Tag Archives: culture war

When Common Sense Became “Woke”

In a recent column, Paul Krugman traced the growing anti-environmentalism of the GOP. He noted that, in the 1990s, self-identified Republicans and Democrats weren’t that far apart in their environmental views, but that since 2008 or so, Republicans have become much less supportive of environmental initiatives. After considering several possible reasons for that devolution (“follow the money” among them), he concluded that

What has happened, I’d argue, is that environmental policy has been caught up in the culture war — which is, in turn, largely driven by issues of race and ethnicity. This, I suspect, is why the partisan divide on the environment widened so much after America elected its first Black president.

One especially notable aspect of The Times’s investigative report on state treasurers’ punishing corporations seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions is the way these officials condemn such corporations as “woke.”

Wokeness normally means talking about racial and social justice. On the right — which is increasingly defined by attempts to limit the rights of Americans who aren’t straight white Christians — it has become a term of abuse. Teaching students about the role of racism in American history is bad because it’s woke. But so, apparently, are many other things, like Cracker Barrel offering meatless sausage and being concerned about climate change.

If this seems crazy, it’s because it is. Evidently, a substantial percentage of the American population is certifiably looney-tunes…

One of the most compelling explanations for that insanity was recently offered by Tom Nichols in the Atlantic. Nichols was opining about  political violence, or the possibility of another civil war. As he noted, however,  the actual Civil War was “about something.” Unlike today’s culture wars.

Compared with the bizarre ideas and half-baked wackiness that now infest American political life, the arguments between the North and the South look like a deep treatise on government.

Nichols writes that the “soldiers” fighting “wokeness” talk about “liberty” and “freedom,” but those are really just code words for personal grudges, racial and class resentments, and generalized paranoia.

What makes this situation worse is that there is no remedy for it. When people are driven by fantasies, by resentment, by an internalized sense of inferiority, there is no redemption in anything. Winning elections, burning effigies, even shooting at other citizens does not soothe their anger but instead deepens the spiritual and moral void that haunts them.

Donald Trump is central to this fraying of public sanity, because he has done one thing for such people that no one else could do: He has made their lives interesting. He has made them feel important. He has taken their itching frustrations about the unfairness of life and created a morality play around them, and cast himself as the central character. Trump, to his supporters, is the avenging angel who is going to lay waste to the “elites,” the smarty-pantses and do-gooders, the godless and the smug, the satisfied and the comfortable.

In other words, Trump is leading the battle against “woke” folks. You know, people who have the nerve to suggest that conclusions should be based upon verifiable evidence, that many if not most of the issues we face are complicated, and that knowledge and expertise are desirable and not simply an elitist construct devised to make less educated people feel inferior.

It”s “woke” to admit that racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia still exist; “woke” to recognize that climate change is real and that it threatens our future; “woke” to criticize the “Big Lie;” “woke” to argue that women are entitled to agency over their own lives and bodies…

To those on the political Right, to be “woke” doesn’t simply describe people who have awakened to obvious realities and begun trying to ameliorate inequities. To the True Believers, the Christian Nationalists, “woke” is today’s “mark of the beast.” 

So here we are.

“Wokeness”  no longer means you’ve reached certain conclusions about contemporary society based on research, observation and  common sense. It’s morphed. It has become a label to be applied to one’s mortal enemies–and a threat to be defeated at all costs. 

 It is simply not possible for rational folks to reason with the True Believers. The old adage is right–you can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into. 

Welcome to the all-encompassing culture war.

 

 

Republicans Do Have An Agenda

A number of pundits have focused on the apparent lack of a GOP agenda going into the midterm campaign season.  They’ve noted that Mitch McConnell (aka “Dr. Evil”) has all but disavowed the list of unpopular proposals that Rick Scott produced earlier this year, and the lack of any other Republican platform.

So there’s no GOP agenda? Texas Republicans beg to differ.

As Heather Cox Richardson recently reported, Texas Republicans have put everything we suspected “out there” for all to see.  And if that platform, that agenda, that fever dream, doesn’t make chills run down your spine, there’s something wrong with you.

Delegates to a convention of the Texas Republican Party approved platform planks rejecting “the certified results of the 2020 Presidential election, and [holding] that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States”; requiring students “to learn about the dignity of the preborn human,” including that life begins at fertilization; treating homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice”; locking the number of Supreme Court justices at 9; getting rid of the constitutional power to levy income taxes; abolishing the Federal Reserve; rejecting the Equal Rights Amendment; returning Christianity to schools and government; ending all gun safety measures; abolishing the Department of Education; arming teachers; requiring colleges to teach “free-market liberty principles”; defending capital punishment; dictating the ways in which the events at the Alamo are remembered; protecting Confederate monuments; ending gay marriage; withdrawing from the United Nations and the World Health Organization; and calling for a vote “for the people of Texas to determine whether or not the State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation.”

If this autocratic, theocratic and incredibly stupid wish list appeals to even a significant minority of Texans, I hope they will “assert Texas’ status as an independent nation” and secede.  Rational human beings–not to mention people who believe in the rule of law and the clear meaning of the Constitution and Bill of Rights–won’t miss them.

If Americans needed any further evidence of just how far the GOP has deviated from its former beliefs–not to mention sanity–Texans have just provided it.

Unfortunately, the GOP lurch off the radical cliff isn’t limited to Texas.

Here in Indiana, we’ve long had Republican legislators who are looney-tunes–the gun nuts who want everyone to be able to pack heat with no license or background check; the religious warriors who want to define religious liberty as the (limited) right of every American to live in accordance with the warriors’ own religious doctrines; the anti-intellectuals who fear new ideas and want to dictate educational curricula (or just replace the public schools with vouchers to be used primarily at religious schools); and of course, a hearty sprinkling of garden-variety homophobes and racists– but generally, saner heads within the super-majority have somewhat dampened their influence.

We’ve also been lucky that pious Pence was replaced by Eric Holcomb. While I have disagreed with Governor Holcomb on specific issues (sending back $ to taxpayers rather than using those dollars to address Indiana’s myriad deficits, for example), he has mostly been a reasonable and thoughtful official, out of the mold of former Republicans.

The Indiana GOP rejected Holcomb and the so-called Republican “establishment” this week in favor of the cult members and the Big Lie. Diego Morales defeated incumbent Holli Sullivan for the nomination to secretary of state in Indiana — an office documents show once fired him .

Sullivan’s loss is a major blow to the so-called establishment wing of the party, and yet another sign that Gov. Eric Holcomb’s influence is dwindling in his second term. Holcomb had appointed Sullivan in March 2021 after then-Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced her retirement.

As WFYI reported,

Morales’s bid was viewed by many as a challenge to the governor and the so-called Republican “establishment.”

Morales, whose family immigrated to Indiana from Guatemala, has previously pushed the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. He’s criticized Indiana’s election security, arguing the state needs to do more to prevent non-citizens from voting. And he wants to cut in half the number of early voting days before each election, from 28 days to 14.

“First of all, we are going to be efficient,” Morales said. “Number two, we are going to save some taxpayers money.”

After his win, Morales preached unity among his party. During the convention, many of his supporters booed and heckled current Secretary of State Sullivan.

In red states across the country, very much including Indiana, the inmates are running the asylum. I don’t know where that asylum is located, but it isn’t in the America I inhabit.

 

The Right Kind Of Culture War

When we come across references to “culture war,” most of us–whatever our political orientation– immediately think of issues raised by the political right. (I tend to envision the fundamentalist Christian Right.) However we picture the culture warriors, the battles being fought are almost always focused on so-called “family values” (women’s reproductive autonomy, homosexuality, etc.) and a “law and order patriotism” that is performative and superficial–a stubborn “my country right or wrong” approach. Plus, of course, a generous dollop of racism/White Supremacy.

Jennifer Rubin deconstructs those issues in a recent column for the Washington Post.

Republican cultural memes are galling. The GOP has made a national issue out of something that does not exist: teaching critical race theory in public schools. Republicans claim to be on the side of the police and the military, but members of the MAGA cohort have regularly scorned Capitol and D.C. police officers who defended them on Jan. 6, smeared the military as “woke,” and even called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, a “pig” and “stupid.” Republicans claim to be “real” Americans but make traitors (e.g., Confederate generals, Ashli Babbitt) into martyrs.

But Rubin goes beyond a critique of these Rightwing tropes, arguing that a neglect to respond to Republican demagoguery and descent into anti-American authoritarianism equates to a failure to defend the ideal of multiracial democracy. She wants to see the rest of us move to reset and redefine America’s culture war.

Rubin wants Democrats, especially, to “flip the script”– to campaign on “democratic values,” and to point out that Republicans have become a party defending violent thugs and traitors.

Democrats defend the Constitution, which conservative “originalists” used to claim as their own, while Republicans support the man who sought to overturn the election (“just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” he told the Justice Department, seeking pretext for his Jan. 6 gambit).

Her basic charge (which is accurate) is that Republicans who continue to echo Trump’s “big lie” or who voted not to certify election results, or who pretend that January 6th was not an insurrection, are  behaving in ways that are anti-American.

Whose side was my opponent on? Why wouldn’t he/she vote to investigate the worst domestic terrorist attack in decades? Republicans have never been shy about challenging Democrats’ patriotism, and here Democrats actually have grounds to call out Republicans for refusing to both defend the Constitution and respect the votes of their own constituents. Democrats should also challenge their opponents to pledge to accept election results even if they lose and denounce any threat of violence to overturn the will of voters.

In a paragraph that really resonated with me, Rubin also advocated for policies to shore up civic knowledge. She suggests the establishment of a “democracy corps” that would pay young people “to set up civics programs, teach media literacy, serve as poll workers and engage in other pro-democracy activities.” She urges Democrats running for state and local office to endorse mandates for civics instruction in grades K-12.  And she quite properly advises them to call out the racists and crackpots trying to get schoolteachers to stop teaching about the Ku Klux Klan and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The bottom line–as Rubin obviously recognizes–is the danger in allowing the Right to define the terms of America’s culture wars. There’s an old saying among lawyers to the effect that “he who frames the issue wins the debate.” Those of us who reject the Right’s stance on its issues do so because we understand their positions to be contrary to what this country and its constitution are all about–in a word, we find the misogyny, racism, homophobia and the rest to be profoundly anti-American.

Rubin is absolutely right when she argues that we need to do more than just reject that anti-Americanism. We need to wage our own culture war on behalf of the democratic norms and equal civic status required by the  Americanism we embrace.

Those of us who recognize and accept the American Idea need to enlist–it’s a war worth fighting.

Today’s GOP Even Frightens David Brooks

David Brooks frustrates me. Sometimes, I disagree strongly with his “take” on the American condition (usually offered from what seems a self-consciously “elevated” vantage point), but sometimes, he hits the nail squarely on the head. I continue to read his columns in the New York Times for those latter instances, of which last Friday’s was one.

Titled “The GOP is Getting Even Worse,” Brooks commented on the cultural hysteria that has clearly gripped the Republicans’ (declining) base.

There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Survey research provides support for that observation. Brooks points to a poll taken in late January, in which respondents were asked whether politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or more about “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it. ” Fifty-one percent of Trump Republicans said survival; a mere 19 percent chose policy.

Another poll asked Americans which of two statements came closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Those who read this blog can guess what’s coming: More than 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

Brooks is absolutely right when he writes that

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

He is also right when he observes that the Republican response to Biden and his agenda has largely been anemic “because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.”

For years, the refrain from what Americans call “the Left” (and what is globally considered pretty middle-of-the-road) has been “why do so many people vote against their own best interests?” That question, however, rests on a faulty premise. Moderate and leftwing folks define “best interests” in largely economic terms. Voters would be “better off” financially or more likely to find employment if they voted differently. But today’s Republicans see their “best interests” in cultural and racial terms, not economic promises.

The overwhelmingly White Christian supporters of today’s GOP see a demographic shift that will eventually rob them of what is clearly most important to them–far more important than a good job or a fairer tax system or the rate of inflation. Their “interest” is in continued cultural and racial dominance–and as the research shows, many of them are willing to engage in violence, a la January 6th, to protect that dominance.

It’s scary.

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.