Tag Archives: Republicans

About White Populism

A few days back, I posted a blog praising George W. Bush’s recent speech decrying Trump’s bigotry. The responses were varied–some agreed that such a message coming from a former Republican President whose own tenure was unsuccessful (to put it mildly) was welcome. Others recited the multiple misdeeds of his administration as proof that nothing he could ever do should be considered praiseworthy.

There is a degree of partisanship that makes its adherents loathe to agree with any sentiment, no matter how anodyne, coming from the other “team”–a dogmatism that makes them unwilling to believe that agreement by one of “them” with a position of “ours” could possibly be authentic, let alone grounds for amicable discussion.

That’s too bad, because those partisans will miss an essay in the National Review that is well worth reading. I would be surprised if thoughtful political liberals wouldn’t approve of most of the points made.

A couple of examples:

Conservatives have a weakness for that “acting white” business because we are intellectually invested in emphasizing the self-inflicted problems of black America, for rhetorical and political reasons that are too obvious to require much elaboration…

Republicans, once the party of the upwardly mobile with a remarkable reflex for comforting the comfortable, have written off entire sections of the country — including the bits where most of the people live — as “un-American.” Silicon Valley and California at large, New York City and the hated Acela corridor, and, to some extent, large American cities categorically are sneered at and detested. There is some ordinary partisanship in that, inasmuch as the Democrats tend to dominate the big cities and the coastal metropolitan aggregations, but it isn’t just that. Conservatives are cheering for the failure of California and slightly nonplussed that New York City still refuses to regress into being an unlivable hellhole in spite of the best efforts of its batty Sandinista mayor. Not long ago, to be a conservative on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was the most ordinary thing in the world. Now that address would be a source of suspicion. God help you if you should ever attend a cocktail party in Georgetown, the favorite dumb trope of conservative talk-radio hosts.

We’ve gone from William F. Buckley Jr. to the gentlemen from Duck Dynasty. Why?

American authenticity, from the acting-even-whiter point of view, is not to be found in any of the great contemporary American business success stories, or in intellectual life, or in the great cultural institutions, but in the suburban-to-rural environs in which the white underclass largely makes its home — the world John Mellencamp sang about but understandably declined to live in.

Shake your head at rap music all you like: When’s the last time you heard a popular country song about finishing up your master’s in engineering at MIT?

There is much, much more, and I strongly encourage readers to click through and read the entire essay–not just because so many of the writer’s observations are dead-on, but because those on the political Left who identify strongly with other progressives and with the resistance to Trump and Trumpism need to remember that genuine conservatives also disdain the know-nothings and bigots who have appropriated the conservative label.

Before the GOP was taken over by conspiracy theorists, racists, religious fundamentalists and Big Money, principled Democratic and Republican political figures used to engage in civil conversation and even productive policymaking.

We will never recover the art of civil conversation, let alone policymaking intended to serve the public good, if we refuse to see any merit in anyone who doesn’t agree with us 100%. That sort of political intransigence–prominent among the GOP base and so-called “Freedom Caucus”–is what has destroyed the Republican party. Democrats shouldn’t emulate it.

Read the damn essay.

 

So You Want Your Country Back?

Yesterday, I attended Indianapolis’ March on Washington–one of the “sister” marches held all over the world. As anyone who listens to the news or has seen the photographs already knows, turnout was massive everywhere. At the Statehouse in deep-red Indiana, the crowd was huge; I’m told it was easily the largest demonstration in Indiana in the past twenty years.

There were lots of clever and poignant signs, but the one that summed up America’s situation for me read “Left or Right, We Know He’s Wrong.”

This was not a normal partisan election. It wasn’t a contest between candidates with different policy preferences, a contest between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. It was a battle between White Supremacists led by a dangerously unstable demagogue and time-honored, inclusive American values.

Trump has no political philosophy–he  isn’t remotely like the Republicans I served with “back in the day.” But then, most of those who call themselves Republicans today have nothing in common with the Grand Old Party I grew up with.

These rabid ideologues aren’t conservatives; they are a collection of reactionaries, oligarchs and bigots. Whenever I hear one of them piously intoning “I want my country back,” I want to respond “Well, I want the real Republican Party back!”

This New Yorker article made me nostalgic for the party I used to know….

The article was about Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the EPA, but it began by harking back to Bill Ruckelshaus, the first EPA Director. He was from Indianapolis, he was admirable, and he was typical of the GOP of which I was then a part.

In the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. He and his colleague Gerald Hansler, an environmental engineer, began touring the state in a white panel truck. They collected water samples and snapped photographs of fish corpses—bluegills, sunfish, and perch, poisoned by the effluent that gushed from industrial outfalls. Then they wrote up the evidence and brought charges against those responsible. Yet, however diligently they worked, their efforts were often regarded with suspicion by Indiana’s governor, who wanted to keep businesses from moving to states with even laxer environmental standards. “I just saw how powerless the states were to act,” Ruckelshaus recalled.

Ruckelshaus brought this lesson with him to Washington, D.C., in 1970, when President Richard Nixon appointed him to set up and run the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From a modest cluster of rooms on L Street, Ruckelshaus led the agency in its first swift actions. After less than two weeks, he announced that the E.P.A. planned to sue the cities of Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit unless they made a serious effort to stop polluting their rivers with sewage. Later, he refused to give automakers an extension on their mandate to install catalytic converters in all new vehicles—a requirement that eventually resulted in large cuts to toxic, smog-forming emissions. And, in 1972, Ruckelshaus’s E.P.A. banned most uses of the pesticide DDT, a move that helped save a national icon, the American bald eagle, from extinction. More than four decades on, the E.P.A.’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act has averted millions of cases of respiratory disease and continues to save hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, according to a series of agency analyses. For the most part, urban rivers are no longer cesspools, and beaches once fouled with sewage are swimmable. Lake Erie is troubled but no longer deemed dead, as it was in the sixties. Lead levels in the coastal waters off Southern California have dropped a hundredfold.

Ruckelshaus, who is now eighty-four, has watched the ascent of Donald Trump with some trepidation. In August, he and William Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under President George H. W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton, lambasting Trump as ignorant of the G.O.P.’s “historic contributions to science-driven environmental policy.”

Science-driven policy. How quaint!

When I consider the Republicans I knew, like Ruckelshaus and Dick Lugar, and those I worked with, like Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut and Indiana Governor Robert Orr, I can’t help thinking that it isn’t just Trump. Appalling as he is, he’s the consequence of a party that has been transformed by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the pathetic group of bigots and know-nothings who comprise what has been called the “lunatic caucus.”

We aren’t going to get our real country back–the America of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the America that welcomed “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”–unless we get a reasonable, respectable Republican party back.

The sign said it all: it isn’t left versus right. It’s right versus wrong. It’s the America I thought I inhabited versus a bleak and unfamiliar dystopia–and I want my America back.

 

 

The Eye of the Beholder

Yesterday, I posted about a recent court case that required a judge to define the limits of permissible discrimination.

In a very real way, however, discussion of that case and the merits of the contending arguments begged a couple of important preliminary questions: what is discrimination? when does the day-to-day practice of making choices—discriminating between possibilities A, B and C—cease being a reasonable activity we all engage in and become a socially destructive practice in which privileged people oppress those less powerful or advantaged?

Where does that line get drawn?

Recent research suggests that the general public is polarized around the answers to those questions, and that the polarization mirrors political affiliation.

The partisan lens through which many view the social and political world also impacts perceptions of discrimination: as the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2015 American Values Survey shows, Democrats and Republicans have a very different understanding of the nature of discrimination in the U.S. today—and who are the most likely targets of it.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are far less likely to see discrimination against historically marginalized groups than are Democrats. (Click through to see several interesting graphics representing responses to questions about discrimination from self-identified Republicans and Democrats, contrasted with responses from the general public overall.)

As the study’s authors note, the difference in perceived discrimination tells us a lot about the partisan differences in policy.

Overall, the pattern is clear: there is considerable daylight between those on the left and those on the right when it comes to perceptions of discrimination in America today. Perhaps then, it is not surprising that Democrats and Republicans have such divergent opinions on issues ranging from black Americans’ protesting unfair government treatment to legislation protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination. If you don’t perceive discrimination against certain underrepresented groups or marginalized communities to be especially severe or widespread, then these protests and policy proposals might appear to be solutions in search of a problem. If, however, you believe that the discrimination against these groups is particularly severe, then such protests and policy demands are understandable and perhaps even a necessity.

A big part of our current political dysfunction is a reflection of the fact that conservatives and liberals occupy different realities.

Sort of reminds me of that old song, “Two different worlds….”

Welfare for Our Constituents is Okay— For Yours, Not So Much

A comment to an earlier blog alerted me to a remarkable provision in the House GOP’s version of this year’s agriculture bill: they want to restrict a summer program intended to feed poor children who rely on school lunches during the rest of the year to rural children only.

As Politico reported,

And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.

Since 2010, the program has operated from an initial appropriation of $85 million, and the goal has been to test alternative approaches to distribute aid when schools are not in session. The White House asked for an additional $30 million to continue the effort, but the House bill provides $27 million for what’s described as an entirely new pilot program focused on rural areas only.

Democrats were surprised to see urban children were excluded. And the GOP had some trouble explaining the history itself. But a spokeswoman confirmed that the intent of the bill is a pilot project in “rural areas” only.

At Ten Miles Square, Chad Stanton has a pretty persuasive analysis of this offensive measure. After referencing Paul Ryan’s recent remarks about “inner-city men,” he writes

Let me be clear. Offering food aid to children in rural areas while denying that same aid to children in urban areas is a poorly disguised attempt to replicate the effects of Jim Crow policies. The impetus for the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t merely a desire to be able to sit in the same classroom as white people (although the continued reality of segregation is undeniable), but to demand rightful access to the resources that black tax dollars paid for. Republican attempts to limit aid to “rural kids only” is a thinly veiled challenge to the laws designed to end Jim Crow policies. Combined with recent efforts of voter suppression and the refusal to amend the Voting Rights Act, the Republican position amounts to open contempt for black Americans’ rights as citizens.

Racism doesn’t explain everything. But it explains a lot.

 

Needs No Elaboration

Sometimes, the bare facts speak for themselves.

From a recent Pew polling release: “In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.”

There’s evolving, and then there’s regressing.

Tomorrow it will be 2014–and 57% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats reject long-settled science upon which all biology is based.

Happy New Year.