Is political civility … pragmatic?

Rebecca:

Thanks for pointing out that Gonzaga program. I’ve been thinking about this paragraph of your post, in particular:

I don’t want to overstate the case: I don’t think that we owe conversation to people who are hostile to us, deny our humanity, or want us to suffer. I don’t think we need to read primers on how to get along at the holidays with family members who think that treating us poorly is okay/

I thought of that again when I read this piece in Vox, which in turn references a Washington Post piece. Here’s the part that won’t surprise you — that you’ll definitely agree with:

Contrary to what some have suggested, white millennial Trump voters were not in more economically precarious situations than non-Trump voters. Fully 86 percent of them reported being employed, a rate similar to non-Trump voters; and they were 14 percent less likely to be low income than white voters who did not support Trump. Employment and income were not significantly related to that sense of white vulnerability.

So what was? Racial resentment.

Even when controlling for partisanship, ideology, region and a host of other factors, white millennials fit Michael Tesler’s analysis, explored here. As he put it, economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety.

So what to do with that? The answer of many of my friends on the left has been succinct: Screw ’em. We’re writing them off.

And that’s understandable. For persons of color, especially, voters who act on racial resentment “are hostile to us, deny our humanity, … want us to suffer.”

But here’s the part of the Vox piece that offers a different solution:

 Research also shows it’s possible to reach out to Trump voters — even those who are racist today — in an empathetic way without condoning their prejudice. The evidence suggests, in fact, that the best way to weaken people’s racial or other biases is through frank, empathetic dialogue. (Much more on that in my in-depth piece on the research.) Given that, the strongest approach to really combating racism and racial resentment may be empathy.

One study, for example, found that canvassing people’s homes and having a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation about transgender rights — in which people’s lived experiences were relayed so they could understand how prejudice feels personally — managed to reduce voters’ anti-trans attitudes for at least three months. Perhaps a similar model could be adapted to reach out to people with racist, sexist, or other deplorable views, although this possibility needs more study.

But all of this involves a lot of legwork, outreach, and a kind of empathy that people may not be comfortable with in an era of highly polarized politics.

So. What do we know?

• It’s really hard to change people’s views. Really hard. We are a stubborn species, no matter where you exist on the ideological spectrum.

• But: It is possible.

• And: In some cases, the effort may have a payoff that’s beyond political, but even moral.

Empathetic dialogue is hard. Most of us, these days, are so angry that we don’t want to do it. You’re even right, to some extent, that we shouldn’t have to do it – nobody should have to prove their humanity, right?

Right. But if our goal is to nudge society onto a different path than the one it’s currently on, that kind of hard work may be required anyway.

Sincerely,
Joel

The immorality of evangelicals

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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?

Wearily,
Joel

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

Can Republicans connect their party’s misogyny to their candidates’ violence against women and children?

Hi Joel,

You might think me uncharitable, but I don’t believe Senator Jeff Flake’s shock that his party is supporting child molester Roy Moore. Flake wondered on Twitter today, “Is this who we are? This cannot be who we are.”

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Above, Senator Flake’s either naive or disingenuous Tweet wondering how a party that elected a man who said he likes to grab women by their genitals could possibly support a man who grabs girls by their genitals. Oh, I know that Flake sees that Trump is vile. But Flake still supports a party that codifies laws that hurt women and children, and he has benefitted from the same misogyny that got Trump into office. 

Senator Flake: This is who the Republican Party has been for a long time.

Note: I’m not saying that Dems don’t make excuses for the crimes of their own. I’m saying that, for Republicans, violence against women and children and other vulnerable people is a commitment. It’s part of their party platform. It’s the result of their policies. Why in the world would you expect them to be outraged at personal behavior that aligns with their politics, which consistently say that powerful men should have control over weaker people? In fact, according to Donald Trump says that powerful people taking advantage of weaker ones is EXACTLY how people should act.

Flake has long been invested in the idea that Trump isn’t representative of his party. And I do think that Trump has brought out the worst in conservatives. He hasn’t simply revealed how deplorable so many of them are but has also fostered hatred in them. But it wouldn’t have worked if Republicans hadn’t, since at least Nixon, been overtly waging a war on the vulnerable, and Flake has been a part of that.

Don’t believe me?

Why did a Republican-led Congress allow health insurance for America’s needy children to expire?

Why does the House’s proposed tax bill eliminate deductions that support families, like the personal exemption (which will hurt large families), the deduction for child care, and the deduction for tuition interest?

Why won’t Republican governors or legislatures ban child marriage in their states? (Hint: it’s at least in part because they justify it on religious grounds, just like Moore’s supporters in Alabama do.)

Why do we have 50,000 children in youth prisons (and even more in adult prisons) on any given day? Why do they pretend to care so much about the state of black families but incarcerate black men at such high rates?

Why do Republican-led states spend so much less on public education for children?

Why do Republicans continue to work against women’s health care? I’m not even talking about abortion–I’m talking about access to safe and reliable contraception, prenatal care, breast pumps, and maternity leave that allows women to heal from delivery and bond with their children.

Why do Republicans make excuses for rapists?

Why do they allow police officers who kill children of color to go unpunished?

Or maybe this question will suffice:

Mass shootings are clearly linked to domestic violence: entitled men who feel that they have the right to control women and who lash out when that power is threatened. Because mass shooters often target women, they occur in settings where women and children are more likely to be: schools, churches, daycare centers.

Why won’t Republicans do anything at all to stop violence that disproportionately kills women and children?

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Above, the explosion of gun manufacturing in the US over the past 8 years. And, yes, Republicans have disproportionately benefited from donations from the gun lobby and so have every little incentive to curtail the number of guns made or sold in the US. 

To be fair, Senator Flake is working to keep guns out of the hands of known abusers, which is hardly a heroic position to take if you think that men who crack their children’s skulls forfeit their right to bear arms. And, like his handwringing about conservative defenses of child molestation, it’s a little late. The number of guns manufactured in the US has doubled in the last 8 years. You simply can’t put a gun for every single person in America–including the more than 33,000 who will die by gun this year–into the marketplace and expect that violence won’t happen.

Republicans are quite willing to let those deaths happen. They–the lives of pregnant women, babies, and kindergartners–are the cost of freedom. That is, freedom for men to own guns. The costs to women–our lives, our safety, our babies–isn’t even part of their math.

If Republicans won’t protect women from mass murderers, why would we expect them to protect us from sexual assault?

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No compromise on DACA–or the wall

Dear Joel,

You asked earlier this week what Democrats would be willing to trade to insure that the Trump administration would not deport young people who came to the US as children without the benefits of legal immigration.

Nothing.

Yes, politics is the art of compromise, and I think those in Washington should do more of it. I think that well-intentioned, well-informed, caring people can genuinely disagree about how we define a problem, how we measure it, where we should place it in our national priorities, and how (or even if) we should resolve it. Most problems have more than one solution, and we know at least a few things that work toward addressing our hardest problems–racism, poverty, climate change.

Against those intractable problems, this wall isn’t terrible. I mean, it’s stupid and expensive and unnecessary, since the problem of mass illegal border crossings just isn’t happening, and it’s disruptive to those who live on the border, including the wildlife. Oh, and it will require a massive land grab that I hope prompts the Lone Star state to threaten a Texit. And, yes, it’s racist, which is the only reason it was even suggested.

But all of those are reasons to think that the border wall isn’t going to happen anyway. Most Americans oppose it. Most Texans don’t want it.  But, as November taught us, the majority doesn’t rule in our political system. What really matters is whether members of Congress can find the gumption to vote against this wall.

I think we can help them.

I think we can fight the wall and win on purely practical grounds. Texas needs help right now. Florida is about to need our help. (Yes, Puerto Rico too–and even more, but the people who live there aren’t white Republican voters who have the power to stop the wall.) Every dollar on a border wall is a dollar taken away from a person now displaced by hurricanes. Republican Senators Cornyn, Cruz, and Rubio, Florida’s 16 Republican Representatives (out of a total of 27), and Texas’s 26 Republican Representatives (out of 36) need to understand that any vote for a border wall is a vote against help for hurricane clean up and rebuilding. No member of Congress who lives on the border supports the wall, and they need to understand, from their own constituents, that dollars for the wall will hurt their home states. They need to hear it all the time, and they need to remind their friends in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama that, next time, it could be them up to their armpits in sewage and snakes.

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Above, a view of Hurricane Irma.

If it feels mean to trade hurricane relief for Dreamers, please trust that I’m not trying to withhold help for those whose lives have been upended by climate change. I’m trying to make sure that the wall doesn’t get built, Dreamers don’t get deported, and help is provided for those hit by hurricanes. We can do all of them because, well, call me dopey, but we’re America.

Rebecca

How to Go High?

Dear Joel,

Years ago, I was visiting the home of a politically conservative couple in rural Kansas. They were a generation older than me and very gracious hosts. We were on the patio, eating dinner, when the wife suddenly picked up a fly swatter and used it to smash a box elder that had landed on her chair. “Damn Democrat,” she muttered as she shook its guts into a nearby planter.

I’d never heard the term before (maybe you, a native Kansan, have), but apparently the term is used in the central states for these bugs, which appear around the time of the national political conventions.  (This may be the only time I get to use my limited knowledge of etymology and entomology in the same sentence!) But the glee with which my host smashed that bug, then swore at it, let me know that she very much enjoyed thinking about members of the opposing political party as detestable, destructive objects that she could kill.

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Above, a box elder bug. What happens when we use metaphors that show contempt for people with differing political views? When are such metaphors funny or useful? When do they shape our feelings about actual people?

I tried not to give that moment too much credibility, but I replayed it many times in my mind since, especially since the 2016 primary season. Around that time, I began a side project following “Deplorable” Facebook pages, pro-Trump social media spaces that, in the words of one, are for anyone who has been accused of having an “-ism” (racism, sexism, nativism, etc.). The total disrespect that members of these boards have for others (including other members who sometimes ask them to stop with the most violently racist and sexist memes) seemed another version of smashing of the box elder bug.

And your comments earlier this week, about our race to the bottom, our movement from tribalization to demonization to the Russia scandal, reminded me of it again. You argued that both Democrats and Republicans get tribal and demonize each other. Consequently, we justify whatever means we can use because, after all, the “other guy” is going to do it too. Eventually, we’ll be left only with politicians willing to always do the worst. This isn’t leadership; it’s a fear-based strategy to get and keep power, which really only becomes about keeping others out of power. It’s a game of controlling the ball but never moving it forward, just as GOP leadership has done in these first 100+ days of the Trump administration.

I don’t think it’s too Capraesque to say that we can have leaders who do good well. We just have to want that more than we want the other things we are voting for, including racism. We have to say that playing fairly matters to us, that we won’t defend politicians who cheat, fearmonger, scapegoat, obfuscate, undermine democratic participation in our institutions, and obstruct justice. Why would we want leaders who do those things? (And, trust me on this one, there are plenty of people on Deplorable social media sites who see Trump’s lies, bigotry, and cheating as absolute positives. Their support for Trump as “God Emperor” is evidence, I think, of the need for civics education.)

Did voters get what they deserved in the 2016 election? Until the shadow of Russian interference in the election is gone, we won’t know. At minimum, though, it was clear in the primary line-up that we didn’t care enough about character to support candidates who were competent and had the character both to serve and to lead a divided nation forward toward a more perfect democracy.

Can we get there? Yes. You asked, though, how. How do we go high when they go low, whatever our party affiliation and whoever we see as the “they”?

I think we have to punish politicians who lack character by voting them out of office and calling them out when, during their tenure, they fail to live up to basic standards of civility and decency. That also means, though, that we need better options–which means more people of character stepping up to serve in elected roles, which means lowering the financial barriers to running. We can also improve civics education, making public service integral to civil life, so that the question “How do I serve?” is one everyone asks.

Rebecca

Yes, They’re “Killing” “Donald Trump” in Central Park. Let’s Stop Insulting the Rubes, Eh?

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Dear Rebecca:

Here is the controversy du jour:

New York’s Public Theater lost support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” the company said in a statement on Sunday night.

“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” the company said. “We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”

Smart folks are snickering at this decision. “Julius Caesar” is clearly an anti-assassination play, they say, as anybody who’s read the play or seen it performed fully will know.

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To paraphrase Shakespeare: The pundits do protest too much.

Yes, Julius Caesar is a play that ultimately delivers an anti-assassination message. Guess what? “Reefer Madness” is a movie that delivers an anti-pot message, but it’s enduring popularity … well, let’s just say its most enthusiastic viewers may not be taking “Reefer’s” prohibitionist message to heart.

There are a million examples in the history of art of wrapping spectacle in an “eat your Wheaties message” for the sheer sake of delivering spectacle. This way of telling a story reached real heights during Hollywood’s Golden Age, when the Hays Code required that movies ultimately have uplifting moral messages. As long as Jimmy Cagney converts in the last five minutes, he can slaughter as many gangsters as he wants during the preceding 90. Hypocrisy, they say, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Put it on stage, though, and it can be beautiful, even stirring.

Which is to say: If you think the Shakespeare in the Park folks might be trying to intentionally provoke and provide a little bit of anti-Trump spectacle by figuratively murdering him every night for a few nights before thousands of onlookers — well, let’s says you might have a deeper understanding of how art sometimes works than what you’re being credited with by the Chris Hayses of the world.

One can understand the play and still think those involved thought it might be a thrill to depict Donald Trump being shredded by knives. *

*Or Gregg Henry, who plays Caesar. He always plays a great villain. Would love to see him in this. 

Understand, I’m not getting into the ethics of “fake Nazi punching” or whatever we want to call this. I’m getting into the ethics of “insulting the public’s intelligence.” Liberals are acting smug because they understand  literature better, they think, conservatives are mad — rightly — to be treated like rubes, and, well, round and round we go.

If we’re going to have the catharsis of watching Trump torn apart every night, let’s be honest. Let’s own it. But let’s not tell people they’re dumb when they can see pretty well what’s probably going on here.

See you at the theater!
Joel

Political Anger and Political Violence

Dear Joel,

Let’s talk about threats of political violence.

No, not Kathy Griffin. (Though we can talk about her, too. I think a severed Trump head is a fine form of political speech, not a threat against the president, and I wish that someone cleverer than Griffin had done it, that the image had been more meaningful, not less graphic. In fact, I’ve been warning conservative Christians about the risks of a symbolic Trump beheading for awhile now.)

I mean Kim Weaver, a Democrat running who was running against Iowa’s Steve King for a seat in the House. King is a racist and a nativist, and he’s quite open and proud of those beliefs. Weaver had run against King in 2016 and was gearing up to run against him again for 2018. She dropped out of the race this week, though, citing, in part, the toll that constant threats–including death threats–was taking on her.

And I mean Stephanie Clayton, the Kansas House Republican who was threatened with hanging on social media after she announced that she was voting with her moderate colleagues to keep guns off Kansas’ campuses, a choice that most faculty on those campuses support.

And Clementa (“Clem”) Pinckney, a Democrat serving in South Carolina’s House, who was killed when a white supremacist opened fire during his church service two summers ago.

And I mean Gabby Giffords, who had been targeted by violent right-wingers high on the violent rhetoric of Sarah Palin and others long before she was shot in a mass shooting that killed 6 others, including a Judge John Roll–who had also long faced death threats–and a child.

And Robert Smith Vance, a federal judge killed in his Alabama home by a mail bomb sent by a man who’d also been bombing civil rights advocates.

And James M. Hind, the first member of Congress assassinated. Hind, representing Arkansas in the House, was gunned down by a Klansman for his support of the rights of former slaves.

And John W. Stephens, a North Carolina state senator, who was murdered by Klansmen for his popularity among black voters, whose support had brought him into office.

And Tomás “Tomasito” Romero, a Pueblo who was assassinated after his capture for daring to rebel against US annexation of Mexico.

Above, Clayton, Hind, Vance, Pinckney, Giffords, and Stephens–all threatened or murdered by people whose political conservatism drove their violence. 

What do these folks have in common? They all represented a symbolic threat to the rule of conservative white men, and they were all threatened or killed because of it.

It’s not the political violence doesn’t happen to conservatives or that those on the left don’t commit violence (McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, as just one example.) But the violence and the violent rhetoric trends one direction: conservatives fomenting violence and hatred toward those they see as liberal or progressive.

Compare the rhetoric of the Women’s March to that of any Tea Party rally.

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Does he know he’s quoting Malcolm X?

[Above, a man at a Tea Party rally wears a hat indicating that he’s a Desert Storm veteran. Behind him is the Gadsen Flag, which has become associated not simply with the Tea Party but with anti-government extremist and hate movements. He holds a sign saying “By ballet or by bullet restoration is coming.”] 

Ask yourself: Do Democrats have to monitor their events to insure that participants aren’t unfurling a Confederate flag?

Consider the millions of racist images of the Obama family, including images of President Obama lynched. Or find the online images of a digital Hillary Clinton being sexually assaulted. (Better yet, don’t.)

In an attempt to find common ground in what feels like a very polarized America, it’s tempting for good liberals to suggest that we’re all guilty of othering our political opponents, that we’ve all engaged in debased language, that we’ve all been demeaned by the current political climate.

But we’re not all equally guilty. Not by a long shot.

Our pal Erick Erickson, in an article denying that we should be concerned about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, said recently that he “would actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other.” He’s part of the problem, of course–and he’s ignoring the fact that it’s almost always been social conservatives who have threatened civil war and see it unfolding with every new sign of equal treatment for women, African Americans, and LGBT people, not progressives. Factions of the right have been living in 1832 South Carolina for all their lives. They’re slobbering for a fight–all the time.

Speaking like a man in the first session of his court-ordered domestic abuser treatment program, Erickson goes on:

If the left really does believe the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise in league with the Russians, they’re either moral cowards without conviction in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country. If the right really does believe the left is engaged in an unconstitutional coup against the lawfully elected President, they’re either moral cowards without convictions in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country.

That’s right: If we really mean what we say when we say about our political opponents, in Erickson’s view, the only courageous option is civil war. Erickson, protected by his own privileges, doesn’t seem to understand what that would actually mean for the world. and doesn’t have the moral imagination to create solutions to these problems outside of violence. And Erickson is typical of many other conservatives in this regard.

So I’m not believing the crocodile tears of Republicans or their feigned horror over Kathy Griffin’s stunt.

And I’m not arguing that since they are propagators of violent rhetoric  we should be too. “When they go low, we go high” is a pretty good motto. And I don’t think we’re near to a civil war, despite Dennis Prager’s might tempt you and me to worry about.

But I am arguing, ever more forcefully, that we shouldn’t cater to the anger of Trump voters. So much post-election analysis expressed surprise at how angry these folks were, calling on good liberals to try to understand things from the perspectives of white voters in the exurbs and in rustbelt towns and places ripped apart by heroin and opioid epidemics. But underneath all that analysis was the idea that we should be afraid of these people. They are desperate… they are angry… they have guns…

And they tell us this themselves in threats veiled and explicit.

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Above, protestors at a rally in defense of the display of the Confederate flag on public property display a giant flag from the back of a Cadillac SUV. Superimposed over the stars and bars is an image of an assault rifle and the words “Come and Take It.” I’m clearly supposed to be afraid of these people, who are just itching for a fight. 

But I’m angry too–and not just at Trump but at every fool who embraced his bigotry or willfully ignored it in order to get scammed by the biggest heel in reality TV.  That anger isn’t going away, and I’m not adding fear to it.

Rebecca