Tag Archives: misogyny

So What Can We Do?

There was a favorite example I used in my classroom when we were discussing the challenges posed by living in a country whose citizens increasingly occupy wildly different realities: if I say this particular piece of furniture is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we have a productive exchange about its use?

Americans are continually having that maddening–and worthless– conversation. But it has taken a long time for the people who live in the reality-based community to recognize the basis of the problem.

In the wake of the 2016 election, well-meaning observers grasped for rational, evidence-based reasons to explain votes for a man who exemplified everything those voters claimed to detest. It was economic distress. It was an effort to “blow up” a system that wasn’t working for them. It was an inability to cross party lines.

Some of us suspected what has since become too obvious to ignore: Trump’s racism resonated with Americans whose chosen reality was being threatened by the increasing intrusion of “uppity” women and people of color. In Trump voters’ reality, White Christians enjoyed an obvious entitlement to cultural dominance, and that dominance–the position of “real” Americans– was being eroded.

Most of my friends are liberals (although many of them would have been classified as conservatives before the political spectrum lurched so far to the right that sanity is now a “liberal” marker…), and many of them are simply too nice to believe what the data so clearly confirms: America is split between those who live in a world where people are people, no matter their gender, skin color or religion, and those whose worldview assigns worth solely on the basis of those categories.

The data is unambiguous. Just look at this recent report by Alan Abramowitz from Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The article was about the prospects of Democrats winning back White voters without college degrees, and Abramowitz concluded that appealing to the economic interests of White non-college voters wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to win back their support, because the realignment among those White voters isn’t being driven by economics.

If the increasingly obvious argument is correct– that “economic discontent has little to do with the flight of white working class voters from Democrats”– economic policies aren’t going to prompt their return. As Abramowitz notes, the research strongly suggests that the “main factor behind the shifting party allegiance of these voters is the success of Republican leaders like Donald Trump in appealing to the racial resentments and grievances of non-college white voters.”

In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.

Those “conservative views,” of course, are also driven by racial bias. Sociological research has demonstrated, for example, that negative views on social welfare are connected to the belief that (“lazy”) Black Americans will primarily benefit. In the body of his analysis, Abramowitz notes that non-college whites “leaned to the right in every issue area but especially on social welfare, racial justice, and immigration issues.”

Abramowitz applied a regression analysis to the data, and found that

Racial resentment and party identification are by far the strongest predictors of conservative ideology. Evangelical identification has a significant impact as well, but its effect is not nearly as strong as the effects of racial resentment and party ID. Family income has almost no effect on ideology and economic insecurity has a negative effect.

So–back to that argument over whether the furniture is a table or chair. How do we talk to (never mind debate) people who occupy a wildly different reality–not just the looney-tunes who take horse de-wormers and/or accept QAnon fantasies, but the seemingly normal Americans who harbor stubborn hatreds and resentments untethered to fact or evidence (or for that matter, the Christianity they proclaim)?

I’m stumped.

 

 

When The Issue Isn’t Really The Issue

Thanks to the effort by Texas to totally ban abortion, the issue of reproductive choice has once again taken center stage in America’s interminable culture war.  But as Thomas Edsall has recently pointed out, a purported issue isn’t always, or necessarily, the real issue.

I always read Edsall’s essays in the New York Times, because he draws on both the history of whatever issue he is exploring and on a wide range of scholarly research in order to craft his conclusions. This particular piece is no different. As he tells us,

As recently as 1984, abortion was not a deeply partisan issue.

“The difference in support for the pro-choice position was a mere six percentage points,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, told me by email. “40 percent of Democratic identifiers were pro-life, while 39 percent were pro-choice. Among Republican identifiers, 33 percent were pro-choice, 45 percent were pro-life and 22 percent were in the middle.”

By 2020, of course, that situation had changed, with 73 percent of Democrats taking the pro-choice position (only 17 percent were “pro-life”–the other 10 percent were in the middle). That year, 60 percent of Republicans claimed to be pro-life; 25 percent were pro-choice, and 15 percent were in the middle.

If Edsall was commenting only on the growth of the partisan divide, that would be interesting but hardly surprising. What was surprising was the association between opposition to abortion and–wait for it–racial attitudes.

Whites who score high on measures of racial resentment and racial grievance are far more likely to support strict limits on abortion than whites who score low on these measures. This is part of a larger picture in which racial attitudes are increasingly linked with opinions on a wide range of disparate issues including social welfare issues, gun control, immigration and even climate change. The fact that opinions on all of these issues are now closely interconnected and connected with racial attitudes is a key factor in the deep polarization within the electorate that contributes to high levels of straight ticket voting and a declining proportion of swing voters.

I have previously posted about the origins of the anti-choice movement. Historians of religion have located those origins in conservative rage over the denial of tax benefits to the Whites-only academies that had been established to avoid integration. They had politicized abortion in order to motivate Christian conservative activism while dodging the less-palatable race issue.

There are other, less surprising associations: according to one scholar cited by Edsall, people who are active in the “pro life” movement are more likely to be committed to a patriarchal worldview in which control of reproduction, and female sexuality in particular, is important to the maintenance of  the gender hierarchy they support.

Women have noticed…

Edsall offers historical evidence that the issue of abortion has “evolved”–lending credibility to the claim that it is a proxy for a worldview that encompasses far more than religious convictions about reproductive choice.

Fifty years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis approved what by the standards of 1971 was a decisively liberal resolution on abortion:

Be it further resolved, that we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.

Edsall cites historian Randall Balmer for an observation often made by people critical of the anti-abortion movement: “the beauty of defending a fetus is that the fetus demands nothing in return — housing, health care, education — so it’s a fairly low-risk advocacy.” As pro-choice folks frequently point out, what is called a “pro-life position” is often merely “pro-birth,” since so many of the people espousing it are uninterested in feeding, clothing and educating the child once it emerges from the womb.

And of course, there’s the recent spectacle of anti-choice folks claiming “my body my choice”as justification for refusing vaccination. (Not only is that hypocritical inconsistency infuriating,  a woman exercising reproductive choice isn’t infecting her neighbors…a distinction that clearly eludes them…)

Edsall’s essay explains what, for many pro-choice advocates, has been a conundrum: why are opponents of abortion not seeking wide accessibility to birth control? Surely they should want to avoid  the unplanned, unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion, so why are some of the most fervent “pro-lifers” actually opposed to birth control?

Edsall and the scholars he cites have provided support for the answer many of us have suspected. For far too many of these “warriors for life,” the issue isn’t really the issue.

 

Facing Reality

At this moment, it looks as if Joe Biden will win. But no matter who is President when the smoke clears and the votes are all counted–if they are– we learned some things on Tuesday. And the lessons weren’t pleasant.

The most obvious–and ultimately least consequential–is that polling is not nearly as “scientific” as the pollsters think. The effort to figure out what went so wrong will undoubtedly occupy pundits and nerds for a long time.

The far more painful lesson concerns the nature of our fellow-Americans.

I read about the thuggery leading up to the election–the “good old boys” in pickups ramming Biden’s bus, the desecration of a Jewish graveyard in Michigan with “MAGA” and “Trump” spray paint, the consistent, nation-wide efforts to suppress urban and minority voters–but until election night, I’d convinced myself that those responsible represented a very small segment of the population.

I think what I am feeling now is what Germany’s Jews must have felt when they realized the extent of Hitler’s support.

I am not engaging in hyperbole: the research in the wake of 2016 is unambiguous. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly motivated by racial and religious animus and grievance. White nationalist fervor has swept both the U.S. and Europe over the past few years, but it has taken firmer hold here. The QAnon conspiracy has clear roots in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and America’s racism–our original sin–has provided fertile ground for the alt-right sympathizers who defend tearing brown children from their parents, treating both immigrants and citizens of color as disposable, and keeping women in “our place.”

Trump didn’t invent these people, but he has activated them. Indeed, he is one of them.

I thought it was tragic when Trump’s approval ratings forced me to recognize that more than a third of America fell into that category. I find it inconceivable–but inarguable and infinitely depressing–that the actual number is close to half.

Evidently, the America I thought I inhabited never really existed. I’m in mourning for the country I believed was mine.

AOC Explains It–Clearly

As Monica Hesse, a columnist for the Washington Post advised,

If you click on only one thing today, let it be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Thursday morning speech, delivered from the House floor and directed to a fellow member of Congress, but really to us all.

I echo that advice. You can view the speech here; it’s ten minutes and it is absolutely worth your time.

For those who’ve been in a coma or otherwise out of touch, Ocasio-Cortez (familiarly “AOC”) was responding to an encounter with Rep. Ted Yoho (R. Fla.) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. He was angered by a claim she had made during a discussion of crime, linking a spike in criminal behavior to poverty and unemployment; he called her “disgusting,” he said she was “out of [her] freaking mind,” and when the discussion ended, and she walked into the Capitol to cast a vote, Yoho turned to another congressman and said–in a voice loud enough to be heard by the reporters who were clustered at the foot of the steps– “fucking bitch.”

As a report of the incident in The New Yorker noted,  Yoho approaches matters of criminal justice from a decidedly conservative perspective, having recently voted against making lynching a federal hate crime. (He claimed that such a law would be a “regrettable instance of federal overreach”–to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to weigh in on the considerably more significant degree of “overreach” exhibited by sending federal goons to Portland and Chicago…)

The incident received considerable publicity, and Yoho found it prudent to come to the floor of the chamber and make a non-apologetic apology, in which he 

invoked his wife and daughters and said that he objected to Ocasio-Cortez’s views because he had experienced poverty when he was young. “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country,” he said. It was unclear who had asked him to apologize for his religious faith, his patriotism, or his love of family, but he was ardent all the same.

AOC began her “point of personal privilege” by saying she hadn’t planned to respond at all; as she noted, as someone who has waited tables and ridden the New York subway, the terminology was hardly foreign to her. And (in a passage I particularly applauded) she expressly disdained the pose of a “hurt” woman, a victim. She said she’d decided to respond only after Yoho’s non-apology on the House floor, and her target wasn’t Yoho–it was the cultural misogyny that permits men to behave despicably to women “with impunity.”

She took especial aim at the “pervasive and ludicrous concept that sexist men listing their female family members is an ironclad defense against charges of sexism — as if Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump haven’t had wives and daughters.” As Hesse put it,

Most important, she made it clear that her grievance was not with a profane sentence, but with the story it appeared in — a long history of casual misogyny disguised as “passion” or even, God help us, as patriotism. Rep. Yoho presented his own explosive emotions as righteous, while allegedly casting Ocasio-Cortez as the b—- who made him explode.

It is worth noting that while Ocasio-Cortez lays all of this out, she does so in a tone of voice that never veers above mild irritation. In her floor speech, which totals about 10 minutes, she never raises her voice or resorts to calling names. She is exactly as measured as women are always expected to be, and as men are always assumed to be. And she made it clear that, to her, none of this was personal.

I found AOC’s conclusion especially powerful:

Having daughters is not what makes someone a decent man,” she said. “Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”

I have previously had mixed reactions to AOC; while I respected her intellect and tended to agree with her on policy (not always, but a good deal of the time), I’ve been put off by her disinclination to sit back and learn the ropes before jumping into the spotlight.

That reaction is probably generational, and her response to Yoho has converted me.

Consider me a fan–and watch the video.

 

Could You Pass That Test?

According to several news outlets, a Justice Department inquiry into Hillary Clinton (launched some  two years ago at the insistence of conservatives unsatisfied with the results of multiple previous investigations) has effectively ended. Investigators found no wrongdoing, and (off the record) law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

This inquiry was conducted by a Trump Justice Department headed by Bill Barr, not exactly a friendly group of investigators.

I’ve lost track of the number of investigations that have been conducted into Hillary Clinton’s activities. Whitewater. Bengazi. “But her emails!”

When I saw the headlines confirming that–once again–the investigators had come up empty, all I could think about was a joke my mother used to tell: an elderly woman goes into the butcher shop. She picks up a chicken, lifts each drumstick and sniffs under it; then she smells under each wing. Finally, she smells the cavity, turns to the butcher and says “Mr. Butcher, this bird stinks.”

To which the butcher replies, “Lady, could you pass that test?”

Partisans and others are certainly entitled to dislike Hillary Clinton, or to criticize her demeanor or campaign. Disagreement with her policy positions is clearly fair. But the intensity of the animus she arouses, and the persistence with which Republicans have hounded her–and continue to demonize her three years after she lost the election and (from all appearances) retired from political life– are so hysterical and disproportionate that you have to wonder just what is going on.

The obsession isn’t new, and it didn’t begin with her campaign for the Presidency. Throughout her public life, Clinton has been held to a standard that wildly exceeds expectations applied to male political figures. I can think of any number of male politicians who have exhibited every behavior and characteristic for which Clinton has been excoriated; none of them excited the level of vitriol that has been directed at her.

It is also worth noting that a substantial number of those male politicians have been found guilty of various levels of misbehavior–including crimes–while the incessant investigations into Clinton have uncovered nothing more culpable than occasional carelessness.

It is just impossible to see this relentless campaign as anything other than rank misogyny.

I am hopeful (although not entirely convinced) that Clinton generated that level of sexism simply because she was in many ways the first: the first First Lady to reject the traditional decorative and submissive role, the first to carve out a high-profile political career separate from that of her husband after leaving the White House; and the first woman to be the Presidential nominee of a major political party.

I am hopeful (although unconvinced) that in the wake of Clinton’s candidacy, the passage of time, the number of women in the Democratic Presidential primary, and the explosion in the number of women elected to positions at all levels of government have combined to moderate the sexist hostility that prompted the tsunami of vitriol directed at Clinton.

I am fearful that I’m wrong.

Donald Trump’s base is composed almost entirely of white Christian men who see Trump as their protector against the uppity blacks and pushy women whose demands for equality threaten their historic dominance. They became unhinged when an African-American was elected President, and it’s likely they will be equally threatened if it looks as if a woman is about to be elected.

Meanwhile, Hillary has emerged exonerated from yet another actual witch hunt– conducted by men who most definitely couldn’t pass that test.