentment didn’t predict views on the economy. After Obama, they did. It’s worth stating that clearly: The more racially resentful you were, the worse you thought the economy was doing, even controlling for your party, circumstance, and so on. This flipped as soon as Donald Trump was elected: The more racial resentful you were, the more economically optimistic you became.
  • Among Republican primary voters, Trump did not do better with Republicans who worried that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” or that the system “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Nor did he routinely lead the field among Republicans who felt betrayed by their party. There’s little evidence, in other words, that Trump voters were registering outrage with the political system as a whole.
  • Trump destroyed the rest of the Republican field among primary voters who were angry about immigration. He did 40 points better among Republican voters with the most negative views of immigration than among those with the most positive views. Trump’s success, in other words, was that he ran an issue-based candidacy on an issue where he was closer to the Republican base than the other candidates were.
  • The same was true with attitudes toward Muslims: “Trump performed significantly better with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively unfavorably in 2011 than he did with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively favorably.” By contrast, views of Muslims did not affect support for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
  •  And so it went for race too. Republican voters who attributed racial inequality to a lack of effort among African Americans rather than past and present discrimination were 50 points likelier to support Trump. Similarly, Republicans who told pollsters they felt coldly toward African Americans in 2011 were 20 points likelier to support Trump than Republicans who said they felt warmly toward African Americans.

There was much more along the same lines. It adds to the steady accumulation of evidence that has emerged in the wake of the 2016 election, that Obama’s Presidency moved less-educated, more racially-resentful Americans to the GOP, and widened the attitudinal and cultural gap between the parties.

In Pew Research Center surveys from 2007, whites were just as likely to call themselves Democrats as Republicans (roughly 44%-44%). But whites quickly fled the Democratic Party during Obama’s presidency. By 2010, whites were 12 points more likely to be Republicans than Democrats (51%-39%). By 2016, that gap had widened to 15 points (54%-39%).

This, um, white flight was concentrated at the bottom of the education ladder. “Whites who did not attend college were evenly split between the two parties in Pew surveys conducted from 1992 to 2008,” write the authors. “But by 2015, white voters who had a high school degree or less were 24 percentage points more Republican than Democratic.”

The conclusions of the study were unambiguous, and debunked both the theory that economic anxiety drove Trump’s voters, and the theory that a weak economic recovery catalyzed the racial resentment that drove Trump’s voters.

The correct synthesis is the reverse: Racial resentment driven by Obama’s presidency catalyzed economic anxiety among Trump’s voters.

As other studies have documented, racial resentment has been stoked–“activated”– by growing White Christian realization that America’s demographics are changing. As Klein says,

 Politics is increasingly revolving around fights that activate the Democratic-diverse America identity and the Republican-white America identity.

We shouldn’t expect Trump to be the terminal point of this kind of political appeal, which means we need books like Identity Crisis that help us understand it.

Wise Words

Two different Facebook friends attended Donald Trump’s rally in Southport, Indiana, an Indianapolis bedroom community, in the week prior to the midterm election. Both were there simply to observe–one was with a group of protesters, but the other was on a sort of “reconnaissance mission.” Who, she wondered, were these Hoosiers who continued to support a man she considered morally repulsive?

Both of these observers were shaken by the experience. Trump’s “adoring crowds” evidently really do adore him. (Those “over the top” comparisons to Hitler may not be so over the top.) His crudeness and vulgarity, his contempt for expertise and elemental humanity, evidently validate them in some fashion that I can’t comprehend.

It may be because he gives them someone to blame for life’s disappointments and failures–someone black or brown or Jewish or Muslim.

We keep hearing that 90% of Republicans still strongly support Trump, and that’s terrifying. But what we don’t hear nearly as often is the corollary: that the number of people who continue to call themselves Republican has dramatically diminished. As the party has metamorphosed into a cult, a large number of good, sane Americans who were previously Republican  have run for the exits.

One of those was “Sully” Sullenberger–a lifelong Republican best known for safely landing a plane in an episode usually referred to as the “miracle on the Hudson.” Right before the election, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, and it’s worth quoting.

He began by referencing that storied landing:

Nearly 10 years ago, I led 154 people to safety as the captain of US Airways Flight 1549, which suffered bird strikes, lost thrust in the engines and was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Some called it “the Miracle on the Hudson.” But it was not a miracle. It was, in microcosm, an example of what is needed in emergencies — including the current national crisis — and what is possible when we serve a cause greater than ourselves.

Sullenberger recounted the important contributions of passengers and airline personnel to the effort to avert disaster, and emphasized the importance of good  judgment, experience, skill — and combined efforts of people working together. He then made a crucial point.

To navigate complex challenges, all leaders must take responsibility and have a moral compass grounded in competence, integrity and concern for the greater good.

Concern for the greater good is a concept entirely foreign to Donald Trump (who, incidentally, displays neither competence nor integrity). Sullenberger didn’t identify Trump by name, but it was impossible not to know who he was talking about when he wrote the following:

In every situation, but especially challenging ones, a leader sets the tone and must create an environment in which all can do their best. You get what you project. Whether it is calm and confidence — or fear, anger and hatred — people will respond in kind. Courage can be contagious.

Today, tragically, too many people in power are projecting the worst. Many are cowardly, complicit enablers, acting against the interests of the United States, our allies and democracy; encouraging extremists at home and emboldening our adversaries abroad; and threatening the livability of our planet. Many do not respect the offices they hold; they lack — or disregard — a basic knowledge of history, science and leadership; and they act impulsively, worsening a toxic political environment.

As a result, we are in a struggle for who and what we are as a people. We have lost what in the military we call unit cohesion. The fabric of our nation is under attack, while shame — a timeless beacon of right and wrong — seems dead.

Toward the end of his essay, Sullenberger (unlike the people at Trump rallies or the spineless enablers in Congress) firmly elevates the national interest over partisan loyalties.

For the first 85 percent of my adult life, I was a registered Republican. But I have always voted as an American. And this critical Election Day, I will do so by voting for leaders committed to rebuilding our common values and not pandering to our basest impulses.

We sometimes forget that there are thousands of former Republicans who–like Sullenberger–chose to leave the GOP when it became the party of Trump and the unhappy White Nationalists who drink his Kool-Aid.

 

Poll Taxes Were So Last-Century…

Tis the season–of voter suppression.

Vote suppression, of course, can’t be disentangled from the racism that was the subject of yesterday’s post. Efforts by the GOP to keep folks from the polls, after all, tend to be focused on black folks, and that has been true ever since poll taxes were instituted to keep former slaves from exercising their franchise.

Today’s Republicans are far more inventive–and far more overt. From Voter ID laws that are aimed at solving the  virtually non-existent problem of in-person “voter fraud,” to the chutzpah of Brian Kemp in Georgia, the GOP is pulling out all the stops to keep people of color from the polls. (And thanks to the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, there are lots of stops to pull out.)

The New Yorker has an article titled “Voter-Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump” that is well worth reading.It begins with a story.

African-Americans used to tell a joke about a black Harvard professor who moves to the Deep South and tries to register to vote. A white clerk tells him that he will first have to read aloud a paragraph from the Constitution. When he easily does so, the clerk says that he will also have to read and translate a section written in Spanish. Again he complies. The clerk then demands that he read sections in French, German, and Russian, all of which he happens to speak fluently. Finally, the clerk shows him a passage in Arabic. The professor looks at it and says, “My Arabic is rusty, but I believe this translates to ‘Negroes cannot vote in this county.’ ”

As the article notes, this old joke has a new saliency. It’s true that–thanks to litigation–literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses meant to disadvantage minority voters have all been declared illegal. But new strategies have replaced them.

One need look no further than the governor’s race in Georgia to see their modern equivalents in action. The race between the Republican, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, and the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the state House of Representatives—who, if she wins, will be the first black female governor in the country—is a virtual tie. But Kemp has invoked the so-called exact-match law to suspend fifty-three thousand voter-registration applications, for infractions as minor as a hyphen missing from a surname. African-Americans make up thirty-two per cent of the state’s population, but they represent nearly seventy per cent of the suspended applications.

This isn’t Kemp’s first effort at disenfranchising minority voters. Historian Carol Anderson has written a book titled “One Person, No Vote,” in which Kemp is prominently profiled.

In 2012, after the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, in Atlanta, discovered that many of its clients who were naturalized citizens were not on the voter rolls, despite having registered, the group raised the issue with Kemp’s office. “In a show of raw intimidation,” Anderson writes, “Kemp ordered an investigation questioning the methods that the organization had used to register new voters.” In 2014, Kemp investigated the New Georgia Project, a voter-registration initiative that Abrams had founded. In a similar vein, officials in Jefferson County last week ordered a group of African-American senior citizens off a bus taking them to an early-voting site, on the ground that the transportation, which had been organized by the nonpartisan group Black Voters Matter, was a “political activity.”

The article characterizes these and similar (if somewhat less blatant) efforts elsewhere as an attempt to place a white thumb on the demographic scale.

Georgia is far from the only state making an effort to curtail–rather than encourage–voting.  The Brennan Center reports that ninety-nine bills designed to diminish voter access were introduced last year in thirty-one state legislatures. And as early voting has started, we are seeing reports of machines that “flip” voters choices from Democratic candidates to their Republican opponents.

If and when Congress is controlled by elected officials willing to put the interests of the country above the partisan interests of their party, reinvigoration of the Voting Rights Act and measures to protect the franchise need to be priority number one.

Meanwhile, massive turnout next Tuesday will be needed in order to overcome gerrymandering and the various voter suppression and misinformation efforts that are being employed by Republican politicians who want to win at all costs–even if one of those costs is the integrity of our democracy.

 

Looking For My Inner Pollyanna–Roe v. Wade Edition

Along with all the other legal mayhem we can now expect from the most reactionary Supreme Court in over a century, most observers predict the demise of Roe v. Wade, despite polling that suggests most Americans would strongly disapprove.

If Roe is overruled, there will certainly be some horrendous consequences. But there may also be some unanticipated positives. Bear with me, here.

We have all recognized the intransigence of the “one issue” anti-choice voter. Without Roe, it’s conceivable (no pun intended) that the wind will go out of that sail. (It will be much more difficult to energize a national movement against birth control, which is actually a target of the most rabid anti-choice activists.) Anti-choice voters have been a mainstay of the GOP–and they will arguably be considerably less motivated.

If Roe is no longer the law of the land, the issue will revert to the states, and a number of states will opt for reproductive choice. Those of us who care about women’s autonomy will need to do some serious fundraising to make it possible for poor women in Red states to travel to states where abortion is legal, and that’s a pain. But even now, with abortion theoretically legal, there are many places in the U.S. where clinics are few and far between; women have to travel long distances, put up with bogus “counseling,” and deal with other barriers to the exercise of the currently constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

What the confirmation of Kavanaugh and the de-nationalization of Roe might do–should do–is redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And that could be a huge game-changer.

The current dominance of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect the desires of the American majority–far from it. GOP numbers have been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican. Their dominance is due primarily to the 2011 gerrymander, and that was made possible because they controlled a large number of state governments. The GOP vote suppression tactics that depressed Democratic turnout and disenfranchised Democratic voters have also been facilitated by state-level control.

The next redistricting will occur in 2021. Between now and then, women, Democrats, liberal-leaning Independents and new voters need to focus their efforts on statehouses around the country. We need to eliminate gerrymandering wherever possible, and we need to put an end to vote suppression tactics.

There will be other strategic decisions necessitated by a rogue Supreme Court. Lawsuits implicating civil rights and civil liberties, for example, may have better prospects in state courts interpreting state constitutions than in the federal system. (When the Supreme Court was less open to arguments from the LGBTQ community, the ACLU and Lambda Legal had some considerable successes in state courts.)

The next few years will be critical. Success will depend upon the “staying power” of those Americans for whom the 2016 election and the travesty of Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been wake-up calls. It’s one thing to post despairing messages to like-minded friends on social media; it’s another thing entirely to continue the day-to-day drudgery of organizing and registering our fellow citizens, and getting out the vote.

If we are going to reclaim the America we thought we had, however, anger and determination are great motivators.