The unlearned lessons of sexual harassment


Dear Rebecca:

Ever gone back and read the contemporaneous coverage of the Clarence Thomas hearings? A lot of what was being said back then sounds really familiar now.

“There is a radical change in culture,” Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist at George Washington University, told The New York Times. “Things which used to be tolerated by both genders are now increasingly defined as inconceivable. And I find it interesting that this case focuses on the margins: You said, but you didn’t touch. It’s a good place for the debate to be. It’s an interesting indication how the culture has changed.”

Sound familiar?

What’s fascinating about all the voices that have emerged in 2017 is how little the culture has changed since 1991. The lessons learned from the Clarence Thomas hearings were given lip service by responsible corporate and political leaders across the land — and then, apparently, utterly disregarded.

Which leads me to ask a question at The Week: Are we really learning our lesson this time?

Please read me!

The High Price of White Conservatives’ Self-Esteem

Hi Joel,

I recently attended a lecture on the rise of global extremism at the University of Utah. That campus has been a scene for white nationalist recruiting and hate flyering, so the topic was not just of a “global concern” but a local one.

The talk was in the form of a moderated panel and included a state representative (a Democrat), the executive director of the state’s ACLU, a social worker, some history professors, and Dillon Clark, the student who, this past January, chartered the campus’ Young Americans for Freedom student group, which then brought Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart, to campus. His presence there was, I think, unwarranted: his story was likely quite interesting, but as an object of study, as he didn’t have the scholarly knowledge to make a real contribution to the conversation, and he wasn’t self-reflective enough to share much insight into his own story. But I still learned something from him.

When Clark was asked why he had chartered the YAF on campus in January, immediately after the swearing-in of Donald Trump, he said he had three reasons: first, because conservative speakers were often not brought to campus; second, because Shapiro is an outstanding conservative thinker, and third, because Clark knew it would be a major leadership coup for himself.

I actually found this to be the most interesting moment of the evening (which was full of interesting information). It suggests to me a few things:

First, that Clark and the conservative students he buy into the idea that they are a persecuted group on college campuses. When he says that it’s hard to get a conservative speaker on campus, he’s adopting the narrative that universities are liberal, which is only the case if you ignore schools of business, law schools, many history departments, virtually all criminology programs, and significant pockets of anthropology–and, of course, private colleges and universities, plus community colleges, where faculty members are much more likely identify as politically conservative. Oh, and university administrations, which are overwhelmingly conservative.

But maybe the reason why we don’t see many high-profile conservative speakers on campus is that the conservative movement isn’t developing very smart thinkers right now. After all, this poor student is convinced that Shapiro is a “leading intellectual” in the conservative movement. Even better-credentialed conservatives aren’t putting forward compelling, innovative, insightful, data-driven, or otherwise smart arguments.  Academia, at its best, promotes good thinking, wherever it lands us, and conservatives just aren’t doing it very well right now. Charles Murray is stupider than you might expect, even if you’ve read his thoroughly discredited The Bell Curve, and Heather MacDonald continues to make arguments so ill-informed that having her on campus is simply a waste of taxpayer money.  It’s not so much that their ideas are bad as that they are badly formed, and since higher ed is about teaching people ways of thinking, we don’t really need to invite them to campus, any more than we need to invite Flat Earthers are Holocaust deniers.

(Oh, wait. Holocaust deniers are coming to campuses, and universities are shamefully pretending they can do nothing.)

These two things–that Clark feels like conservatives are a persecuted minority and that he can’t tell careful thinking from sloppy thinking–aren’t particularly surprising.

Above, a flyer promoting a demonstration against Ben Shapiro at the University of Utah. I‘ve argued elsewhere that figures like Shapiro shouldn’t be welcomed at universities or granted university resources, including rental space, because such speakers do not contribute to the purpose of higher education, which is to advance knowledge and support students as they learn to discern between smart and stupid ways of thinking. Shapiro is a stupid thinker, and universities are not required to lend space or credibility to stupid thinkers. 

But his third comment really struck me: He founded a group, then led an effort to bring a hateful speaker whose presence does nothing to advance the mission of the university, at an expense of $25,000 in security fees to the public, because he wanted the “leadership opportunity.”

He’s not alone: male members in Congress disproportionately say that they ran because they wanted to be in Congress. Women, in contrast, say they want to serve others. And, like Clark, they don’t seem to recognize that this isn’t something you say. Clark said it right in front of an audience of people whose lives are devalued in the world Shapiro argues for. He looked right at his peers and said in effect, without any shame, “I did this because it would make me famous.”

The end logic of this is that the more controversial the thing you fight for, the more divisive or hurtful or outrageous your argument, the bigger the expense to the university, and the more common sense you have to overcome, the more you of a “leader” you are.

Justice Alito made a similar critique in his dissent in Snyder v. Phelps, the case brought against members of Westboro Baptist Church by a father of a fallen Marine whose funeral was picketed. Justice Roberts in the decision argued that

Westboro’s statements were entitled to First Amendment protection because those statements were on matters of public concern, were not provably false, and were expressed solely through hyperbolic rhetoric.

But Alito counters (and let it go down in history that I once agreed with Justice Samuel Alito!) that this means that this logic would only encourage more extreme speech. WBC does not see its speech as hyperbole; they fully believe that Matthew Snyder was born to go to hell and that, as Catholics, his parents “raised him for the devil.” To outsiders, that’s hyperbole, but to church members, that’s sound Bible doctrine.

The problem that Alito identifies–and the error I think we commit when we invite racists to campus–is that we can’t really can’t decide what is hyperbole or not right now. We’re hearing people on campus say things that are so outrageous that we reduce them to “mere” rhetoric so we can deny the racism of our own young people. And the speakers are quick to add a “Just joking!” to comments that are not jokes at all–or, worse, they say threatening things and then point to the worried response of those they targeted and call them “snowflakes” who imagine threats around every corner. We hear those things as hyperbole, even when the speakers are deadly serious, because hearing them as the honest desires of so many people is frightening.

All so Dillon Clark can feel important.


PS. If folks haven’t read Nathan J. Robinson’s critique of Charles Murray in Current Affairs, they should do so. It’s gold.



Who is worth investing in?

I’ve been enjoying watching Chuck Grassley, the Republican Senator from Iowa, try to explain his way out of his claim that poor people spend their money on hookers and blow “booze or women or movies.” Grassley’s comments came in response to Republican efforts to repeal the estate tax, which Republicans will have you believe affects hardworking Americans who built their family wealth from nothing and who only want to leave their children and grandchildren enough money to, you know, go to college or farm the old homestead. In actuality, it affects just 2 out of every 1,0000 estates. This is because, under current law, your estate has to be worth about $5.5 million for the estate tax to touch you, and both the House and Senate bills increase that to $11 million, with the Senate bill eventually phasing it out. The Tax Policy Center estimates that that will be about 80 family-owned businesses and farms this year, and they will face a tax of about 6%. So, no, the tax doesn’t bust up family farms–it just works against the upward suck of wealth and the perpetuation of an aristocracy.

In a demonstration of ignorance about what poor, working class, and middle class families live like, Grassley told the Des Moines Registrar:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

He later declared that his degrading statements about those of us who don’t have assets of $5.5 million were taken out of context, explaining, “The question is one of basic fairness, and working to create a tax code that doesn’t penalize frugality, saving and investment.”

Grassley is confusing money and morality.  He’s also incorrect about his facts: wealthy people spend more money on “frivolous” things than do poor people. In fact, when poor people receive cash transfers, they often spend LESS money than they would otherwise on such “temptation goods.” So if Grassley was hoping to reduce spending on “sin,” he could do so by INCREASING cash payouts to the poor.

Grassley is willing to invoke morality arguments about the poor–but not the rich. Should we cheer on people who invest in businesses that are socially harmful? Why is my spending money on a bottle of booze and a movie more immoral than a millionaire’s investment in the alcohol or film industry?

Plus, without consumers, those investments don’t matter. Grassley implies that investors are better citizens (After all, they are doing something good for America by investing.), but the financialization of the American economy has done terrible damage to us. Take your girlfriend out to dinner and drinks and you’ve literally paying your neighbors. Buy stock in GE, Microsoft, Pfizer, Merck, or Apple (some of companies with the biggest accumulated offshore profits) and you’re not.

To Grassley’s concern that the estate tax is “unfair”…. I don’t think many of us will buy it. There is nothing more fair than everyone starting at zero. Conservatives like to pretend that everyone starts life equally, and they are quick to deny that things like the structural racism and sexism of the past should be things we account for today. (“White people shouldn’t be punished for the racism of their ancestors” is one such defense.) But they are perfectly okay with unfairness that enriches the already-rich. If Grassley wanted to be fair, he’d tax estates at 100%. Why should the kids of wealthy people get to inherit wealth? They didn’t do anything to deserve it.

Image result for iowa state fair

If Senator Grassley wants “fair,” he should go to Des Moines. Or make the estate tax 100% so that no rich kid gets to ride on the success of his father. Turns out that wealth makes for poor moral character

Let’s say, though, that the spirit of Grassley’s comment was that tax policies should incentivize the responsible use of money. I have some suggestions:

  1. Give women preferential treatment because we are more responsible with money. Grassley’s comments suggest he doesn’t see women as earners at all, but if he wants to see his tax policies put to good use, he should direct them toward women. When women are in charge of the family money, we spend it more on the family and less on personal expenses. We spend less on alcohol and cigarettes. And we distribute what we have more fairly across family members.
  2. Give women-led businesses preferential tax policies because, once again, we’re more responsible with money. And men know it, which is why women are tapped for leadership during times of crisis.
  3. Invest in immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Their presence lowers crime rates, and they TWICE as likely as native born people to start businesses in economically vulnerable areas, stabilizing neighborhoods and improving the tax base.
  4. Use tax policy to punish companies that offshore and hide money abroad. Our tax policy needs to put US priorities first, and we aren’t doing with policies that encourage the movement of jobs or hoarding of money.
  5. Reward consumers. We’re the backbone of the economy. Get rid of sales taxes on groceries, children’s clothing and school supplies, and medical devices.

The GOP would protest any of these ideas as racist and sexist and anti-entrepernural–even as they propose policies that keeps intergenerational wealth derived during times when women and people of color were legally barred from a fair shot.

What to do about it?


The immorality of evangelicals

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 6.40.50 PM
The devil you know…

Dear Rebecca:

Here’s what happens when tribalism becomes the animating element of your faith:

As recently as 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by the time Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent. White evangelicals are now more tolerant of immoral behavior by elected officials than the average American. “This is really a sea change in evangelical ethics,” Robert P. Jones, the head of the institute and the author of The End of White Christian America, recently told me.

David Brody, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network who has co-authored a forthcoming “spiritual biography” of Trump, said many outside observers fail to grasp the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity.

“The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket,” Brody told me. “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”

To which I guess I’d respond: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?


P.S. A “spiritual biography of Trump?” What are they printing that on, a book of matches?

An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð: Science Fiction

“Did anyone expect the flowering of non-realistic fiction by Mennonite writers? Suddenly, it’s a thing, and as a lifelong SF fan I’m delighted,” writes poet Jeff Gundy, who joins us today at Sixoh6 in our promotion of reading and books this month.

Jeff Gundy’s seven books of poems include Abandoned Homeland (Bottom Dog, 2015) and Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga, 2014), for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year. His most recent prose book is Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace (Cascadia, 2013). His essays and poems appear in The Georgia Review, The Sun, Kenyon Review, Christian Century, Image, Cincinnati Review, Artful Dodge, and many other journals. He teaches at Bluffton University in Ohio and spent a recent sabbatical at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

Here are his picks:

Stephen Beachy, Boneyard. Craftily written, sometimes surrealist narrative about a gay Amish boy. Brilliant. And Zeke Yoder vs. the Singularity. Amish science fiction with a lovable grandmother bitten by a mutant rat, and multiple adventures.

Keith Miller, The Sins of Angels. Mystery begins with badly wounded angel discovered by detective—fascinating complications and characters in a densely imagined world, full of surprising turns. His earlier fantasy novels The Book on Fire and The Book of Flying are also rich and rewarding.

Christina Penner, Widows of Hamilton House. Set in an actual Winnipeg landmark, a ghost story and memorable love story with a twist that I didn’t see coming. No spoilers here!

Jessica Penner, Shaken in the Water. Magic realist family saga set among Kansas Mennonites, featuring a ghostly, talkative tiger and several generations of memorable characters.

Corey Redekop, Husk. The very best Mennonite zombie novel I’ve read—also the only one. It is a great read, though not for the faint of heart.

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories. Linked epic fantasies on the imagined world of Olondria. Subtle and searching explorations of love, war, writing, gender, and religion, and swirling, lyrical prose to boot.

Andre Swartley, The Wretched Afterlife of Odetta Koop. Mennonite-flavored horror with a social conscience. The haunted house is based on the author’s childhood home in Hesston, Kansas, which he is firmly convinced is indeed haunted.



Above, books recommended by Jeff Gundy. If you’ve read them, tell us what you liked about them! 

An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð: Graphic Novels, Comics, and Illustrated Books

Artist Jesse Graber is the perfect candidate to share books with great pictures. A freelance illustrator living in Kansas City, Kansas, he has illustrated for McGraw-Hill, Scholastic, Oxford University Press, and Highlights for Children. He recently collaborated with Bethel College emeritus professor of physics Don Lemmons to illustrate Drawing Physics: 2,600 Years of Discovery from Thales to Higgs from MIT Press, which reviewers have called “a gem,” “delightful,” and “brilliant.” In addition to being a gifted artist, Jesse plays the fiddle and banjo (as you might be able to guess from some of his selections).

Jesse kicks off our month-long series of book recommendations from friends who read, write, illustrate, edit, publish, and promote literacy as part of their work.

Here is what Jesse is recommending and reading right now:

Drawing Is Magic by John Hendrix
A sketchbook with incredibly fun and compelling prompts. Good for a lifelong artist or someone who wants to start drawing. Beautiful to look at before and after you draw in it.

What it Is by Lynda Barry
This profoundly changed how I think about creativity, art, and inspiration, and is just about the most amazing thing ever. I’ve given this to lots of people.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1-6 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
“I’m here to eat nuts and kick butts, and we’re all out of nuts.” More often than not, she just talks it out with super villains, but there is plenty of butt kicking. Wonderful storytelling for all ages. Just get it already.

Sundays With Walt & Skeezix by Frank King
Huge and expensive and beautiful. Gasoline Alley started as a wonderful midwest slice of life comic, not ha ha funny, but quiet, gentle humor and reflections on life. This collects Sunday strips from the 20s and 30s and prints them at their original size (BIG!) which allowed for some amazing layout and design that modern newspaper comics don’t have space for. It won’t fit anywhere in anyone’s house.

The Skeleton Keys by Spencer and Rains
This is a booklet with a CD of 17 traditional tunes and songs played by Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains. Each tune has a history and an illustration by Rains. Old-time music, not bluegrass. Any music lover would appreciate this, unless they’re a monster.

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen
This is a sad one, folks. Give it to someone who’s heart you would like to break. Also funny and beautiful and life affirming.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A middle school girl coming of age story done so perfectly. All of her books are great for middle grade kids.

The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb
Straightforward comics adaptation of that crazy first book of the Bible by one of our greatest pen and ink artists. As it says on the cover: “Adult supervision recommended for minors!”

Saga Book One: Deluxe Edition by Brian Vaughan and‎ Fiona Staples
Space fantasy for adults is an inadequate way to put it, but that’s what I’m going with.

How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green
Holy cow. Ridiculously charming and delightfully poignant children’s book for all ages.

Fowl Language: The Struggle is Real by Brian Gordan
Super funny and sweet and explicit comic about being a parent, but ducks.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
A rare gem of a book dealing with the loss/absence of a parent. You wouldn’t think a beaver could make you cry, but you’d be wrong.

Above, Jesse’s suggested books. If you’ve read them, tell us what you think!


Unreasonable, Unbelievable, Unconscionable: The 2018 Tax Bill

Hi Joel,

Like a lot of us, I imagine, I’ve been wrung out these last few weeks following (or trying to follow) tax bills in Congress. Since no one really knows what the Senate bill contains, it’s not possible to offer commentary confidently, but that itself is a fact worth talking about: We have a Congress that is so disrespectful of us that it refuses to let us read the laws that will govern us.

In the viciousness, cruelty, and disdain for everyday people and hostility to the democratic process we saw over the weekend, there might be some reasons to feel hope.

The middle-of-the-night GOP vote is an act of cowardice, and cowards are people who know that they will lose in a fair fight. This is also why the GOP suppresses votes and gerrymanders. Their bad ideas can’t win unless Republicans cheat. They know it. We can make them stop cheating.

Secondly, the GOP had no reason to compromise. Sure, there were lots of good ideas for tax reform that could have been supported by people of both parties, but the GOP went for none of them, and it pursued a process dismissive of constituents. This is because Congressional Republicans don’t answer to voters. (They hate voters, because voters do not chose their bad ideas. This is why some of them call for a repeal of the 17th amendment.) They answer to donors. At the midterm elections, the anti-Republican wave is going to be strong, as this past November’s statewide elections suggested. A reasonable tax bill would not persuade those voting for Democrats to stay home, but it would have angered donors. In other words, the GOP is on the run, and the only place it can go is into the pocket of rich donors.

Those of us who respect democracy need to change the narrative about who the GOP is for. Wealthy people are smart to vote for the GOP, in the sense that their own short-term interests are best served by GOP policies (that is, if they don’t mind, long-term, living in nation in which the future isn’t educated or employed or has roads or fire stations or advancement in medical treatments or all the other things taxes fund). But for those poor and middle class people whose Trump votes continue to confound common sense, we can remind them of the real life consequences for them. Indeed, their H & R Block consultant soon will.

Image result for mitch mcconnell

Above, Mitch McConnell wears a shit eating grin. 

I don’t want to overstate the case, particularly because white people will self-inflict a lot of wounds in order to protect their whiteness. But I think more public discussion, especially at the state level, can help. Local and state Republicans will have to explain how the national party’s choice to end the state tax exemption hurts people they have to look at face to face. In Kansas, that’s about 26% of voters; in Utah, it’s 35.4%.

Whatever is in that piece of garbage that the Senate passed this weekend will eventually have to be explained, and, in all likelihood, it’s unbelievable.

Like, literally. In the 2012 election when a PAC supporting Obama’s re-election campaign explained to the proposed Romney-Ryan budget plan that would dramatically reshape (and reduce) Medicaid in order to give tax cuts to the rich, people didn’t believe it. Why would a politician seek to serve the interests of the rich, who don’t need help, at the expense of the most vulnerable?

Yeah, like our incredible wealth gap, it’s unbelievable, except that it’s true.

The Republican plan is such an assault on the basic American value that people who work hard should get ahead and those who are already head don’t need extra help that everyday Republicans just can’t believe it. So they don’t.  Democrats need to remind them that, no, this is true.

It’s also unconscionable. The Wex Legal Dictionary defines unconscionability this way:

A defense against the enforcement of a contract or portion of a contract.  If a contract is unfair or oppressive to one party in a way that suggests abuses during its formation, a court may find it unconscionable and refuse to enforce it.  A contract is most likely to be found unconscionable if both unfair bargaining and unfair substantive terms are shown.  An absence of meaningful choice by the disadvantaged party is often used to prove unfair bargaining.

What Congress did these last few weeks was abusive of the process of democracy; the formation of the tax bill in the Senate, in particular, occurred under unfair bargaining terms.

It’s unreasonable, unbelievable, unconscionable. Here’s hoping that Republican voters will figure that out sooner than later.