Misinformation And The Economy

I recently had coffee with one of the smartest political scientists I know. Given his knowledge and access to data, I hoped he’d provide me with comfort about our upcoming election. He did share his reasons for being cautiously optimistic, but he also shared his distress over the magnitude of disinformation and the credulity of far too many Americans. 

He then said something that set my hair on fire: “If Trump wins, it will be the last real election we have.” This time, he’ll be surrounded by fanatics who know what they’re doing.

We are barreling toward the most important election in my lifetime, and the “chattering classes’ are already making predictions, based largely on elements that have affected political choices in more traditional times. Primary among those is the state of the economy, so Joe Biden should be riding high. But he isn’t–thanks to  the overwhelming amount of misinformation emanating from Faux News and other propaganda sites. The propaganda has convinced large numbers of citizens that what they see with their own eyes isn’t representative of the larger society.

The Atlantic recently addressed this situation in an article titled “U.S. Economy Reaches Superstar Status. No, really.”

If the United States’ economy were an athlete, right now it would be peak LeBron James. If it were a pop star, it would be peak Taylor Swift. Four years ago, the pandemic temporarily brought much of the world economy to a halt. Since then, America’s economic performance has left other countries in the dust and even broken some of its own records. The growth rate is high, the unemployment rate is at historic lows, household wealth is surging, and wages are rising faster than costs, especially for the working class. There are many ways to define a good economy. America is in tremendous shape according to just about any of them.

The American public doesn’t feel that way—a dynamic that many people, including me, have recently tried to explain. But if, instead of asking how people feel about the economy, we ask how it’s objectively performing, we get a very different answer.

The article points out that America’s current economic-growth rate is the envy of the world–that between the end of 2019 to the end of 2023, GDP grew by 8.2 percent, which was “nearly twice as fast as Canada’s, three times as fast as the European Union’s, and more than eight times as fast as the United Kingdom’s.” During the past year, others– some of them among the world’s largest– have fallen into recession, complete with mass layoffs and angry street protests. That included Germany and Japan.

The article analyzes people’s buying power over time. Since 1947, prices have increased by 1,400 percent. That sounds terrifying–except that incomes have increased by 2,400 percent over that same period. And thanks in no small measure to Biden’s focus on “growing the middle out,” several analysts have found that “from the end of 2019 to the end of 2023, the lowest-paid decile of workers saw their wages rise four times faster than middle-class workers and more than 10 times faster than the richest decile.”

 Wage gains at the bottom, they found, have been so steep that they have erased a full third of the rise in wage inequality between the poorest and richest workers over the previous 40 years. This finding holds even when you account for the fact that lower-income Americans tend to spend a higher proportion of their income on the items that have experienced the largest price increases in recent years, such as food and gas. “We haven’t seen a reduction in wage inequality like this since the 1940s,” Dube told me.

The unemployment rate has been at or below 4 percent for more than two years, the longest streak since the 1960s. 

The article has much more data–all positive–and its findings have recently been echoed by the World Bank, which says the U.S. economy is the envy of the world. As the linked story from the Washington Post reports,

While Americans’ unhappiness with high prices remains a key vulnerability for President Biden’s reelection bid, the World Bank now expects the U.S. economy to grow at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, nearly a full percentage point higher than it predicted in January. The United States is the only advanced economy growing significantly faster than the bank anticipated at the start of the year.

The excellent performance of the economy should lift Democratic prospects–but the propaganda war has been effective, especially with the low-information voters who (as still other studies confirm) are most likely to support Trump.

The only good news is that these low-information folks are also the least likely to vote. We can hope….

Comments

How Red is Indiana?

Wow…Just wow.

At the party’s convention on Saturday, Hoosier Republicans rebuffed their gubernatorial candidate’s choice of a lieutenant governor candidate in favor of an out-and-out, well-known Christian Nationalist–despite the fact that Braun, the gubernatorial candidate, had prevailed upon Trump to endorse his less-known-to-be looney choice.

The victory of Micah Beckwith exposed both the current rifts in the party and the degree to which the party faithful have succumbed to extremist culture war and Rightwing grievance.

The GOP’s choice led to yet another “schism”–this time, in my family. While all of us find Pastor Beckwith horrifying, we’re split on whether his selection really reflects the beliefs and bigotries of Indiana citizens. My youngest son thinks this extreme culture warrior is “in sync” with Hoosier voters; I believe his addition to an already terrifyingly extreme GOP ticket will hurt Republicans in November. (My son says he desperately wants to lose our bet on this issue, but he long ago lost faith in Indiana’s electorate.)

What do we know of Pastor Beckwith’s ideology?

We can begin with his statement that his choice by the delegates was “divinely inspired.” Presumably, he is confident that he is God’s choice…Indeed, Beckwith has been a constant voice for his rather unique views of “godliness.” He relishes the fight against “wokeness” and “woke indoctrination”–by which he means genuine education, efforts at inclusion or support for a social safety net–not to mention hysterical opposition to reproductive choice, women’s rights and–of course– church-state separation.

He also opposes freedom to read. Beckwith’s previous public service was as a member of the Hamilton East library board, where his efforts to censor hundreds of books generated a huge blowback from local citizens and triggered an eventual return to previous library policies.

I’m unsure how any of these extreme culture war preoccupations equip him for a position tasked with increasing tourism (!) and supporting agriculture…

Beckwith may be the most extreme example of the state GOP’s lurch to a very unAmerican far right, but he really does fit well with the rest of a state ticket on which Braun is arguably the least scary, which is really saying something. (He at least gives occasional nods toward sanity.) I have posted numerous times about Jim Banks--aka “Focus on the Family’s Man in Washington”–whose culture war positions include support for a national ban on abortion with zero exceptions, unremitting attacks on education, support for permitless carry (because that’s so “pro-life”…) and vicious assaults on trans children, among others.

I’ve posted even more frequently about Todd Rokita, the current occupant of the Attorney General’s office. Rokita has taken every possible opportunity to pander to the far Right of the Republican Party, most (in)famously in his vendetta against the doctor who performed an abortion on a ten-year-old rape victim, charging her with improprieties he knew to be false. He has subordinated his duties as AG to participation in national litigation brought by Rightwing AGs from other Red states, been chastised by the state’s Supreme Court (members of which were selected by Republican governors), and routinely acted in ways to embarrass not just Indiana, but the entire legal profession.

This slate of candidates makes outgoing conservative Republican Governor Holcomb look leftwing by comparison.

So–here we are. As I have previously noted, in November, Indiana voters will choose between a statewide slate of three talented and accomplished women whose credentials are appropriate for the jobs they seek, and whose positions on the issues are mainstream and sensible, and a collection of out-and-proud MAGA misogynists and theocrats. This won’t be an election in which differences are minor. Unlike so many elections in Indiana, it also won’t be an election affected by gerrymandering–even Hoosier Republicans can’t gerrymander a statewide race.

If you agree that most Indiana citizens reject the Neanderthal positions of these misogynist theocrats, you should send McCormick, McCrae and the eventual Democratic AG candidate a few dollars each–giving them the wherewithal to inform Indiana’s voters that Braun, Beckwith, Banks and Rokita are nothing like Indiana’s traditional Republicans.

As my students might have put it– these are scary dudes, and Indiana’s voting public needs to understand just how scary they are.

These four men all reject America’s constitutional values, and I  refuse to believe they reflect the values of Hoosier voters. Despite my son’s contrary views, I am convinced that these “Christian warriors” will only win if the Democrats lack the resources to expose them for what they are: the Christian Taliban.

Comments

An Excellent idea

As I’ve consistently pointed out, those of us who are concerned–okay, frantic–about the state of democracy in contemporary America need to do more than share our gloom with others on social media. We need advice about specific steps that would help ameliorate the situation.

Recently, I offered two sets of specifics: one, by Jennifer Rubin, enumerated what journalists ought to be doing (although logic tells me that most established media outlets will ignore those recommendations, it’s important that citizens recognize deviations from best practices). The other was my own attempt to suggest steps each of us can take.

Today’s post focuses on advice to educational institutions–especially universities, although it might be possible to adapt the recommended program for high school seniors. I came across it in a column by E.J. Dionne, who tells us about a program at a “small, distinguished college that has provided a model that other universities should study and adapt.”

Since 2008, Occidental College in Los Angeles has offered students a chance to join a “Campaign Semester,” in which they dedicate themselves to a political campaign of their choice in presidential and midterm years. Students spend 10 weeks working their hearts out in the field and then the rest of the semester reflecting on what they learned and engaging in the academic study of elections.

The program is the creation of Peter Dreier, an Occidental professor for more than 30 years who spent much of his pre-academic life in federal, state and local politics. Along with professor Regina Freer, Dreier supervises students’ independent study projects and runs the seminar they join after their return to campus.
Its origin owes a lot to former president Barack Obama, who attended Occidental before transferring to Columbia University. Obama’s 2008 campaign inspired a lot of young people, especially Oxy’s students, many of whom approached Dreier to learn how they might work on the campaign.

Dreier suggested they take a semester off, as he did to work on Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential effort, but quickly discovered that parents and many students were committed to a four-year college schedule. Campaign Semester was born out of a desire to square this circle.

The program allows students to work for either party, but they have to get involved in a contested race–one where the campaign itself will matter and especially one in which students will have to engage citizens with views very different from their own.

The process, Dreier said, requires learning “the skills that it takes to talk to people that you don’t agree with and persuading them.” Paradoxically, perhaps, partisan campaigns might have a better shot than universities at teaching the need to reach beyond comfort zones.

Dionne quoted one student who participated in the program’s first class and had volunteered for Obama’s 2008 campaign, calling her “a starring example of the program’s impact.” That student is now a state representative in Minnesota. “The nuances of policy can be learned in the classroom,” she said, “but the heart of politics — building a shared vision for improving people’s lives — can only be learned out in the field.”

As someone who spent 20+ years teaching university students about policy, I can echo this sentiment. Even in classrooms with students who have different political opinions, forging “shared visions” rarely occurs. Students can be taught to be civil and courteous about their differences, they can be introduced to the considerable technical concerns that policymakers face (and about which they are too often clueless), but those lessons take place in an environment far removed from the day-to- day realities of a political campaign, where getting your candidate’s message out requires a campaign plan geared to the constituency, the recruitment of volunteers, and funding sufficient to allow communication with voters.

Furthermore, much as it pains me to admit, most elections aren’t won or lost on the basis of policy disputes. (Thanks to the Supreme Court and the Dobbs decision, the upcoming election may well be the exception that proves that rule, but only because of the enormous negative effect of that decision). Some combination of a candidate’s persona–charisma, openness, even looks–will play a significant role. These days, partisan passions and grievances matter even more. Unfortunately, American elections aren’t academic debates in which logic and realistic self-interest compel a voter’s support.

Those realities about the democratic process simply cannot be communicated in a college classroom. Internships with campaigns can help, but relatively few students participate in such internships.

Dionne is right–Occidental’s program should be widely replicated.

Comments

Religious War, Modern Version…

As weird as it seems–this is, after all, the twenty-first century– America seems to be in the throes of a religious war. Whatever the actual motives of the self-identified “righteous religious,” today’s culture warriors increasingly hide behind assumed doctrinal pieties.

And they’re suddenly everywhere.

The media is filled with stories about fissures in state-level Republican parties, fights between the GOP’s extreme Rightwingers and its flat-out nutcase “Christian warriors.” Here in Indiana, that schism is illustrated by the GOP’s internal fight over the Lieutenant Governor nomination. Mike Braun, who won the nasty race for the gubernatorial nomination, has picked a no-name, relatively inoffensive Rightwing female, but his choice is being challenged by religious warrior Micah Beckwith.

Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith’s unconventional campaign for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor appears to be surging. Several GOP insiders I spoke with believe he will upset Mike Braun’s hand-picked candidate Julie McGuire at the state convention this Saturday.

Braun evidently recognizes that a Beckwith victory will make his already far-Right campaign more difficult, since Beckwith is a proud member of the Christian Taliban. The linked article reported his remarks at gatherings of GOP insiders.

Beckwith told the delegates in both Fort Wayne and Nappanee that it was his belief that America was straying from its Christian principles that motivated him to get into politics.

“I started recognizing something very concerning to me, that the church in America was dropping the ball on stewarding our nation,” he said in Nappanee. “When [the church] started shutting our mouths, the silent majority did a huge disservice to this nation. We became quiet. No wonder we’ve gone off the rails.”

Beckwith blamed America’s problems on a list of issues for which, according to him, the Bible has already provided guidance.

“Isn’t it interesting that all of the political things that are destroying our nation right now are things like marriage, things like abortion, things like parental rights, things like the sovereignty of our borders, things like taxes. But wouldn’t you know, God has said something about all of those issues.”

Evidently, God also told Beckwith to attack Governor Holcomb’s attempt to protect Hoosiers from COVID.

“It was March 15, 2020. I called out COVID exactly what it turned out to be,” he told the delegates in Nappanee. On that day, he said he broadcast a Facebook live video telling people “don’t shut down, don’t lock down, don’t mask up. And I called it out.”

As the linked article notes, 22,450 Hoosiers died from COVID after Beckwith made that video, including 616 residents in his home of Hamilton County. But evidently, that was God’s plan–after all, Beckwith is certain he knows what his God wants…

Unfortunately, the growth of Christian Nationalism isn’t a phenomenon limited to state-level politics. Not only does a rabid (and distinctly unChristian) cohort consistently prevent Congress from functioning, it has infected the nation’s highest court. That infection is most apparent in the person of Justice Alito, who–as Robert Hubbell recently reported–has now “said the quiet part out loud—i.e., that the reactionary majority on the Supreme Court is engaged in a religious battle to return the country to a place of godliness.”

It seems that an enterprising reporter has obtained evidence of what most observers have long surmised.

Lauren Windsor, a progressive filmmaker and political activist, bought a ticket in her own name to the Supreme Court Historical Society dinner that was held on June 3 and carried her cell phone so she could record conversations she held with Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts.  She’s done it before, posing as a fellow conservative as she recorded conversations with right-wing politicians at public events.  This time, Windsor appears to have been posing as a Christian Nationalist Catholic when she got close enough to Alito at the dinner to ask him a few questions.

While condemning the tactic employed, the New York Times reported the taped conversation,  and Alito’s view that that the nation should return to a “place of godliness.” Several other reports included anti-gay remarks made by his wife. (The taped conversations have since been uploaded to YouTube.)

The utter lack of humility that characterizes these smug “warriors for God” always reminds me of that FaceBook meme–something to the effect that “it’s interesting that God hates the same people they do.”

Historians and legal scholars can rebut these efforts to rewrite American history and undermine the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and theologians can contest the simplistic, dishonest and oh-so convenient approach to belief, but it will be up to voters to reject Christian Nationalists’ drive to deliver social and legal control to White Christian fundamentalists.

Vote Blue. Religious liberty depends on it.

Comments

Let’s Talk Specifics

One thing most Americans can agree upon is that this year’s election is abnormal.

We have a presidential contest featuring a convicted felon– supported by a fact-averse cult–who routinely lies, threatens violence, and violates long-established political norms. (I would add that–although we’ve had some unfortunate political actors in our history–we’ve never previously faced a presidential campaign by someone so obviously, seriously mentally ill.)

Perhaps as a result of that novelty, the traditional press consistently fails to convey the actual stakes of the upcoming election–and those stakes are monumental. Handwringing pundits have complained about that failure, but very few have made specific recommendations for change. For that matter, grousing without suggesting what actions might be helpful characterizes most conversations about the upcoming election. 

What should the media do? What should each concerned citizen do?

Jennifer Rubin recently answered that question for the media. She began with a statement of the obvious:

The United States has never had an election in which: a felon runs for president on a major party ticket; a presidential candidate lays out a detailed plan for authoritarian rule; an entire party gaslights the public (e.g., claiming the president was behind their candidate’s state prosecution; pretending they won the last election); and, prominent leaders of one party signal they will not accept an adverse outcome in the next election. Yet, the coverage of the 2024 campaign is remarkably anodyne, if not oblivious, to the unprecedented nature of this election and its implications.

Rather than indulging an obsession with meaningless early polling, Rubin says, show a minute or two of unedited video of Trump’s rambling, incoherent and deranged rants. Rather than “fact checking” the nonsense blizzard, focus on the unprecedented nature of his rhetoric. Illustrate the deterioration in his thinking and speech. Quote experts discussing “how an obviously irrational and unhinged leader casts a spell over his devoted following.”

 

Rubin says the media should refuse to entertain “laughable MAGA spin,” such as claims that Trump’s conviction will help him win the election. (Those polls they love to cite rebut that premise.) Real journalists would debunk other MAGA lies, including the frequent ones about crowd size. 

 

Reporters should stop giving spineless Republican officials a free pass when they parrot Trump’s obvious falsehoods. Interviewers should be prepared to challenge and debunk them.

 

You can read the rest of her litany at the link, but the call for specificity also applies to each of us. After all, fulminations on this blog–including mine– are not actions. Sharing memes and “liking” posts on social media aren’t actions.

 

Other than the obvious–casting our votes and donating to underfunded candidates–what specific activities are available to those of us who understand the gravity of the threat posed by MAGA? 

 

Let me suggest three:

  • If everyone who recognizes that threat, everyone who agrees that voting Blue up and down the ballot is essential, would find just one rational person who has not previously voted– or who has not voted regularly–and would take it upon herself to ensure that person is registered and casts a ballot, we would assure a Blue tsunami. (Women who have previously skipped elections ought to be prime candidates this year, given the GOP’s unremitting attacks on abortion and birth control.)
  • When you come across examples of news media engaging in the behaviors Rubin has described, write and complain. If the offending outlet gets enough complaints, especially if those complaints come from subscribers, they’ll notice. They may defend their coverage, but they’re likely to be more careful.
  • If you are on social media, post accurate, credible information about the actual state of the economy, real numbers about criminal activity, and other facts that rebut widespread misinformation–with links to official sources, if possible. You needn’t get into online arguments (if someone has posted that the stock market is down, or unemployment is up, all you need to do is post an article from, say, the Wall Street Journal or other business publication reporting the fact that the market has hit an all-time high and employment is the highest in fifty years.) The people posting misinformation on Facebook or Tiktok or wherever aren’t people who read the New York Times or Washington Post–or, here in Indiana, the Indianapolis Business Journal. At the very least, you’ll be ensuring that they see something other than Rightwing media misinformation. 

If you have the time and can join an activist organization, that would be great, but if large numbers of people just did these three things, it would change the dynamic of America’s upcoming election.

This is our (much safer) beach at Normandy. Storm it.

Comments