Category Archives: Random Blogging

If Demography Is Destiny…

Ultimately, of course, demography is destiny, but if significant changes in the makeup of the population fail in the short term to change the status quo, those changes do tell us a lot about our current civic unrest, including acts of domestic terrorism.

The Brookings Institution has issued an analysis of the most recent census and it points to the demographic realities that have triggered the racist backlash we are experiencing.

The big picture shows healthy growth in our larger cities–what the report calls “major metro areas”–despite the fact that the nation as a whole experienced historically low growth over the past decade. (The decline in the nation’s overall growth rate is attributed to reduced immigration, a decline in fertility and an increased death rate due to an aging population.)

The disproportionate growth of urban America was characterized by increased racial and ethnic diversity, especially among youth populations–a data point that undoubtedly feeds the grievances of MAGA Republicans. Much of that metropolitan growth occurred in the South.

Reflecting changes from earlier decades, six of the fastest-growing metro areas in 2010-2020 were located in the traditional Sun Belt magnet states of Texas (Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio) and Florida (Orlando and Jacksonville), along with three southeastern metro areas (Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn.) as well as Seattle.

Brookings notes that every metro area with greater than 10% growth is located in either the South or West except three: Columbus, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul. I was pleasantly surprised to find Indianapolis in that category. (The rapidly changing populations of Florida and Texas may help to explain the increasingly frantic efforts of Abbott and DeSantis to energize their GOP bases before the demographic shift overtakes them…)

The most politically potent information was the data on increased diversity.

The 2010-2020 decade continued the nation’s “diversity explosion” that was already evident in the 2010s. This was especially the case among the nation’s major metro areas. While people of color (those identifying as Latino or Hispanic, Black, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaska Native, or as two or more races) together comprise more than two-fifths (42%) of the total U.S. population, they now comprise over half (50.3%) of the combined populations of major metro areas.

The impact of this minority concentration is most apparent in 20 of the 56 major metro areas, where people of color now comprise more than half of the 2020 population. This was the case for only 14 major metro areas in 2010 and just nine in 1990. The newcomers to this category are metro area Dallas, Orlando, Fla., Atlanta, Sacramento, Calif., New Orleans, and Austin, Texas. As shown in Map 2, most of these are located in California and Texas, where the greatest minority populations tend to be Latino or Hispanic. Metro area Chicago is close to being next in tipping to minority-white status.

Rising diversity is not specific only to these minority-white metro areas. Each of the nation’s 56 major metro areas registered a decline in its white population share since 2010 and, in 41, the decline was 5 percentage points or more. Metro area Seattle led all others, with a decline from 68% white in 2010 to 58% in 2020. Las Vegas experienced the largest 20-year change, from 60% white in 2000 to 39% in 2020.

Brookings also looked at the data on neighborhood segregation, finding limited improvement nationally. Milwaukee, interestingly, remains the most highly segregated city in the U.S.

Another very troubling finding was an absolute decline in the youth population.

The 2020 census data allows for an assessment of the size and recent changes in the nation’s under-age-18 population (referred to here as the “youth” population).

An especially noteworthy finding is the overall decline in this population by over 1 million during the 2010- 2020 decade. In a country that is rapidly aging, such an absolute decline in the youth population represents a demographic challenge for the future.

As White American fertility has declined, the percentage of the youth cohort that is White has also declined.

 The 2020 census shows that more than half of the youth population in 37 major metro areas are people of color, up from 24 in 2010 and 16 in 2000. The rise of youths of color is a key element of the changing demographics of America’s under-age-18 population. These groups have not only stemmed a sharp decline in the youth population but, as they age, will be driving most of the growth in the nation’s labor force.

There’s lots more data and many charts at the link, but the overall picture is clear: America is becoming more urban; it is also aging and rapidly diversifying.  Many older White Americans perceive these demographic shifts as an assault–not just on their status as the “real Americans,” but on their very concept of what America is.

They’re terrified and they’re angry. And they’ll vote for candidates who promise to prevent the inevitable.

 

The GOP’s Christian Soldiers

It isn’t just Pennsylvania–but most of the GOP candidates in that state’s primaries were terrifying and all-too-representative of whatever it is that the Republican Party has become.

All of the GOP’s primary candidates were Trumpers, but Doug Mastriano, who won the Republican gubernatorial primary by twenty points, is probably the most representative of the Christian Soldiers and White Supremicists who now dominate the party. He was described by Talking Points Memo as 

the Trumpiest of the Trumpists, having received the former president’s “Complete and Total Endorsement” on Saturday. It’s not just because he has enthusiastically promoted Trump’s stolen election lie, participated in the January 6 insurrection, and signaled his intent to abuse his power as governor to overturn any Democratic presidential victory in Pennsylvania in 2024. It’s because Mastriano believes he is on a mission from God — and has an energized Christian nationalist movement at his back.

In the GOP’s Senate primary, Cathy Barnett (a Black right-winger too weird and Trumpy even for Trump) appealed to Christian Nationalists with all-out bigotry.  CNN has reported that Barnette argued for discriminating against Muslims and compared rejecting Islam to “… rejecting Hitler’s or Stalin’s worldviews.” She has also said that accepting homosexuality would lead to the acceptance of incest and pedophilia. She called a transgender person “deformed” and “demonic.” Barnett lost, but took an all-too-respectable portion of the primary vote.

The Christian Right has long been an important part of the Republican base, but as Talking Points Memo reports, that constituency has become more highly radicalized, “a trend that was validated and accelerated by Trump’s candidacy and presidency — and especially by his stolen election lie.”

A movement that elevated Trump to messianic status and shielded him from his 2019 impeachment was able to convince millions that satanic forces had robbed God’s man in the White House of his anointed perch as the restorer of America’s white Christian heritage. Their duty, as patriotic spiritual warriors, was to go to battle on his behalf.

Mastriano, a state senator, has not only ridden the wave of this radicalized movement, he has openly embraced it. He spoke at the December 12, 2020, Jericho March on the National Mall, which promoted the stolen election lie and pledged to rally a spiritual army to overturn the election results. Earlier this year, he announced his run for governor at a Christian nationalist event at which a shofar was blown, an increasingly commonplace occurrence as a symbol of Trump’s victory over satanic forces, otherwise known as our democracy. As Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood detail in their newsletter, A Public Witness, Mastriano has been campaigning at events like Pennsylvania For Christ, whose organizers claim their goal is to “reestablish the kingdom of God in PA,” and Patriots Arise for God, Family, and Country, where he pledged, “in November, we’re going to take our state back. My God will make it so.”

According to an article in the Washington Post, Mastriano is part of a far-right group that calls itself the “Thursday Night Patriots.” The group originally promoted a variety of far-right conspiratorial beliefs: that the coronavirus vaccine is causing cancer,  that President Biden’s election was suspect and that racism is being overblown in public schools. Then participants began using an ahistorical “curriculum” for studying the Constitution “that emphasized self-defense, free enterprise and above all the belief that America was founded to be — and should remain — a Christian country.”

Christian nationalists fervently believe that America had a divine, Christian founding, and that it is their job as patriotic believers to rescue it from secular and satanic forces–i.e., from the rest of us. Mastriano is one of them, and he is now the official Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. If that doesn’t make your blood run cold, I don’t know what would.

The Talking Points Memo article identified some “key inflection points”–events that we now understand operated to integrate this Christian zealotry  into Republican presidential politics. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, a charismatic Christian, was one.

Another was then-Texas governor Rick Perry’s enormous prayer rally in Houston’s professional basketball stadium in 2011, on the eve of his announcement of his 2012 presidential run, where speakers focused on spiritual warfare, obedience to Jesus, and reclaiming a Christian America.

The article in Talking Points Memo ends with an obvious–but terrifying–observation:

If Trump’s religious acolytes are elected to offices from which they can unlawfully manipulate election outcomes because God told them to, election subversion in 2024 could, even more than in 2020, be wrapped in a flag and a cross.

 

Civic Lethargy

Max Boot had a recent column in the Washington Post bemoaning poll numbers that seem to show most Americans brushing off the growing danger signals to our democracy. Boot was formerly a Republican; he now considers himself an Independent, and he is appalled by the extent to which the GOP has been co-opted by authoritarians of various varieties.

He is especially baffled by the widespread dismissal of the reality that is before our eyes.

A year after the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol, a CNN poll asked whether it’s likely “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election.” Fifty-one percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats said it’s not at all likely. Only 46 percent of Democrats and independents said that U.S. democracy is under attack, which helps to explain why Democratic candidates aren’t campaigning on defending democracy.

Boot finds this optimism difficult to understand, especially given the constant stream of damning details that emerge daily about Trump’s bizarre behaviors as President, and especially about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.  The former president “remains the dominant figure within the GOP, which means that most Republicans have tacitly accepted that inciting an insurrection is no big deal.”

Look at what just happened in Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary: J.D. Vance, who had been languishing in third place, won the nomination after Trump endorsed him. A fervent, born-again Trumpkin, Vance told a Vanity Fair reporter that Trump supporters “should seize the institutions of the left” and launch a “de-woke-ification program” modeled on de-Baathification in Iraq. (That worked so well, right?) He says that if Trump wins again in 2024, he should “fire … every civil servant” and “replace them with our people.” If the courts try to stand in the way, ignore them. As Vanity Fair noted, “This is a description, essentially, of a coup.”

Given Trump’s continued popularity within the GOP–some 70% of self-declared Republicans believe the “Big Lie”–and given Biden’s sagging popularity, Boots thinks Trump would easily win the nomination in 2024. He then sketches out a horrific–and all-too-plausible scenario:

His “trump card,” so to speak, is the House, which is likely to be under GOP control after the midterms. CNBC founder Tom Rogers and former Democratic senator Timothy E. Wirth point out in Newsweek that controlling the House would allow Trump to steal the presidency if the election is close.

Republican state legislatures in swing states that Biden (or another Democrat) narrowly wins can claim the results are fraudulent and send in competing slates of electors pledged to Trump. The House and Senate would then vote on which electors to accept. Even if the Senate remains Democratic, a GOP-controlled House could prevent Biden from getting the 270 electoral votes needed to win. It would then fall to the House to decide the presidency.

If that scenario sounds hyperbolic, Boots reminds us that a Russian invasion sounded hyperbolic to most Ukrainians before Feb. 24. He concludes that the only way to avert disaster is to vote Democratic in the fall. It no longer matters if you have policy differences with the Democratic Party, as he has–he says that a vote for the GOP is a vote to dismantle American democracy (or what remains of it).

The question Boots asks, but doesn’t answer, is why so many Americans who haven’t “drunk the Kool-Aid” are nevertheless sanguine about the ability of the nation’s institutions to withstand the fascism growing within. That question reminded me of the mindset of many Germans during Hitler’s rise. With a little Googling, I found a fascinating–albeit very disturbing– interview conducted shortly after the war with a German scholar who lived through that time. The interviewee explained how daily events distracted the population from recognizing the larger trajectory of political authority, and how the accumulating deviations from decency were normalized.

To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head….

You really need to click through and read the entire interview. it’s chilling–and it could happen here far more easily than most of us ever imagined.

Boots concerns are not hyperbolic.

 

 

I Love Cities

My husband and I recently concluded a ten-day visit with our son who lives in Amsterdam. The visit prompted me to think about the elements that make for a great city, which Amsterdam indisputably is.

My preference for cities runs headlong into a long American tradition of extolling rural and agricultural life. Brittanica describes Thoreau’s movement at age 27 to Walden Pond, in almost poetic terms, rhapsodizing that he

began to chop down tall pines with which to build the foundations of his home on the shores of Walden Pond. From the outset the move gave him profound satisfaction. Once settled, he restricted his diet for the most part to the fruits and vegetables he found growing wild and the beans he planted. When not busy weeding his bean rows and trying to protect them from hungry groundhogs or occupied with fishing, swimming, or rowing, he spent long hours observing and recording the local flora and fauna, reading, and writing A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849). He also made entries in his journals, which he later polished and included in Walden. Much time, too, was spent in meditation.

Those who have adopted this idyllic version of rural life ignore the reality that most Americans residing in pastoral precincts lack both the means and the leisure time to read, write and meditate, even if they are so inclined.

Meanwhile, city life tends to get short shrift from poets and novelists, although not from sociologists and urbanists. Perhaps the best description of a city’s virtues can be found in books by Jane Jacobs, especially The Death and Life of Great American Cities. More recently, Richard Florida wrote about the “creative class:–city folks with creative occupations that facilitate and stimulate the development of new knowledge to solve problems and create value–but in a very real way, his “creative class” is a distillation of the virtues long exhibited by cities: they bring together a variety of people with a variety of backgrounds, skills and interests, sparking innovation and progress.

Those vibrant, cosmopolitan cultures also promote tolerance of difference, and that clearly offends the traditionalists and Christian Nationalists who disproportionately occupy rural America.

Although all cities of reasonable size will foster what we might call urban perspectives,  some cities are more vibrant and appealing than others. And that brings me back to Amsterdam. It’s a city with its share of urban problems–housing prices are astronomical, traffic can be congested, the constant infrastructure repairs are disruptive.

But it’s a truly great city.

Some of what makes Amsterdam so inviting is physical, of course: the canals that snake through the city core and the presence of historic architecture are elements impossible to replicate. But much of Amsterdam’s charm is the result of public policies and good governance. The city pays enormous attention to the maintenance and upkeep of its infrastructure. There are multiple public parks, and excellent public transportation. Some years ago, a decision was made to discourage automobile traffic in favor of bicycles; we saw no large parking lots taking up valuable city real estate.  (Bicycles, however, are everywhere, and– young or old– everyone rides them. In the Netherlands, there are 2 bikes for every person…Probably as a result, we saw very few fat people.)

It was interesting to see how many churches had been repurposed into museums and shops; unlike in the U.S.,I saw no evidence of Puritan religiosity.  Small parks had kiosks selling beer and wine, and of course, Amsterdam is famous for its red light district and its “coffee houses.” No one we met seemed to have any problem with the presence of either…

As we walked along the canals and residential areas, we were impressed with the amount of commercial activity: unlike in the U.S., where street-level commercial spaces are increasingly empty, retail shops and cafes lined the streets everywhere we walked.

It’s the mix of people who live in the city, however, that really gives Amsterdam its vitality. Our son’s friends come from all over the world, and on the streets you hear a variety of languages, although–interestingly– almost everyone speaks English. (In 2012, Amsterdam’s population was 49.5% Dutch and 50.5% foreign ancestry. The city also has a large and visible gay population.

Where we walked, we saw no “street people”–social housing is evidently widely available.

I was especially struck with the good-nature and courtesy of virtually everyone we encountered–there was a pronounced absence of the stress and short-temper that seems to characterize American life these days.

Urban tolerance. Varied perspectives leading to intriguing and instructive conversations.  A well-tended and thoughtfully-designed infrastructure.

Great cities are just good for the soul.

 

 

The Nature Of Our Divisions

I was among those who breathed a big sigh of relief at the results of the French election, and the defeat (once again) of far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. (I also worried, along with many others, about the fact that–despite the very comfortable margin of Macron’s win–  Le Pen increased her vote from former match-ups.)

Among the various news reports and opinion pieces describing the French election results was a column in the Washington Post that got to the essence of the challenge faced not just by the French, but by all Western democracies. 

A center-left leader can be a champion of tolerance, a force to fight climate change and an advocate for an agenda that a majority of voters favor. But they must do so while facing deep divisions between urban and rural populations, between religious and secular voters and between the well-educated and less-educated. That makes it virtually impossible for competent, well-intentioned leaders to fend off constant criticism from a 24/7 media or to withstand fierce opposing factions and cynical voters.

And there it is.

Commenters to this blog will point out–accurately–that not every rural voters is a bigot or a MAGA fanatic, and that is absolutely true.  It’s also true that not every urban resident is a progressive voter. Overall, however, it is undeniably the case that rural America is Red and urban America is Blue.

It is patently unfair to accuse all religious voters of being Christian Nationalists; I have several good friends among the Christian Clergy who are liberal–or, as we might once have labeled them, advocates of the Social Gospel. That said, they aren’t the ones leading the charge to discriminate against gay and transgender youth. They aren’t looking askance (or worse) at Muslim or Jewish Americans. My friends’ churches aren’t among the concerning numbers of Evangelical congregations encouraging acceptance of the “Big Lie,” and insisting that only White Christians are “real Americans.”

I’d also be one of the first people to argue that education and intellect are not the same thing. (Education and job training aren’t the same thing either.) I think of my mother, who bitterly regretted not having been able to go to college; like many others who lacked that experience, she was widely-read, well-informed and highly intelligent. But again, when we look at the population at large, we find statistically-significant differences between people who have and have not been introduced to logic, to respect for evidence (and an understanding of what does and does not constitute evidence), and to the intellectual inheritance of humankind. Educated people are–on average– more likely to recognize complexity and connection, more likely to understand the role of culture and the consequences of systemic forms of discrimination.

If these are the fault-lines of today’s political environment–and I think they are–what are the challenges that situation poses for political leadership? What is the result when more than a third of a country comes from the ranks of those who see governance in terms of culture war and personal loss, rather than an exercise in effective management of the infrastructure of the state?

First, a politician who considers it their job to solve problems, as opposed to channeling anger and fanning cultural resentment, will rarely receive credit for achieving half or even three-quarters of a loaf. No matter how well the president helps the country recover from the recession, how many jobs are created on their watch or how effective an international leader they become, anything less than perfect will be met with unforgiving criticism. The temptation to paint a president as a loser is overwhelming for allies who are disappointed with the results. This is made worse in a media environment that thrives on conflict and a political environment in which the opposition party is unwilling to give credit for any achievement. Therefore, one can expect few, if any constructive problem-solvers on the center left enjoying high approval ratings.

In France, center-left Macron won, despite polling in the low 40s.  He did that by making the case that the alternative was a rightwing, unhinged, grievance-mongering opponent. As the linked column noted, the French were not particularly enamored with Macron– but given the “binary choice between him and Le Pen,” most French voters opted for competence and sanity.

The key to escaping fascism in the U.S. is to ensure that enough educated, urban, secular voters understand that the election is between democracy and authoritarianism; between free markets and crony capitalism, and between genuine religious freedom and Christian nationalism–and then getting enough of those voters to the polls.