The Protests, The War

This will be a somewhat longer post than usual, and it has been an extraordinarily difficult one to write.

As a retired faculty member of Indiana University, and a former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I have been appalled by IU’s over-the-top response to the student protests on the Bloomington campus. The late-night change of a 55-year-old policy,  the decision to invite a police presence, the horrifying confirmation that a sniper was positioned on a nearby roof–all of this in response to what observers described as a peaceful protest–is incomprehensible.

Other institutions of higher education have similarly over-reacted–but still others have not. At Dartmouth, Jewish and Middle-Eastern professors have co-taught a class exploring the conflict and its history; at the University of Chicago, where my granddaughter is a sophomore, the University has issued a statement reaffirming students’ right to protest while making it clear that demonstrations “cannot jeopardize safety or disrupt the University’s operations and the ability of people in the University to carry out their work.”

You don’t have to agree with the message being conveyed in order to support the right to protest. In the immortal words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, freedom of speech is meaningless unless it is also “freedom for the idea we hate.”

I have refrained from posting my own concerns about the conduct of a war that has divided America’s Jewish community as much as it has the broader polity. But Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo recently shared his reactions, and I share them. (Marshall is Jewish). He begins his essay by noting that much of the anti-Semitism being voiced has come–at least at Columbia–from non-students on the periphery of the protests. He also points to the naiveté of students calling for the elimination of the State of Israel, attributing the slogans to “the kind of revolutionary cosplay that is often part and parcel of college activism.”

Is this anti-Semitic? Not as such. It’s a political view that the Israeli state never should have come into existence in the first place and that the events of 1948 should simply be reversed by force, if a solution can’t be voluntarily agreed to. But since a bit over half of Jews in the world live in Israel, that is a demand or an aim that can’t help but seem wildly threatening to the vast majority of Jews in the world, certainly the ones in Israel but by no means only them.

Marshall discusses the decades-long administrative changes in institutions of higher education that have made so many universities ill-equipped to deal properly with this particular moment, and then he turns to the war itself.

If it is true that the groups spearheading the protest expressly hold eliminationist goals and beliefs about Israel, it is just as clearly true that the real energy of these protests isn’t about 1948 or even 1967 — they are about what people have been seeing on their TVs for the last six months. And that is a vast military onslaught that has leveled numerous neighborhoods throughout Gaza, led to the substantial physical destruction of much whole strip and lead to the deaths of more than 30,000 people. That’s horrifying. And people know that the U.S. has played a role in it. It’s not at all surprising that lots and lots of students are wildly up in arms about that and want to protest to make it stop.

To me, you can’t really understand the situation without recognizing that Hamas started this engagement by launching a massacre of almost unimaginable scale and brutality and then retreated to what has always been its key strategic defense in Gaza, which is intentionally placing their military infrastructure in and under civilian areas so that the price of attacking them militarily is mass civilian casualties that are then mobilized internationally to curtail Israeli military attacks on Hamas.

This is unquestionably true and no one can honestly deny that this is Hamas’s central strategic concept: employing civilian shields to limit Israel’s ability to engage Hamas in military terms.

But that being true doesn’t make tens of thousands of people less dead. And most of the dead aren’t Hamas. So if you’re a student you say — along with quite a few non-students in the U.S. — all that stuff may be true, but what I’m seeing is the ongoing slaughter of thousands of innocents and I absolutely need that to stop, especially if it is being carried out directly or indirectly with arms my tax dollars bought….

The last six months has thrown me very hard back on to defending the existence of Israel, its historical connections to Jews in Europe and the Middle East before the 20th century, its origins as the political expression of a people who are in fact indigenous to Israel-Palestine. And that’s because all of these things are now questioned and attacked as core questions.

But the reality is that these conversations, often harrowing and angry, are simply diversions from anything that creates a path forward from the terrible present. There are two national communities deeply embedded in the land. Neither is going anywhere even though there are substantial proportions of both communities who want that to happen to the other one. There’s no way to build something sustainable and dignified without both peoples having a state in which they have self-determination and citizenship. That’s the only plausible endpoint where violence doesn’t remain an ever-present reality. How you get there is another story. And yes, if you think one unified state makes sense, God bless you. If you can get majorities of both groups to agree to that, fine. I don’t live there. If that’s what they want, great. That’s almost certainly never going to be the case. And it’s a failed state in the making.

But none of these arguments about 1948 or 1967 or indigeneity or “settler colonialism” really impact or have anything to do with getting to some two state/partition end point. And no I’m not saying for a moment that that will be easy to get to. It seems terribly far off. But fantasies and alternative histories won’t get us there.

I am older than Marshall–old enough to remember my mother sobbing while reading “The Black Book” after the end of WWII–a compendium of reporting on Nazi atrocities. I remember the little blue box she kept, in which she collected dimes and quarters to plant trees in Israel, and I remember the fervent hopes of family members for the establishment of a place where Jews would be safe. Back then, none of us could have conceived of an Israeli government dominated by a Bibi Netanyahu, whose twenty years of shameful policies toward Palestinians have actually strengthened the Hamas terrorists, not to mention being utterly inconsistent with Jewish law, culture and tradition.

On this blog, I often repeat the mantra “it’s complicated.” And the situation in the Middle East is nothing if not complicated. Nothing–not history, not Netanyahu’s behavior before or since–justifies the barbarity of October 7th. That said, neither does that barbarity justify the horrors that have been unleashed on the Palestinian civilians in Gaza–just as shameful incidents of anti-Semitism on the nation’s campuses do not justify wholesale assaults on peaceful protesters.

A final reminder: the Christian Zionists in and out of Congress who support anything and everything that Israel does are motivated by their belief in the prophecy that all Jews must be “returned” to Israel in order to usher in the Rapture. Jews who accept Jesus will be “Raptured up,” while the rest of us will burn in hell. Unconditional support for Israel is necessary to bring that about–such support is most definitely not evidence of loving-kindness for the Jewish people.

At the end of the day, I keep thinking about that plaintive question from Rodney King, after he’d been beaten by officers of the LAPD: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

If only I had an answer to that…..



After I wrote yesterday’s post about White Rural Rage, I re-read my description of the Niskanen Center’s far more careful 2019 analysis, and decided that it bears re-posting. So here it is:

The Density Divide is the title of a very important paper issued in June by Will Wilkinson, Vice President for Research of the Niskanen Center. It looks in depth at the phenomenon that I usually refer to as the “urban/rural divide”–delving into the attributes that make individuals more or less likely to move into cities, and examining the consequences of those differences and the steady urbanization of the American polity.

The paper is lengthy–some 70 pages–but well worth the time to read in its entirety. It is meticulously sourced, and replete with graphs and other supporting data.

Wilkinson confirms what others have reported: a substantial majority of Americans now dwell in the nation’s cities and generate the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth. But he goes beneath those numbers, referencing a body of research demonstrating that people who are drawn to urban environments differ in significant ways from those who prefer to remain in rural precincts. He focuses especially on ethnicity, personality and education as attributes that make individuals more or less responsive to the lure of city life.

He goes on to describe how this “self-selected” migration has segregated Americans. It has not only concentrated economic production in a handful of “megacities”–it has driven a “polarizing wedge” between America’s dense and diverse urban populations and the sparse White populations remaining in rural areas. That “wedge” is what he dubs the “Density Divide.” (Wilkinson is careful to define “urban” to include dense areas of small towns–the divisions he traces aren’t a function of jurisdictional city limits. They are a function of residential density.)

Wilkinson finds that the “sorting mechanism of urbanization” has produced a rural America that is lower-density, predominantly White, and “increasingly uniform in socially conservative personality, aversion to diversity, relative disinclination to migrate and seek higher education, and Republican Party loyalty.”

That sorting has also left much of rural America in economic distress, which has activated a “zero-sum, ethnocentric mindset.” (That mindset is reflected in the angry rhetoric spouted by rural MAGA hat wearers about “un-American” immigrants and minorities, and disdain for “liberal elites”–all groups that are thought to reside in those multi-cultural cities.)

The density divide–together with America’s outdated electoral structures– explains the 2016 election. The “low-density bias” of our electoral system allowed Trump to win the Presidency by prevailing in areas that produce 1/3 of GDP and contain fewer than half of the population. That low-density bias continues to empower Republicans far out of proportion to their numbers.

Wilkinson reminds us that there are currently no Republican cities. None.

As he points out, the increase in return to human capital and density has acted to amplify the polarizing nature of selective urbanization. Temperamentally liberal people self-select into higher education and big cities, where the people they encounter exert a further influence on their political attitudes. They  leave behind a lower-density population that is “relatively uniform in white ethnicity, conservative disposition and lower economic productivity.” Economic growth has been shown to liberalize culture; stagnant or declining economic prospects generate a sense of anxiety and threat. (In that sense, the political scientists who attributed Trump votes to economic distress were correct, but the distress wasn’t a function of individual financial straits–it was a reaction to the steadily declining prospects of rural environments.)

Wilkinson argues that there are no red states or blue states–not even red or blue counties. Rather, there is compact blue urban density (even in small cities in rural states) and sprawling red sparseness.

This spatial segregation of people with very different values and world-views is radicalizing; Wilkinson reminds us that a lack of exposure to intellectual diversity and broadly different points of view breeds extremism. Because urban populations are far more intellectually diverse, more homogeneous rural populations have shifted much farther to the right than urban Americans have shifted left.

The United States population is projected to be 90% urbanized by 2050–not too many years after we are projected to become “majority-minority.” Those projections suggest we will see increasing radicalization of already-resentful rural inhabitants.

The prospects for returning to rational politics and a truly representative governance will depend entirely upon reforming an outdated and pernicious electoral framework that dramatically favors rural Americans. Whether those reforms can pass our very unrepresentative Senate is an open question.


About That Plan…

An increasing number of media outlets are reporting on Project 2025–a plan by the Heritage Foundation together with other right-wing organizations intended to be a road map for a second Trump presidency.

Pundits have noted Project 2025’s similarity to Victor Orbán’s “illiberal” democracy in Hungary, where Orban has gutted the civil service and filled government positions with loyalists who support his attacks on immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ+ community, and his efforts to distance Hungary from other NATO nations. Orban’s recent trip to Mar-A-Lago was followed by a less-publicized meeting at Heritage.

So–what is in the Project 2025 plan for a second Trump Administration? Heather Cox Richardson recently spelled it out:

Project 2025 stands on four principles that it says the country must embrace. In their vision, the U.S. must “[r]estore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children”; “[d]ismantle the administrative state and return self-governance to the American people”; “[d]efend our nation’s sovereignty, borders, and bounty against global threats”; and “[s]ecure our God-given individual rights to live freely—what our Constitution calls ‘the Blessings of Liberty.’”

In almost 1,000 pages, the document explains what these policies mean for ordinary Americans. Restoring the family and protecting children means making “family authority, formation, and cohesion” a top priority and using “government power…to restore the American family.” That, the document says, means eliminating any words associated with sexual orientation or gender identity, gender, abortion, reproductive health, or reproductive rights from any government rule, regulation, or law. Any reference to transgenderism is “pornography” and must be banned.

The overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the right to abortion must be gratefully celebrated, but the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision accomplishing that end “is just the beginning.”

Dismantling the administrative state in this document starts from the premise that “people are policy.” Frustrated because nonpartisan civil employees thwarted much of Trump’s agenda in his first term, the authors of Project 2025 call for firing much of the current government workforce—about 2 million people work for the U.S. government—and replacing it with loyalists who will carry out a right-wing president’s demands.

The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism describes Project 2025 as a significant threat to democracy. Spearheaded by Heritage and supported by more than 80 extremist organizations, the plan aims to “rescue the country from elite rule and woke cultural warriors.” The Global Project notes reports of internal discussions centered around a proposal that the next “conservative” President invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office, in order to allow use of the military to quell civil unrest.

Project 2025 plans what it calls a “robust governing agenda,” with all of the hallmarks of authoritarianism.

It threatens Americans’ civil and human rights and our very democracy. The America that Project 2025 wants to create would involve a fundamental reordering of our society. It would greatly enhance the executive branch’s powers and impose on all Americans policies favored by Christian nationalists regarding issues such as sexual health and reproductive rights, education, the family, and the role of religion in our society and government. It would strip rights protections from LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, and people of color. It would dismantle much of the federal government and replace our apolitical civil service with far-right partisans it is already training in anticipation of a power shift. It would end attempts to enhance equity and racial justice throughout the government and shut down agencies that track progress on this front. Efforts to tackle issues such as climate change would be ended, and politicized research produced to back the project’s views on environmental policy, the evils of “transgenderism,” and women’s health would take priority.

There is more, obviously, in a thousand-page document, and it’s all very chilling, but what strikes me is how explicit and professional it is.

Project 2025 represents a very troubling step up from the tracts and manifestos produced by the disaffected and generally disturbed members of militias and groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. This is a professional document, produced and endorsed by people and organizations that already wield considerable power and influence–extremists who have already massively infiltrated the courts, completely taken over of one of America’s major political parties, and who “own” numerous lawmakers in Congress and in a number of states. Those “fellow travelers” are easily identifiable: we need only look at the GOP Representatives who oppose aid to Ukraine, attack trans children, and advocate for a national abortion ban. (Here in Indiana, that includes far-Right Congressman Jim Banks, currently running for the Senate, among others.)

The fact that Heritage felt free to put it in writing tells us the takeover is well underway. That should terrify us all…..


My Cousin’s Intriguing Comparison

I periodically post about insights shared with me by one of my cousins, who recently forwarded a recent blog post of his own, containing an intriguing comparison between America’s battle over reproductive rights and prohibition. With his permission, I’m sharing much of what he wrote.

Prior to 1920, there were few restrictions on the production and consumption of alcohol. But after that, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States was made illegal until 1933 under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment. Major support for this amendment was provided by groups with strong religious ties that included many Protestants, together with a national grassroots base comprising the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Ironically, most of the ardent supporters of prohibition were located in rural areas, and they were, to a large extent, pitted against a majority of urban dwellers.

But most Americans have always objected to the removal of a widely available right, and this resulted in widespread flouting of the law banning alcohol, especially in urban areas. Finally, under pressure from a national majority, the twenty-first amendment permitting alcohol was passed, which then ceded responsibility for alcohol policy to the individual states, and as we now know, this has resulted, with few exceptions, in the widespread national acceptance of alcohol.

From these experiences derived from prohibition, we have learned two important lessons that should attract the attention of all, especially those who are anti-abortion: 1) Americans are loath to give up established rights, and 2) religious groups, even if large in number, cannot impose their will on a reluctant majority for extended periods.

And now we are presented with an eerily similar circumstance: For a half century, the general population was enjoying freedom of choice through rights granted by the Supreme Court (Roe vs Wade), and now this right has been abruptly revoked, and this responsibility was passed on to the individual states. And if history is any guide, the vast majority in most states will press for return to something resembling their previous freedom… 

The rest of his column looked at the likely outcome of allowing individual states to regulate reproduction. I think it is far more likely that Congress will ultimately codify Roe v. Wade–but only if Democrats win control of both houses. 

And that brings me to Indiana, and our open Senate seat.

Marc Carmichael has pledged to work for codification of Roe. (As he frequently notes, he has granddaughters who deserve fundamental rights.) Jim Banks not only supports a national abortion ban with no exceptions–not for rape, incest or the life of the mother–but actively opposes measures that would facilitate or protect access to birth control. He was one of the Republicans who voted against the Right to Contraception Act, a bill intended to “protect a person’s ability to access contraceptives and to engage in contraception, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.” 

The Right to Contraception Act was essentially an effort to codify Griswold v. Connecticut. Griswold was a precursor case to Roe, in which the court held that a couple’s decision to use birth control was none of government’s business–that individuals have a constitutional right to personal autonomy, aka privacy.

I’ve linked to the text of the bill, passage of which was blocked by Republicans.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, GOP operatives hastened to assure voters that the party wasn’t coming for contraception–that, to the contrary, with abortion banned, access to birth control would be expanded. Their actions, however, proved how hollow–indeed, dishonest– those assurances were. Red states rushed to pass “personhood” amendments that enabled the recent theocratic attack on IVF in Alabama. The decision in the Hobby Lobby case continues to allow employers with “sincere religious objections” to deny birth control coverage to employees whose “sincere religious beliefs” differ.

I believe my cousin was exactly right to compare the politics of the Republican war on reproductive liberty to prohibition. In both cases, self-appointed “god squads” have tried to enlist government to impose their views on everyone else.  In both cases, huge majorities of Americans disagree with those views. Those majorities defeated prohibition, and I am confident will vote to secure women’s rights to birth control and abortion.

The battle reminds me of that famous line from Network. To paraphrase, American women are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore; we’re not going back to being submissive, barefoot and pregnant.  We’re going to defeat Jim Banks and his fellow misogynists and send allies like Marc Carmichael to the U.S. Senate.

I think I’ll go drink to that…..


Some Soothing Figures

Among the Substack newsletters I regularly receive are those from Heather Cox Richardson–whom I often quote– and Robert Hubbell. One of Hubbell’s recent missives contained some very welcome information and analysis.

Hubbell began with his frequent admonition that Democrats should be confident, but definitely not complacent–that we will need to work hard to turn out every anti-MAGA voter in November. But that said, he made two very important–and comforting–points:

Trump is running his campaign as an incumbent president. He has accomplished a hostile takeover of the Republican Party apparatus. He has threatened to banish any Republican who supports or donates to his opponents. Under those circumstances, anything less than a Soviet-style win of 100% is a failure.

So, against that backdrop, Trump’s loss of 40% of the vote in the South Carolina primary is devastating. It is particularly bad because he lost 40% in a state that is more favorable to him than almost any state in the union—because of its strong presence of white, older, evangelical voters (60% of voters are white evangelical or born-again Christians). Losing 40% of the vote under those circumstances should send shockwaves through the Republican establishment.

As Hubbell quoted Axios:

If America were dominated by old, white, election-denying Christians who didn’t go to college, former President Trump would win the general election in as big of a landslide as his sweep of the first four GOP contests.

It’s not. That’s why some top Republicans are worried about the general election in November, despite Trump’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Or, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, Face It: This is a Weak Showing for Trump in South Carolina.

It is not merely that Trump lost 40% of the vote. It is also that 50% of those voters said they would not vote for Trump if he became the nominee—which translates into 25% of Republicans who will not vote for Trump!

One quibble: it translates into 25% of the Republicans who went to the polls in the primary who will not vote for Trump in the General. Some of those voters will stay home in November, but that percentage probably is also predictive of the percentage who didn’t vote in the primary but who will vote in the General.

Hubbell’s most reassuring–and eye-opening– analysis, however, was his discussion of contemporary polling, and its demonstrable bias.

Polls do not “predict” outcomes of races; rather, they predict ranges of outcomes at different levels of confidence. But on average and over time, polls should cluster around the actual outcomes. That is not happening with polling regarding Trump.

Instead, the polling averages have consistently overstated Trump’s support—something the media and pollsters have ignored or excused. At some point, they should simply admit that their polling models are broken and overstate support for Trump.

Adam Carlson posted the following on Twitter, comparing Trump’s average margin of victory predicted by versus the actual margin of victory by which Trump won the first three GOP primaries:

In Iowa:

  • Final Average: Trump +37
  • Final Result: Trump +30

In New Hampshire:

  • Final Average: Trump +18
  • Final Result: Trump +11

In South Carolina:

  • Final Average: Trump +28
  • Final Result: Trump +20

Notice a pattern? The average of’s polls overstated Trump’s support by at least 7 percentage points in three primaries.

I will add that is probably the most credible of all the polling sites.

Since Hubbell’s post, Michigan held its primary, and the trend held. Trump won by roughly 42 points; the final 538 polling average had him winning by 57 points, an underperformance of some 15 points.

Hubbell is undoubtedly correct when he says that when polls show a consistent bias, there is likely to be a flaw in the methodology that warrants skepticism. Here, that flaw consistently overstates Trump’s support. As he concludes,

My point is that we should ignore the polls. We should not delude ourselves, but neither should we trust polls that consistently overstate Trump’s support. Just keep working hard and ignore the uncritical, breathless reporting about polls that have shown consistent bias in favor of Trump.

I share these little rays of sunshine to remind you–and remind myself–that the future will be what we make it. Nothing is certain–certainly not the polls.

As unsettling as it is, we live in a time where there simply are no comforting political verities, no outcomes we can confidently predict. Polls are inaccurate, artificial intelligence is creating misleading messages, media fragmentation and online propaganda encourage confirmation bias…The list goes on.

We need to “power through” this very confusing environment, separating wheat from chaff to the extent possible. We also need to reassure ourselves that, since most Americans are sane, we need to GET OUT THE VOTE.