Tag Archives: Trumpism

Misogyny Over Racism?

In the January/February issue of the Atlantic, Peter Beinart attributes the global move to authoritarianism to misogyny.

After noting the current roster of bullies in power in various countries–he calls them ‘Trumpists’– and noting the very different political and economic environments of those countries, he points to the one threat they all share: women.

But the more you examine global Trumpism, the more it challenges the story lines that dominate conversation in the United States. Ask commentators to explain the earthquake that has hit American politics since 2016, and they’ll likely say one of two things. First, that it’s a scream of rage from a working class made downwardly mobile by globalization. Second, that it’s a backlash by white Christians who fear losing power to immigrants and racial and religious minorities.

Yet these theories don’t travel well. Downward mobility? As Anne Applebaum pointed out in this magazinejust a few months ago, “Poland’s economy has been the most consistently successful in Europe over the past quarter century. Even after the global financial collapse in 2008, the country saw no recession.” In the years leading up to Duterte’s surprise 2016 victory, the Philippines experienced what the scholar Nicole Curato has called “phenomenal economic growth.” The racial-and-religious-backlash theory leaves a lot unexplained, too. Immigration played little role in Duterte’s ascent, or in Bolsonaro’s. Despite his history of anti-black comments, preelection polls showed Bolsonaro winning among black and mixed-race Brazilians. Racism has been even less central to Duterte’s appeal.

The problem with both American-born story lines is that authoritarian nationalism is rising in a diverse set of countries. Some are mired in recession; others are booming. Some are consumed by fears of immigration; others are not. But besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

Beinart quotes Valerie M. Hudson, a political scientist at Texas A&M, who reminds us that  for most of human history, leaders and their male subjects agreed that men would be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women. Since this hierarchy mirrored that of the home, it seemed natural. As a result, Hudson says, men, and many women, have associated male dominance with political legitimacy. Women’s empowerment disrupts this order.

The article mines history to illustrate the ways revolutionaries have used “the specter of women’s power” to discredit the regime they sought to overthrow.

French revolutionaries made Marie Antoinette a symbol of the immorality of the ancien régime and that Iranian revolutionaries did the same to Princess Ashraf, the “unveiled and powerful” sister of the shah. After toppling the monarchy, the French revolutionaries banned women from holding senior teaching positions and inheriting property. Ayatollah Khamenei made it a crime for women to speak on the radio or appear unveiled in public….

When the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi replaced the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Morsi quickly announced that he would abolish the quota guaranteeing women’s seats in parliament, overturn a ban on female circumcision, and make it harder for women to divorce an abusive husband. After Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster, the first law that Libya’s new government repealed was the one banning polygamy.

Beinart draws a comparison to Trump, whose attitudes toward women were shared by supporters whose hatred of Hillary was blatantly–even exuberantly– sexist. The misogyny theory even explains Trump’s improbable support among Evangelicals.

Commentators sometimes describe Trump’s alliance with the Christian rightas incongruous given his libertine history. But whatever their differences when it comes to the proper behavior of men, Trump and his evangelical backers are united by a common desire to constrain the behavior of women.

The article is lengthy, and filled with concrete examples. It’s persuasive, and well worth reading in its entirety. Assuming the accuracy of the analysis, it’s hard to disagree with this observation near the end of the essay:

Over the long term, defeating the new authoritarians requires more than empowering women politically. It requires normalizing their empowerment so autocrats can’t turn women leaders and protesters into symbols of political perversity. And that requires confronting the underlying reason many men—and some women—view women’s political power as unnatural: because it subverts the hierarchy they see in the home.

It would seem that the personal really is the political; misogyny evidently begins at home.

Real-World Choices

I have never been a big fan of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Sometimes I’ve agreed with him, sometimes not, but he generally comes across (to me, at least) as patronizing–someone who engages in the sort of “coastal elitist” hectoring that conservatives love to hate and the ideological “middle-of-the-roadism” that sets liberal teeth on edge.

In this column, however, he hits it out of the park.

Friedman makes an argument–vote straight Democratic in the upcoming midterm elections– that has often been made by Pete, one of the most thoughtful of this blog’s regular commenters. It is emphatically not an argument that Democrats are all “good guys” untainted by the moral and ethical deficiencies that permeate the GOP.

It is instead a (far more eloquent) restatement of what has become my own mantra, to wit: I don’t vote for the lesser of two evils. I vote for the person/party that is pandering to the people who are least dangerous.

To put that another way: I recognize that all politicians are beholden in some fashion to the interest groups that support them, so I’m going to evaluate the priorities of those interest groups and vote for the candidate who is beholden to the ones most closely aligned with what I believe to be the common good.

As Friedman puts it,

It is not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by the candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline. No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Donald Trump.

As far as I am concerned, that’s the only choice on the ballot. It’s a choice between letting Trump retain control of all the key levers of political power for two more years, or not.

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

If your answer is the former, then it can only happen by voting for the Democrat in your local House or Senate race.

The same issue of the Times that carried Friedman’s column reported on a study of the issues being raised thus far in 2018 by Republican contenders for the House and Senate. The overwhelming majority are emphasizing their antagonism to immigration and immigrants–a (slightly) less obvious way to appeal to what the media likes to characterize as “racial anxieties.”

Are there racist Democrats? Sure. But they belong to a multi-racial, multi-ethnic party. To exhibit such attitudes is likely to be the kiss of political death. Are there Democrats who are “in the pocket” of corporate interests? Again, yes. But there are degrees of corruption, and right now, most Democratic officeholders obey ethical constraints that their Republican counterparts cheerfully ignore.

Friedman (and Pete) are correct:

What we’ve learned since 2016 is that the worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

Here’s the bottom line. Refusing to vote for Democratic candidates who fall short of ideal–opting to make the perfect the enemy of the good– is a vote for Trump and Trumpism. Pretending otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

Another Perspective On How We Got Here

Yesterday, I noted the ubiquity of efforts to understand what happened to the Republican Party. Equally predictable are the efforts to understand how America could have elected Donald Trump–how a man so manifestly unfit for the Presidency (or really, life in polite company) could have garnered millions of votes. True, he lost the popular vote, but that doesn’t negate the fact that millions of people actually cast ballots for him–and that even in the face of the damage being caused by his impetuousness and ignorance,  many of them continue to support him.

Amanda Marcotte, who writes for Salon, is out with a book that attempts to answer that question. Her conclusions in Troll Nation won’t surprise anyone who reads this blog with any regularity, but her approach is worth considering, as Andrew O’Hehir’s review makes clear.

“Troll Nation” is not about the election of Donald Trump. Amanda and I have certain areas of cheerfully-expressed political disagreement, but I think we share the view that Trump was the culmination of a long process, or is the most visible symptom of a widespread infection. Amanda’s analysis is, as always, calm, sharp-witted and clearly focused on available evidence. American conservatives, she says, used to make rational arguments and used to present a positive social vision. Did those arguments make sense, in the end? Did that “Morning in America” vision of the Reagan years conceal a vibrant undercurrent of bigotry?

The answers to those questions — “no” and “yes,” respectively — led us to the current situation, when conservative politics has become almost entirely negative….Most Republicans gleefully embrace incoherent or self-destructive policies designed to punish or horrify people they dislike, whether that means feminists, immigrants, black people, campus “snowflakes,” members of the “liberal elite” or (above all) Hillary Clinton. I am not the world’s biggest fan of Hillary Clinton, as Amanda knows! But what the hell she ever did to all those people to make them despise her so much is entirely unclear..

As O’Hehir notes, the self-proclaimed conservatives of the GOP have morphed from the “supercilious, upper-crust conservatism “of William F. Buckley Jr., whom he accurately describes as the dictionary definition of an elitist, to the delusional ignorance of Alex Jones and the small-minded hatred of Charlottesville.

The basic premise of Marcotte’s book is that Trump is not an anomaly. Much as we might like to believe that we are living in a time that is a departure from the trajectory of American history, Marcotte sees Trump as the logical conclusion of an undercurrent in conservatism that’s been going on for decades — attitudes and resentments encouraged by talk radio, Fox News and their imitators that have “reconstructed” American conservatism. Today, rather than political opinions or policy positions, it’s all about hate and bigotry and who doesn’t belong–who isn’t a “real” American.

Plenty has been written about Fox News, talk radio and other media that ranges from spin to propaganda, and the extent to which those outlets are implicated in the twisted worldviews of their audience, but Marcotte shares an important insight that often gets overlooked:

I want to convey in this book, and I hope in this interview, that conservative audiences respond to this kind of media because they want to. I think we underestimate how much people are going to do what they want to do and believe what they want to believe.

Blaming the propagandists and conspiracy theorists lets their audiences off the hook–it assumes a lack of moral agency. The people who parrot “Fox and Friends” choose their news, and they choose not to balance it with other perspectives. For whatever reason–impelled by whatever inadequacies and resentments–they choose to indulge in confirmation bias rather than resisting it.

It’s co-dependency.

Without their willingness to suspend critical thinking–their desperate need to believe in their own racial and/or religious and/or gender superiority, the Rush Limbaughs and Fox News blonds and purveyors of Pizza conspiracies would be out of business.

Who Do You Debate?

In a recent column in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg raised a thorny but important issue: should liberal publications engage in affirmative action for conservatives?

The impetus for the question was a decision by The Atlantic to hire a conservative writer whose opinions would seem to place him outside the bounds of civil discourse.

The progressive objection to Williamson lies in the demeaning ways he’s written about poor people, black people, women, and trans people. He described an African-American boy in East St. Louis sticking out his elbows in “the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.” Defiantly using male pronouns in a piece about the trans actress Laverne Cox, Williamson wrote, “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman.” Feminism, he wrote, is a “collection of appetites wriggling queasily together like a bag of snakes.” He tweeted that women who have abortions should be hanged, later clarifying that while he has doubts about the death penalty, “I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.”

The decision to bring a “conservative voice” in-house is understandable–even commendable. After all, progressives insist that dialogue is good, that minds must be open, that all ideas deserve to be considered. The term “liberal” once denoted open-mindedness and the willingness to engage people with whom one disagreed. But Goldberg’s question goes to the heart of our current political dilemma:

[Atlantic’s] hiring has set off the latest uproar over which conservatives belong in the opinion sections of elite mainstream publications, including, of course, The New York Times. These controversies are, naturally, of particular interest to people who write for opinion sections, and so receive disproportionate media coverage. But there’s a broader significance to these recurring fights, because they’re about how we decide which views are acceptable at a time of collapsing mainstream consensus. The intellectual implosion of the Republican Party, it turns out, creates challenges for liberals as well as conservatives, because suddenly it’s not clear which views a person who aspires to fair-mindedness needs to grapple with.

This issue isn’t limited to publications. Universities are constantly being criticized because a preponderance of faculty–especially at more rigorous institutions–lean left. The accusation is that conservative scholars are subjected to discrimination.

The reality is considerably different–academics are pathetically eager to demonstrate even-handedness, and most of us who participate in search committees would be deliriously happy to discover that a highly qualified candidate was politically conservative.  (In some schools, like business, that does happen.) But search committees look first and foremost for evidence of sound scholarship–and in many fields, the candidates with the impressive resumes tend to be liberal.

Just as the university isn’t going to hire a science professor who insists the earth is flat or evolution is a myth, a reputable opinion journal is courting disaster by failing to distinguish between a philosophical conservative and a purveyor of conspiracy theories and/or racial resentments. These days, it’s hard to find a conservative who hasn’t been co-opted by Trumpism.

As Goldberg notes, it used to be that in order to understand national politics, you had to understand certain conservative ideas.

Trump put an end to that. The field of ideas has gone from being the ground on which politics are fought to a side in politics, which is why it’s so difficult to find serious intellectual Trump defenders. Trump has resentments and interests, but not ideology; he governs more as a postmodern warlord than a traditional party leader. Few things signal the irrelevance of ideas to his presidency like the appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser. Bolton’s relentless advocacy of regime change contradicts the isolationism Trump touted during the campaign. Trump called the Iraq war a “disaster”; Bolton is one of few who continue to defend it. Yet Bolton’s appointment isn’t discordant, because he and Trump are both belligerent bullies, and in this administration stylistic similarities matter more than policy details.

Inasmuch as there are ideas bound up with Trumpism, they are considered too disreputable for most mainstream publications. An opinion section that truly captured the currents of thought shaping our politics today might include Alex Jones, the conspiracy-mad Sandy Hook truther; the white nationalist Richard Spencer; and CliffsNotes fascist Steve Bannon.

The problem is, liberals need to engage with genuine conservatism. Just as the absence of a reputable Republican Party allows Democrats to become fragmented and intellectually lazy, liberal ideas need to be sharpened (and sometimes defeated) by contrary insights.

Giving a platform to people based upon their self-identification rather than their ability to articulate and defend a genuinely conservative point of view does conservatives–not to mention Americans– no favor.

Yes! Virginia: There Is A Santa Claus

Yes, as I used to tell students when I was a high school English teacher, punctuation makes a difference…

Wordplay aside, I am gratified to report that, on Tuesday, Santa Claus–aka Virginia voters–brought Americans a welcome gift: Sanity, and a resounding repudiation of white nationalism and the politics of fear.

Ed Gillespie ran a campaign based squarely upon Steve Bannon’s promise that “Trumpism without Trump” would carry the day. It is no longer plausible–if it ever was– to characterize “Trumpism” as anything other than racial resentment, and the appeals to bigotry in Gillespie’s ugly and reprehensible political ads were anything but subtle.

Virginia voters also repudiated homophobia, replacing one of the most anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender members of Virginia’s legislature with a trans woman–and by a very healthy margin. Rejection of the politics of hate wasn’t limited to Virginia, either; in Minneapolis, a black trans woman was elected to the city council. Even in more conservative areas of the country, voters ignored efforts to stigmatize immigrants, non-Christians and African-Americans. A Liberian refugee is the new mayor of Helena, Montana. Hoboken, New Jersey has its first Sikh mayor.

Initial analyses of Virginia voting patterns brought confirmation of widening divides between urban and rural voters, and between college-educated and non-college-educated white voters. It also gave political observers a better understanding of which non-urban precincts should be categorized as “rural” for purposes of electoral prediction.  As the Guardian noted, despite a campaign that repeatedly stumbled, and a candidate who was earnest and moderate, but considerably less than charismatic,

Northam still won by overwhelming margins in suburban and exurban areas, taking 60% of the vote in both Prince William and Loudoun counties, rapidly growing suburbs and exurbs of Washington DC. When Gillespie ran for Senate in 2014 against the popular incumbent Mark Warner, he won Loudoun County and lost Prince William by less than 3%.

It wasn’t just in Virginia that suburban voters rejected Trumpism.  Democrats won victories with suburban votes in races across the country. From the  populous New York suburbs of Nassau County and Westchester County, to mayoral races in  cities like Charlotte, North Carolina; St Petersburg, Florida; and Manchester, New Hampshire, voters in the nation’s suburbs decisively favored Democrats. As the Guardian article concluded,

The midterms are a year away and a lot can happen between now and then. But the changing political demographics of the US, combined with Trump’s low approval ratings, mean that Democrats can feel confident they are on the right track at present. They may no longer be the party of coalminers in Appalachian hollows but, based on Tuesday’s result, they are now the party of an increasing number of suburban subdivisions.

It will be interesting to see whether and how this dynamic plays out in red states like Indiana. According to the last polling I saw, despite the fact that he won the state handily, Trump’s Indiana favorability has declined by 19 points since the election. That decline probably won’t matter much to contests in the truly rural parts of the state, but it will be interesting to see if the more affluent, educated and cosmopolitan suburbs follow the pattern that emerged on Tuesday.

Tuesday provided us with a gratifying reaffirmation of Americans’ basic goodness, but it’s not nearly time to stop agitating, protesting and resisting.