Tag Archives: GOP

Trust, City Life–and a Meditation on Branding

One blog I follow is CityScope–an ongoing conversation about urban life and innovation around the globe. A recent post there focused on one of my preoccupations, the importance of trust in building social capital and facilitating city life, from a fresh perspective.

Obviously, trust has always been a social dynamic in cities. (So has mistrust. See Ferguson, Missouri.)  Today, some combination of technology, austerity and social transformation seems to be changing the conversation. The rise of mobile apps, social media and other web-enabled forms of communication are a big part of what’s going on. These platforms don’t create trust, but they do create new ways for us to discover trust and put it to work in cities.

The author of the post quoted Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, who described how his service, which lets people rent out their homes or spare bedrooms to strangers, had expanded to more than 34,000 cities in 190 countries in a mere six years.

“At its core, the thing that we invented wasn’t the ability to book someone’s home,” Chesky said. “What we invented was a very streamlined mechanism for trust.”

“Before us, essentially everyone was a stranger,” Chesky continued. “The only thing you could buy was from companies — those companies had brands, and those brands said the companies could be trusted. A person — you couldn’t trust. The moment identity got attached to people, suddenly the playing field was level. People could act as businesses. They could act as microentrepreneurs.”

I hadn’t really thought about the role of branding in creating trust, and reading this gave me one of those “aha” moments. Of course! That’s why people stop at a Wendy’s or McDonalds when they’re on a road trip–they “trust” what they’ll get; they’ll know what to expect. That’s why my husband orders his khakis from LL Bean when he buys on the internet; he knows what he will get in both quality and fit.  Creating and then fulfilling expectations is what “branding” is mostly about. (I do recognize that a large part of the preference for upscale appliances and identifiable designer clothing among those who can afford such things is not reliance on the inherent quality of the goods, but the message sent by flaunting the brand.)

Keeping one’s brand trustworthy is incredibly important to commercial enterprises. Public relations professionals sometimes specialize in “crisis management”–handling events that might reduce brand trust and thus loyalty. (NFL, anyone?) Companies that cannot manage these PR disasters find themselves in deep trouble.

Politically, we are about to see what happens when a political party’s brand becomes toxic to the nation as a whole, but the dynamics of the organization prevent cooler heads from “managing” the problem.

Recently, a Republican high in the party hierarchy admitted to a friend of mine that there is no way today’s GOP can win the Presidency; absent residential sorting, gerrymandering and voter “ID” laws, the party would not be able to win House seats. It may take another couple of election cycles, but the “brand” is increasingly toxic to younger voters, who “trust” it to take positions that are anathema to most of them.

When the old white guys who can be relied upon to support the brand no matter how repellent it has become die off, the Grand Old Party will face a choice: abandon its current radicalism and return to the center-right brand that sold well, or become irrelevant.

 

 

Hard To Argue

Sometimes, snark hits the nail on the head.

A couple of days ago, over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton made a snarky and audacious claim: After noting those aspects of Sharia Law that are most frequently criticized as being inconsistent with American values, he pointed out that today’s GOP holds those same beliefs:

  • Government is to be based upon religious doctrine
  • Women should have fewer rights than men
  • Homosexuality is to be outlawed
  • Religious doctrine trumps science
  • There is no separation of church and state
  • Religion is taught in government schools
  • Abortion should be illegal

All of these positions are proudly held both by extremist Muslims and the extremists who control  today’s Republican party.

Brayton’s conclusion: if you don’t want Sharia law, don’t vote Republican.

I hadn’t planned to share this–it seemed unnecessarily partisan–but Sunday evening I moderated a panel discussion sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The panel was hosted by Broadway United Methodist Church, and candidates for the Indiana legislature (both incumbents and challengers) were invited to participate. Five accepted: four Democrats and one Republican.

I was initially impressed that a Republican would be willing to defend the party’s current platform to a group that was unlikely to agree with much of it, but it immediately became clear that the Republican had not the foggiest notion what AU stood for, or for that matter, how church and state differ. Her answers to the questions were rambling, incoherent and  filled with personal anecdotes and biblical quotes. (Although she seemed totally unaware of the operation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, she did at one point offer the opinion that Jefferson “lied” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists.)

When a question was asked about recognition of same-sex marriage, she responded that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” (I kid you not.) She offered her support for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and merchants who refuse to provide services to gay customers, because “liberty,” and when asked whether those same merchants should also be able to refuse service to African-American patrons, she at first said she didn’t understand the question, but when pressed, said yes.

There was much, much more–including a closing statement in which she shared with the audience the information that God had asked her to run for office.

I know this woman is not representative of all Republican candidates. (As one appalled attendee noted afterward, she was a “stereotype on steroids.”) But the party was willing to have her run under its label. She somehow made it through slating.

In the course of the evening, she took every position on Brayton’s list (indeed, she went well beyond the list).

I’d be interested in knowing which of those positions today’s GOP–aka the American Taliban–would disown.

The Apocalypse Caucus

At Talking Points Memo, I came across a new–and very apt–term to describe the rabid members of the House GOP: the apocalypse caucus.

There is no doubt that members of this caucus are out of step with the vast majority of Americans–including the majority of Republicans. They are a small tail that is wagging a large and unhappy dog. Their ability to win election–and then pull their saner comrades to the far Right–is explained by a structural anomaly and what Bill Bishop has dubbed “The Big Sort.”

When 2015 rolls around, Steve King is going to have a lot more company. As the Republican House majority looks to add seats, both the House and the GOP caucus will shift rightward. The self-parodying display of conservatism required in red-district primary contests has resulted in a striking new crop of future members for the Apocalypse Caucus….

The new class of Republicans will join an already-large faction of extreme conservatives in the House, representing districts that are out of step with the rest of the country. Reporting on the members who drove last year’s government shutdown, Ryan Lizza notes that:

The ability of eighty members of the House of Representatives to push the Republican Party into a strategic course that is condemned by the party’s top strategists is a historical oddity….these eighty members represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.

Why does the hard right edge of the GOP have such sway over national politics? Because Speaker John Boehner depends on them. He needs their votes to hold on to the gavel, and he needs to craft legislation to appeal to enough of them so he doesn’t need to rely on Democratic votes to pass bills. The Apocalypse Caucus sets the agenda.

The right wing of the GOP is energized by a wide network of donors, activist groups and — especially — media outlets, in which conservative politicians compete for attention, votes and dollars by trying to out-right-wing each other. There’s essentially no such thing as a Republican moderate any more, since in order to get to November, any Republican needs to get through this gauntlet.

It’s like watching the brakes fail on a driverless car that gains speed as it rolls down a hill…..

How Long Can This Go On?

From the New York Times, we learn about the next crop of Republicans likely to become U.S. Representatives:

 One nominee proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse. Another suggested that four “blood moons” would herald “world-changing, shaking-type events” and said Islam was not a religion but a “complete geopolitical structure” unworthy of tax exemption. Still another labeled Hillary Rodham Clinton “the Antichrist.”

Congressional Republicans successfully ended their primary season with minimal damage, but in at least a dozen safe or largely safe Republican House districts where more mild-mannered Republicans are exiting, their likely replacements will pull the party to the right, a move likely to increase division in an already polarized Congress.

For the past several years, my husband has insisted that the GOP–to which we both belonged for many, many years–could not possibly become any more radical, could not continue to nominate and elect people ranging from ignorant to bat-shit crazy, without paying a price at the polls, and ultimately returning to the sane, center-right positions it used to hold.

All of the indicators are that the electorate is losing patience with these people, although–thanks to gerrymandering and “sorting”– change is coming very, very slowly. But progressives and Democrats who anticipate winning more elections once the “angry old white guy who watches Fox” demographic fades gloat at their peril.

The fact is, America needs two responsible, grown-up political parties, and when one of our major parties goes off the rails, there’s no one to keep the other party focused and reasonable. Unless the American public sends a compelling message soon to the travesty that is the current GOP, our government will continue to be dysfunctional, utterly incapable of confronting and solving the problems we face.

We need that message sooner rather than later.

I’m waiting….

 

The Political Climate

This introductory paragraph from an article from Grist reprinted in Mother Jones is incredibly depressing–not just because  one of our major political parties  is controlled by people unwilling to acknowledge accepted science on climate change, but because that unwillingness is symptomatic of the party’s current approach to reality generally.

It’s hard to believe, surveying the GOP field of possible presidential nominees, but back in 2008 the parties were not that far apart on climate change. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, backed cap-and-trade for carbon emissions. After joining his ticket, so did Sarah Palin. But back then, lots of Republicans and conservatives also supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance. The Republican Party of 2008 was a big enough tent to include people who admitted demonstrable problems existed and supported free-market-oriented solutions. Not anymore. The rise of the Tea Party movement and the rightward shift of the Republican base and the politicians who pander to it put an end to all that. Whoever is the Republican nominee for president in 2016, it’s a safe bet that he—and yes, it will be a he, as all the leading contenders are male—will oppose taking any action on climate change. Chances are that he won’t even admit it exists.

I don’t believe that all of these candidates are that divorced from reality. It is actually worse: those who know better are willing to ignore the threat of widespread devastation in order to pander to a frightened and uninformed “base.”

I know I sound like a broken record, but what drives me nuts about climate denial is the illogic of the “bet” being placed.

Let’s just say that the science is far less conclusive than it really is. Pretend it’s only 50-50. If policymakers decide to act on the premise that climate change is real, and prove to be wrong, there will have been some up-front costs, but the steps taken to address the problem will clean up the air and water, conserve finite resources and create new industries and jobs. If they decide to ignore the warnings, and they’re wrong, however, the earth will become less habitable. Weather disruptions and climate change will cause devastation, and mass migrations and social upheavals will follow. And that’s the best-case scenario; in the worst case, we wipe out much of humankind.

It’s Pascal’s wager on steroids.