Tag Archives: MAGA

A Matter Of Morals

This is a very difficult time for those of us who are old enough to remember a much different politics.

When I was in City Hall, most elected Republicans and Democrats (granted, not all) could disagree over certain policies while agreeing about others. State Senators and Representatives could argue on the floor of a Statehouse chamber and go to lunch together afterward. Both Republican and Democratic Congressmen (yes, they were all men) would carry the City’s water in Washington.

And politicians of both parties honored election results and participated in the peaceful transition of power.

Why has that changed? Why do members of Trump’s hard-core MAGA base seethe with resentment and hatred of “the libs”? Why do so many of us respond to their hostility with incomprehension– as if they were representatives of a different species?

Well-meaning observers–pundits, political operatives, writers–counsel Americans to listen to one another, urge us to try to understand and respect each other, to make genuine efforts to bridge our differences.

Why do those pleas fall on deaf ears?

I think most thoughtful Americans struggle to understand the abyss that exists between the  MAGA true believers (and the integrity-free officials who pander to them), and the rest of us–the “rest of us” encompassing everyone from genuinely conservative “Never Trump” Republicans to the Bernie and AOC wing of the Democratic Party.

Like many of you, I have struggled to understand why Americans’ political differences have magnified and hardened. Clearly, our information environment has contributed greatly to the construction of incommensurate realities. That said, however, I think there is a deeper reason, and we find it at the intersection of politics and morality.

Political contests are about power, of course–about who gets to make decisions about our communal lives and behaviors. And power is obviously a great aphrodisiac. But purely political battles center on policy disputes–everything from where the county commissioners are going to put that new road to whether the country will enter into a particular trade agreement.

When politics works, the battles are overwhelmingly “how” arguments: how will we provide service X? What sort of law will solve problem Y? Who should benefit from program Z? Those battles certainly implicate morality, but not in the way or to the extent that our current disputes do. Increasing numbers of Americans believe they are engaged in a battle between good and evil–and to the extent the issues dividing us really are fundamentally moral ones, there is little or no common ground to be found.

I was struck by this observation in an article titled “The MAGA Hat Isn’t Campaign Swag. It’s a Symbol of Hate.”

Unless you’ve been marooned on the International Space Station, you know that Trumpism is racism, blatant or latent (here’s a summary of the voluminous evidence). That makes the cap no different than a Confederate flag. It’s racial animosity woven in cloth, unwearable without draping yourself in its political meaning. It would be like donning a swastika and expecting to be taken for a Quaker.

We Americans are still fighting the Civil War. As an article in the Guardian noted yesterday, the GOP has morphed into the Confederacy.

There has been a steady exodus from the GOP as its MAGA core has assumed effective control of the party.  And to be fair, there are still plenty of people who continue to vote Republican who do not fall into that category, although their willingness to ignore the obvious makes them complicit at best.

Those of you reading this post may disagree with the assertion that Americans are fighting over morality, not politics as we typically understand that term. But accurate or not, millions of thoughtful Americans  believe they are engaged in a battle for the soul of this nation, and are horrified by what they see as the willingness of some 40% of their fellow-citizens to spit on the aspirations of our founding documents and subvert the rule of law in order to retain a privileged status that they enjoy solely by reason of their skin color, gender and/or religion.

This isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even politics as that term is usually understood.

Americans are having a profound and fundamental argument about reality, the nature of justice, the obligations of citizenship, and the kind of country we will leave our children and grandchildren.

That’s a hard chasm to bridge.

 

The Differences Are Generational, Not Ideological

The day after the second Democratic debate, Ron Brownstein had a very thought-provoking essay in The Atlantic-a publication that has become one of my essential sources of information. He introduced it thusly:

The same explosive question rumbled through this week’s Supreme Court ruling on the 2020 census and the two nights of Democratic presidential debates: How will America respond to the propulsive demographic, social, and economic changes remaking the nation?

The juxtaposition of these two events, purely coincidental, underscored how much of American politics in the years ahead is likely to turn on that elemental question. Trump’s determination to add a citizenship question to the census, which many think will depress Latino participation, demonstrates how thoroughly he has pointed his agenda at the voters most uneasy about these fundamental changes, a group I’ve called the coalition of restoration. Even after the Supreme Court, for now, blocked the citizenship question in a 5–4 decision yesterday, Trump immediately tweeted that he’s resolved to include it, even if that means delaying the census.

Brownstein suggests that all the splintering and tribalization we see around us can actually be re-categorized into two overarching and fundamentally opposed mindsets: one of  restoration and one of transformation.

There are, of course, other descriptions we might append to these categories: delusional (Make America Great Again) and aspirational (make America come to terms with its past and work toward a fairer, more inclusive future) come to mind.  Or just Republican and Democratic….

There’s no doubt which is the party of the past. The question so many of us obsess over is whether the Democratic Party is sufficiently aware of, oriented to, and able to navigate an inevitable future.

Especially in last night’s debate, the Democrats crystallized the question of whether the party can look back for leadership or must lean into America’s changing society by picking a presidential nominee who embodies it. That dynamic was underlined as much by images as by words, as two candidates—South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is a gay Millennial, and Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is of mixed-race descent—ran rings around, and sometimes directly over, the two white male septuagenarians at the center of the stage and the top of the polls: former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Brownstein argues convincingly that the primary contest isn’t between people of differing ideologies so much as different generational worldviews.

Whether or not it immediately moves the polls, last night’s debate raised the possibility that the axis of the Democratic race could shift from left versus center to new leadership that reflects the modern party’s diversity versus old leadership that does not.

The effort to add a citizenship question to the census is a perfect example of the GOP’s hysterical defiance of American reality. As Brownstein writes, suppressing the count of Latinos and other immigrant communities would be a powerful symbolic statement: what better way to deny an emerging American reality than to literally wipe millions of people out of existence by not counting them in the census?

People angered by this analysis–an analysis with which I entirely agree– say that proponents of generational change are being ageist. There may be an overlap, but age isn’t the issue. Ageism is discrimination against people solely because they’ve lived a certain number of years. Brownstein’s concern, and mine, is with people whose worldviews are rooted in realities that no longer exist.

We are all products of the world into which we were socialized.

No matter how many gadgets I use, I will never be as comfortable with technology as my grandchildren. Most older people–granted, not all–will never be as comfortable with, or as fully aware of, the political realities of today’s America as their younger counterparts.

Restoration isn’t possible. Transformation may be.