Thomas B. Edsall | ‘Lean Into It. Lean Into the Culture War.’ – The New York Times

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

“Should responsibility for the rampant polarization that characterizes American politics today be laid at the feet of liberals or conservatives? I posed that question to my friend Bill Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings and a columnist at The Wall Street Journal.

He emailed me his reply:

It is fair to say that the proponents of cultural change have been mostly on offense since Brown v. the Board of Education, while the defenders of the status quo have been on defense.

Once the conflict enters the political arena, though, other factors come into play, Galston argues:

Intensity makes a huge difference, and on many of the cultural issues, including guns and immigration, the right is more intense than the left.”

David Lindsay: Good piece, and good comments. Here are two I really liked.

RRockySeattle9h ago

Jacob Hacker has the essence of it: “It strains credulity to argue that Democrats have been pushing culture-war issues more than Republicans. It’s mostly Republican elites who have accentuated these issues to attract more and more working-class white voters even as they pursue a plutocratic economic agenda that’s unpopular among those voters.” The culture war is a mostly manufactured and manipulated divisiveness, handy to distract the populace from the wholesale economic looting of the country by the 1%. And though its roots in modern times go back to Joe McCarthy’s demagoguery, it really got fed by the onset of Reaganism and the Reagan Restoration (of the plutocracy). Reagan’s right-wing business patrons were very happy to utilize his fearmongering and racebaiting B-actor’s shtick in their seizure of power over the last half-century (while witless or craven “Democratic” neoliberals either stood down or acted complicitly).

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AAaron BertramUtah5h agoTimes Pick

I’m less concerned about whether Democrats have moved further to the left than Republicans have to the right (though the idea is laughable to me when we have no livable minimum wage, no universal healthcare and no universal childcare). What concerns me more is that the right is moving further away from the truth. The fountain of lies issuing from the ex-president, members of Congress and Fox News personalities has no parallel anywhere else on the political spectrum and is paralyzing our ability to cope with present and looming crises.

4 Replies 455 Recommended

Thomas Edsall | How Long Can Democracy Survive QAnon and Its Allies? – The New York Times

“. . .  Several political scholars and strategists argue that the fault lies in our political system, that the unique way America has combined its government structure with the mechanics of its elections serves to exacerbate conflict in a deeply polarized country. These scholars have produced a variety of proposals, many involving the creation of multi-member congressional districts and the encouragement of proportional representation to replace the current single district, winner-take-all system.

Lee Drutman, author of “The Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multi-Party Democracy in America” and a senior fellow at New America, is a leading proponent of proportional representation.

In an email, Drutman contended that “a big consequence” of the reforms he and others are calling for

is that the MAGA wing would be cut loose from the rest of the G.O.P. coalition and left to operate on its own. It’s certainly conceivable that there could be even a few more Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Lauren Boeberts elected, but proportional representation (PR) would also mean more Adam Kinzingers (a House Republican who is a critic of Trump) and Romney-type Republicans elected as well.

Drutman wrote that he has “come to realize how much of an existential threat the current Republican Party is to the continuation of America democracy.” A two-party democracy cannot survive “for very long if one of two dominant parties gives up on the foundational institution of democracy: free and fair elections, in which all votes count equally.”

In addition, Drutman wrote,

I’ve also come to appreciate how much democracy depends on a conservative party that believes in democracy, and thus how important it is to create electoral institutions in this moment that will allow the currently-marginalized small “l” liberal Republicans to separate from the MAGA wing of the party and still win some representation in the Congress.

Proportional representation, he argued “is the only way to break up the current Republican coalition and free the pro-democracy forces within the Republican Party to compete on their own.” “

Thomas B. Edsall | ‘The Capitol Insurrection Was as Christian Nationalist as It Gets.’ – The New York Times

“Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality. He has written extensively about the rise of the political right and the religious right.

Credit…Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

“It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.

Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, professors of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Oklahoma, describe Christian Nationalism in their book “Taking America Back for God”:

It includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.

In her recent book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” Katherine Stewart, a frequent contributor to these pages, does not mince words:

It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.

This, Stewart writes, “is not a ‘culture war.’ It is a political war over the future of democracy.”

Opinion | What Is Trump Playing At? – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

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Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“As newspapers and media across the country and around the world reported Joe Biden’s victory and Donald Trump’s defeat in last week’s election, Trump himself — along with his Republican allies in Congress, including the entire Senate majority leadership and the Republican House minority leadership — remained defiant.

I queried a number of American historians and constitutional scholars to see how they explain what should be an inexplicable response to an election conducted in a modern democracy — an election in which Republican victories up and down the ballot are accepted unquestioningly, while votes for president-elect Biden on the same ballots are not.

Many of those I questioned see this discrepancy as stemming from Trump’s individual personality and characterological deficiencies — what they call his narcissism and his sociopathy. Others offer a more starkly political interpretation: that the refusal to accept Biden’s victory stems from the frustration of a Republican Party struggling to remain competitive in the face of an increasingly multicultural electorate. In the end, it appears to be a mixture of both.

Many observers believe that the current situation presents a particularly dangerous mix, one that poses a potentially grave danger to American democracy.

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Jonathan Gienapp, a professor of history at Stanford and the author of “The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era,” noted by email that there have been close, contested elections in the past,

But none of these earlier examples featured what we see now: a completely manufactured controversy based on no evidence whatsoever, purely to maintain power, and to overturn a legitimate election.

In this context,

Trump’s refusal to concede and his congressional allies’ refusal to object to what he is doing is indeed most dangerous. If it continues to be given oxygen, it’s hard not to think that there could be lasting damage to the republic.

This, Gienapp concluded, “is what rot looks like.”

James T. Kloppenberg, a professor of American history at Harvard, responded to my inquiry with a broad overview, worth quoting at length:

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat is unprecedented. Yet it is consistent with everything he’s done throughout his life, so it should not surprise us. While political scientists often focus on institutions and political practices, democracy, where it exists, rests on deeper cultural predispositions that are harder to see. Unless a culture has internalized the norms of deliberation, pluralism, and above all reciprocity, there is no reason to concede to your worst enemy when he wins an election, nor is there any reason to acknowledge the legitimacy of opponents.

It is just these underpinnings of democracy that Trump threatens, especially now:

Norm-busting has been Trump’s modus operandi from a very early age, so to expect him now to conform to democratic norms is unrealistic. Conceding defeat is a tradition consistent with the ethic of reciprocity: you admit defeat, move on, work with those you disagree with, and try to win the next election. Establishing those norms is the work of centuries, not decades. The colonies that became the United States had been at it since the 1630s. By 1787 those cultural pillars were already in place.

Trump’s behavior, Kloppenberg argues, is the culmination of long-term developments within Republican ranks:

Many conservatives considered the New Deal a repudiation of the laissez-faire dogmas they claimed were written into American life. They were wrong about that, as a generation of progressives had shown for decades before FDR’s election. But from Goldwater and Reagan through Gingrich to the present, many Republicans have viewed deviations from what they consider the gospel of free-market capitalism as heresy. Of course there has never been anything remotely resembling a free market in the United States. State, local, and federal governments were involved in daily life from the nation’s first days. But the fantasy of unrestrained capitalism has endured, as has the strategy of condemning as ‘un-American’ anyone who dares suggest otherwise. Given Trump’s four years of hate-mongering and his stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality, his behavior since the election is to be expected — and criticized as the direct challenge to democracy that it is.

Opinion | What if Beating Trump Is the Easy Part? – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

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Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Jeff Swinger/Associated Press

“In the short term, should Joe Biden win the election and move into the White House, he would take office with a Democratic Party unified in its opposition to all things Trump. The question is how long would that last before leaders of every liberal interest group circling the new administration begin to get restless.

In answer to this question, Carter Eskew, a top strategist on Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, wrote by email that

Biden became a unity candidate in response to an overwhelming, almost feral desire to limit Trump’s damage to one term. When Trump leaves, Democratic unity, I fear, may be close behind. Unlike Republicans who have essential agreement around economic and social policy, our Party has fissures on many fundamental issues.

Danger signs for a Biden presidency are already emerging. Different factions within the Democratic coalition will have competing demands: Last week, Black lawmakers — led by Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi — called on Biden, if victorious, to appoint an African-American as secretary of the Treasury, “complicating,” as Axios put it, “prospects for establishment women — like Lael Brainard, Janet Yellen and Sarah Bloom Raskin — to become the first female Treasury secretary.”

Another source of potential division: corporate elites and the donor class versus the reform left: Raúl Grijalva, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Katie Porter, along with organizations like the Communications Workers of America, Our Revolution, Indivisible and the Progressive Change Campaign, called on the Senate on Oct. 16 to reject “any nominee to an executive branch position who is currently or has been a lobbyist for any corporate client or c-suite officer for a private corporation,” putting them in conflict with much of the affluent Democratic establishment.

Biden will take office under immediate pressure to address internal Democratic battles over a broad range of topics, including, to name just a few, mass incarceration, immigration reform, denial of asylum seekers’ rights, constraints on evictions, the politics of utility shut-offs, defunding law enforcement and the logistics of mandatory vaccination.”

DL: Further on, someone points out that getting rid of the filibuster will create new problems for the Democrats.

Opinion | Five Things Biden and His Allies Should Be Worried About – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

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Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

“There are at least five reasons Joe Biden’s consistent lead over Donald Trump does not guarantee him a lock on the White House.

First, there are indications that Trump’s base of support — whites without college degrees — is more energized and committed to voting this year than key Democratic constituencies. And there is also evidence that polling does not reflect this.

Second, Latinos, who are key to the outcome in several crucial states — Arizona and Florida, for example — have shown less support for Biden than for past Democratic nominees. Many Hispanic voters seem resistant to any campaign that defines them broadly as “people of color.”

Third, absentee voting is expected to be higher among Democrats than Republicans, subjecting their ballots to a greater risk of rejection, a fate more common to mailed-in votes than to in-person voting.

Fourth, the generic Democratic-Republican vote (“Would you be more willing to vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate for Congress?”) through early July favored Democrats by more than 10 points, but has since narrowed to 6 points.

Fifth, the debates will test Biden’s ability to withstand three 90-minute battles against an opponent known for brutal personal attacks.

There are other factors — such as the possibility that the Republican Party will conduct an effective voter suppression drive, or that Trump and his advisers will contrive new mechanisms to pave the way to victory.”

Opinion | Voters Seem to Think Biden is the ‘Law and Order’ Candidate – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

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Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

“On Feb. 20, Time magazine asked Henry Louis Gates Jr, the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard, about America’s “missed opportunities for racial equality.”

Gates replied:

One of the most dramatic shifts to the structure of the African-American community has been the doubling of the Black middle class and the quadrupling of the Black upper middle class since 1970.

Gates was drawing attention to the fact that from 1995 to 2017, the number of Black Americans with advanced degrees — Masters, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D. — tripled, going from 677,000 to 2.1 million. Over the same period, the percentage of Black adults with college degrees more than doubled, from 11 to 24 percent.

William Julius Wilson, a University Professor at Harvard and the author of “The Truly Disadvantaged,” made a related observation in 2017:

One of the most significant changes in recent decades is the remarkable gain in income among more affluent blacks. When we adjust for inflation to 2014 dollars, the percentage of Black Americans earning at least $75,000 more than doubled from 1970 to 2014, to 21 percent. Those making $100,000 or more almost quadrupled to 13 percent (in contrast white Americans saw a less striking increase, from 11 to 26 percent).

These gains have not been restricted to affluent Black Americans.

Since 1966, two years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the percentage of African-Americans with incomes below the poverty line has been halved, from more than 40 percent to 20.8 percent in 2018.

Decades of defamatory rhetoric from Donald Trump — as both citizen and president — notwithstanding, Black America is doing vastly better than it was before the advent of the civil rights movement.”

Opinion | ‘I Fear That We Are Witnessing the End of American Democracy’ – by Thomas Edsall – The New York Times

Public

I would love to be more relevant. I found this piece by Tom Edsall so edifying, that I thought about posting it, and calling my blog, “Please, make me smarter!” This is the first clear explanation I’ve read for the extraordinary loyalty of most Trump supporters.

“. . .  According to Joshua Greene, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them,” Trump is expert at sending “signals that are music to the ears of his base,” signals that ineradicably affirm his membership in the populist right wing of the Republican Party.

Greene argued in an email that when

Trump says that a judge of Mexican ancestry can’t do his job, or attacks women for their physical appearance, or makes fun of a disabled reporter, or says that there are good people on both sides of a violent neo-Nazi rally, or that Haiti is a “shithole.” or that the “Second Amendment People” can maybe do something about Hillary Clinton, Trump is very deliberately and publicly excommunicating himself from the company of liberals, even moderate ones.

In Greene’s view, Trump offers a case study in the deployment of “costly signals.

How does it work? Greene writes:

Making oneself irredeemably unacceptable to the other tribe is equivalent to permanently binding oneself to one’s own. These comments are like gang tattoos. And in Trump’s case, it’s tattoos all over his neck and face.

At the same time, Trump’s “costly signals” make his reliability as a protector of white privilege clear.

John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, described the signaling phenomenon in a 2017 Edge talk as an outgrowth of what he calls a “coalitional instinct.”

“To earn membership in a group,” Tooby says, “you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups.”

This, Tooby notes, encourages extremism: “Practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty.” Far more effective are “unusual, exaggerated beliefs,” including “alarmism, conspiracies or hyperbolic comparisons.”

The success of Trump’s strategy will have long term consequences for the Republican Party, in Greene’s view:

Trump won over the base by publicly sacrificing his broader respectability. Back in 2016, the other Republican primary candidates looked ahead at the general election and thought this was a losing strategy. But Trump pulled it off, perhaps because he didn’t really care about winning. But now he owns the party. No Republican can get elected without the Republican base, and the Republican base trusts Trump and only Trump, thanks to his costly signals.”

Opinion | Why Do We Pay So Many People So Little Money? – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

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Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Brittany Newman/The New York Times

“With notable abruptness, thanks to the advent of the coronavirus, much of the public has become aware its dependence on hospital orderlies, cleaners, trash collectors, grocery workers, food delivery drivers, paramedics, mortuary technicians, and postal, shipping, maintenance, wastewater treatment, truck stop and mass transit employees — on what, to many, had been a largely invisible work force.

As Tony Powell, a 62-year-old hospital administrative coordinator, told Molly Kinder, a fellow in the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, in a taped interview in May:

People are not looking at people like us on the lower end of the spectrum. We’re not even getting respect. That is the biggest thing: we are not even getting respect. Nobody is listening to their voices. Maybe they’ll wake up and see: Oh, these are the people that are actually taking care of the people that need to be taken care of.

A paper published that same month, “The Declining Worker Power Hypothesis,” by Anna Stansbury and Lawrence H. Summers, economists at Harvard, describes conditions on the bottom rungs of the job market:

The American economy has become more ruthless, as declining unionization, increasingly demanding and empowered shareholders, decreasing real minimum wages, reduced worker protections, and the increases in outsourcing domestically and abroad have disempowered workers — with profound consequences for the labor market and the broader economy.

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Excellent research and writing, thank you Thomas Edsall. I propose we consider and try to implement a new employment tax that goes up as the unemployment rate goes up, and retreats as the unemployment rate goes down. The funds would help pay for a federal work program for every American that needs a job. One of the many benefits of such a tax and spend system, is that it would put pressure on companies and small business people to hire workers, since if they don’t, the tax goes up. Supermarkets that replace cashiers with robots would see their taxes go up, unless those workers quickly found other work.