Hoosiers For Democracy

I’ve been getting intellectual whiplash looking for political omens.

Polls aren’t cutting it: as I have previously noted, contemporary obstacles to accurate measures of candidate strength are immense, and the various efforts to compensate for low response rates and to develop meaningful “likely voter” screens have proved inadequate. When Trump routinely underperforms his poll results by some ten points, it seems safe to ignore click-bait headlines about this or that poll.

I have also shared my conviction that victory in the upcoming elections will depend almost entirely on turnout. I don’t understand what get out the vote campaigns do to generate turnout, but then I don’t understand people who think political participation is irrelevant to their lives, so my lack of comprehension is probably due to that mystification…

All that said, despite living in Indiana– often dismissed as an irremediably deep-Red state– I’ve recently stumbled across some interesting and very positive omens.

One of those is Hoosiers for Democracy, a newly-formed group that describes itself as “a growing movement of Indiana citizens who are concerned about the erosion of democratic norms, the continual drumbeat of extremism and the persistent undermining of our democratic institutions.” I know the founders of the group, and I consider them informed and politically savvy. They’ve done their homework, and are focused on demonstrating that Indiana–even rural Indiana– is considerably less Red than the state’s reputation suggests. 

Hoosiers for Democracy publishes a thoughtful Substack newsletter, and is working with other grass-roots organizations–partisan and bipartisan– concerned about the GOP’s lurch into far-Right extremism. 

Relatively few Hoosiers have heard of Hoosiers for Democracy so far–it’s new, and just building its network. (I encourage Indiana readers to sign up for its very thoughtful newsletter at the link.) But more recently, I was astonished to discover the existence of several statewide organizations with a longer timeline. The Nasty Woman Project began as an Instagram account; it was born out of Trump’s expressions of fury in November 2016 and began a series of self portraits by self-proclaimed Nasty Women. Since then, it has grown into a women’s collective that “throws events, raises money for charity, makes waves, and puts smiles on people’s faces.” 

I was even more astonished to learn that the organization has more than seven thousand members across Indiana. (I was especially surprised because–according to my youngest son–I am a Nasty Woman. In the wake of the 2016 election, he even had a t-shirt that identified him as a “Bad Hombre raised by a Nasty Woman”…)

Indiana’s Nasty Women organization has a FaceBook page describing itself:

We are INDIANA NASTY WOMEN; because we believe in love, acceptance, equality, kindness, respect, and the POWER of our voices. Through this consortium of like-minded women, with an overall vision to do whatever we can to help transform Indiana into, at the very least, a purple state.

This will take different forms, including but not limited to: being dedicated to political activism… helping to create & support liberal and progressive political candidates into office at all levels (national, state, and local).

Educate fellow Hoosiers so they become more informed voters.

Increase the number of likeminded voters in Indiana.

I couldn’t help wondering how many other grass-roots political efforts might be underway and essentially underground, devoted to efforts to highlight the dangers of MAGA extremism and the capture of the Republican party apparatus by Christian Nationalists. I get a large number of political publications and thanks to being older than dirt and a lifetime Hoosier, I know a lot of people here in Indiana, yet I’d never heard of Indiana Nasty Women.

Nor, it turned out, had I heard of at least fifteen other Indiana organizations working to turn out the sanity vote.

In a recent meeting with progressive activists, I was astonished–and gratified–to learn of multiple Indiana organizations formed since 2016. They’re working to educate voters about issues like reproductive rights, voting rights and the threat MAGA poses to democracy.

Several were surprisingly large. Most are run entirely by volunteers, and they overwhelmingly focus on encouraging Hoosiers to vote for Democratic candidates– from Joe Biden and Jennifer McCormick on down the ballot.

I’d never heard of any of them.

Bottom line: I’ve seen data suggesting that MAGA’s strength in Indiana “tops out” at 37%. That’s a very worrisome percentage, but it isn’t a majority. Hoosiers for Democracy, Indiana Nasty Women and these numerous other voluntary, under-the-radar organizations are immensely hopeful omens, especially since several are mounting grass-roots campaigns to turn out Hoosier voters–especially Democratic-leaning voters with spotty voting records.

In November, Hoosiers might be able shed our reputation as a northern Mississippi– a state firmly in thrall to MAGA’s assorted bigotries. 


Krugman Spells It Out

When Mitt Romney announced that he would not campaign for a second Senate term, the announcement did more than simply mark the political exit of one prominent Republican. It was yet another indicator of the metamorphosis of a once-rational political party.

As usual, Paul Krugman’s assessment of that metamorphosis was dead-on. In “The Road from Mitt Romney to MAGA,” Krugman described the decline of the GOP. As Krugman notes, Romney is clear-eyed about what has happened to his party and given his willingness to say what others are unwilling to admit, he is a comparative profile in courage. That said, according to Krugman, Romney–and Republicans like him–have also been part of the problem, enabling the party’s devolution.

It’s good to see Romney speaking up now, but the party he’s criticizing is in large part a monster that people like him helped create.

For the basic story of the Republican Party, going back to the 1970s, is this: Advocates of right-wing economic policies, which redistributed income from workers to the wealthy, sought to sell their agenda by exploiting social intolerance and animosity. They had considerable success with this strategy. But eventually the extremists they thought they were using ended up ruling the party.

When Romney ran for President, Democrats accused him of being a plutocrat whose policies would enrich the wealthy and hurt average Americans. Those Democrats were right. Krugman enumerates the policy positions Romney adopted during that campaign, and points out that they would indeed have hurt non-wealthy Americans.

In particular, Romney was a strenuous opponent of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which was enacted in 2010 but didn’t take full effect until 2014 — an especially cynical position since Obamacare was very similar to the health reform Romney himself had enacted as governor of Massachusetts. If he had won in 2012, he would almost surely have found a way to block the A.C.A.’s rollout, which in turn would have meant blocking the large reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance after 2014.

The GOP accepted the basic premises of the New Deal through the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. When Eisenhower was President, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent and roughly a third of American workers were unionized. Krugman quotes from a letter sent by Eisenhower to his brother, in which he wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again”; while there were a few conservatives who thought differently, “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Their number remains negligible, but thanks to two things: the systemic distortions that form much of the discussion on this blog, and the success of culture-war appeals to racism–they exercise disproportionate power.

Krugman writes that, in the 1970s, the Republican Party began to be dominated by people who did want to roll back the New Deal legacy. He reminds readers of efforts like George W. Bush’s proposed privatization of Social Security and Trump’s corporate tax cut and multiple promises to demolish the A.C.A.

Republicans offset the unpopularity of their economic policies by harnessing culture war policies —” hostility toward nonwhites, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, immigrants and more.”

In 2004, for example, Bush made opposition to gay marriage a central theme of his campaign, only to declare after the election that he had a mandate for the aforementioned attempt to privatize Social Security…

But eventually the forces that economic conservatives were trying to use ended up using them. This wasn’t something that suddenly happened with the Trump nomination; people who think that the G.O.P. suddenly changed forget how prevalent crazy conspiracy theories and refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of Democratic electoral victories already were in the 1990s. The current dominance of MAGA represents a culmination of a process that has been going on for decades.

And for the most part, Republican politicians who probably weren’t extremists themselves went along.

Krugman says we should give Romney credit for finally reaching his limit. But he reminds us that it took until very late in the game for Romney to get there — and that the “game” was one that he and people like him had basically started.

So here we are.

Even plutocrats like Romney who have massively benefitted from their culture war misdirections have begun deserting the ship; even the most privileged beneficiaries of corporatism have begun to recognize the damage that’s been done.

The question that keeps me up at night is whether the forces of hate and resentment unleashed in the pursuit of economic advantage will prove too powerful to control.

I guess we’ll know the answer to that question next November…..


Let Me Count The Ways…

In several previous posts, I have expressed my strong distaste for Congressman Jim Banks, who will be the Republican candidate for US Senate in 2024. It seems only fair to explain at least some of the numerous reasons for my revulsion.

Marc Carmichael, the likely Democratic candidate, has outlined a “top ten” of the far-Right, culture-war issues championed by Banks that Carmichael opposes. Here are just a few of them:

  • Banks’ adamant opposition to abortion for any reason, and his celebration of the Dobbs decision.
  • Banks’ opposition to a ban on military-style assault weapons.
  • Banks’ dismissal of climate change and government efforts to counter it.
  • Banks’ ugly attacks on LGBTQ+ youth. (As Carmichael accurately observed, those children are “being used as political pawns by mean-spirited, calculating Republicans who needed a new social wedge issue” after Roe v. Wade was overturned.) 
  • Banks’ support for gratuitous tax cuts for the rich and for corporations. 

There is much more–there are very few MAGA positions that escape Banks’ fervid support–but in addition to his full-throated embrace of Donald Trump and MAGA orthodoxy, Banks is one of the Rightwing lawmakers whose willingness to send the country into default is a result of monumental ignorance of the difference between fiscally conservative budgeting and raising–or refusing to raise–the debt limit. 

A recent report from State Affairs Pro included an interview in which Banks enthusiastically supported the crazies’ opposition to raising the nation’s debt ceiling. “Congressman Banks made clear he was opposed to raising the debt limit.” (Banks said he would continue to fight for ‘fiscal conservatism.’)

Banks clearly doesn’t understand the Constitutionally-mandated process for spending tax dollars.

The Constitution requires that Congress make all spending decisions—the President proposes, but Congress disposes. Sometimes–okay, often– Congress authorizes more spending than the government collects in revenue. That requires government to borrow the difference, in order to cover the deficit that Congress has already authorized. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Congress also votes to authorize borrowing that exceeds the previously-set debt limit, or ceiling. This seems silly, since that vote comes from the same Congress that has already voted for the spending that requires the borrowing, but the practice of raising the debt ceiling has historically been uncontroversial–for years, the ceiling has been raised by votes from large, bipartisan majorities. More recently, as MAGA Republicans have substituted pandering for governance, a significant minority of GOP Representatives has refused to vote to raise the ceiling. 

This is insane.

Failing to raise the debt ceiling would do nothing to reduce the national debt. Instead, it would cause the U.S. to default on what it owes. All economists, conservative and liberal, agree that if Congress were actually to fail to raise the ceiling, the results would be catastrophic. Such an act would require the United States to stop paying many of its bills—very much including social security and medicare, defense contractors and members of the military. Economists warn that such a failure to pay our bills would likely precipitate a worldwide economic collapse.

The last thing the U.S. needs is another Senator who either doesn’t understands that or doesn’t care.

When it comes to international affairs, his record is equally disastrous. Banks joined 69 other Republicans (led by loony-tunes Rep. Matt Gaetz) in voting for an amendment to strip all current and future military aid to Ukraine in its fight against Vladimir Putin’s horrific and illegal war.

A look at the rest of Banks’ voting record confirms his unsuitability for any public office. He has voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the  Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the For the People Act of 2021, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022, the Chips and Science Act, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, and the Respect for Marriage Act—among others.  

He hasn’t alway voted no–he voted for impeaching President Biden for some unspecified reason.

Politico has reported that,

During the summer of 2021, Chairman Jim Banks sent a memo to members of the Republican Study Committee encouraging them to “lean into the culture war.” 

The head of Congress’ largest conservative caucus sent a memo titled “Lean into the culture war” to its Republican members, encouraging them to embrace anti-critical race theory rhetoric.

Earlier this year, Banks vowed to start an “anti-woke” caucus, joining MAGA warriors Ron DeSantis and Kyle Rittenhouse.

Today’s GOP is now the Trump party, and Jim Banks is an enthusiastic member of the looney-tune wing of that sorry assemblage. He is the Hoosier version of Marjorie Taylor Green, uninterested in actual governance and fixated on performative culture war. 

Dick Lugar must be spinning in his grave at the thought of Jim Banks as an Indiana Senator.


When David Brooks is Right, He’s Right

David Brooks can drive me nuts. He often comes across–at least to me–as a pompous moralizer, convinced of his own superior wisdom. But then he’ll share a perceptive analysis of…people who believe in their own superior wisdom.

A recent column begins with a description that admittedly fits yours truly, beginning with our answer to the question “why do people still support Trump?”

We anti-Trumpers often tell a story to explain that. It was encapsulated in a quote the University of North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington gave to my colleague Thomas B. Edsall recently: “Republicans see a world changing around them uncomfortably fast, and they want it to slow down, maybe even take a step backward. But if you are a person of color, a woman who values gender equality or an L.G.B.T. person, would you want to go back to 1963? I doubt it.”

In this story, we anti-Trumpers are the good guys, the forces of progress and enlightenment. The Trumpers are reactionary bigots and authoritarians. Many Republicans support Trump no matter what, according to this story, because at the end of the day, he’s still the bigot in chief, the embodiment of their resentments and that’s what matters to them most.

Brooks admits that he “partly” agrees with this explanation (I certainly do)–but he also recognizes that it’s a monument to “elite self-satisfaction,” and asks readers to “try on a vantage point in which we anti-Trumpers are not the eternal good guys. In fact, we’re the bad guys.”

Brooks says this story began in the 60s, when boys who had graduated from high school found themselves in Viet Nam, while others got college deferments. It continued in the 1970s, when students were bused from working-class areas, but not from upscale communities where privileged folks lived.

Over time, Brooks says, we’ve replaced the idea that we’re all in this together with a system in which the educated class inhabits a world “up here,” and everybody else is “down there.” Members of the educated class may advocate for the marginalized, but as he observes, “somehow we always end up building systems that serve ourselves.”

The most important of those systems is the modern meritocracy. We built an entire social order that sorts and excludes people on the basis of the quality that we possess most: academic achievement. Highly educated parents go to elite schools, marry each other, work at high-paying professional jobs and pour enormous resources into our children, who get into the same elite schools, marry each other and pass their exclusive class privileges down from generation to generation.

Daniel Markovits summarized years of research in his book “The Meritocracy Trap”: “Today, middle-class children lose out to the rich children at school, and middle-class adults lose out to elite graduates at work. Meritocracy blocks the middle class from opportunity. Then it blames those who lose a competition for income and status that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.”

Brooks cites the journalism profession as an example, pointing to changes from when there were “crusty old working-class guys” in the newsroom, to today’s news staffs, dominated by graduates of elite colleges. (He ignores the dramatic shrinkage of journalism jobs thanks to America’s loss of newspapers, but his point is still valid.)

Like all elites, we use language and mores as tools to recognize one another and exclude others. Using words like “problematic,” “cisgender,” “Latinx” and “intersectional” is a sure sign that you’ve got cultural capital coming out of your ears. Meanwhile, members of the less-educated classes have to walk on eggshells because they never know when we’ve changed the usage rules so that something that was sayable five years ago now gets you fired.

Brooks offers a number of other examples, and says it should be easy to understand why people in less-educated classes would feel “that they are under economic, political, cultural and moral assault — and why they’ve rallied around Trump as their best warrior against the educated class.”

Those who see themselves under assault see the Trump indictments as part of that class war.

Are Trump supporters right that the indictments are just a political witch hunt? Of course not. As a card-carrying member of my class, I still basically trust the legal system and the neutral arbiters of justice. Trump is a monster in the way we’ve all been saying for years and deserves to go to prison….

 We can condemn the Trumpian populists until the cows come home, but the real question is: When will we stop behaving in ways that make Trumpism inevitable?

It’s not that simple. There’s a great deal more to the story than Brooks’ analysis suggests.

But he isn’t wrong.


Why The Right Won’t Win The Culture War

The term “culture war” is shorthand for the increasingly frantic effort of America’s White Christian Nationalists to turn back the clock–to return “uppity” women and Blacks to their prior, subordinate positions, stuff LGBTQ citizens back in the closet, and make it clear that respect for “religion” extends only to Christians (and really just certain Protestants).

The ferocity with which they are waging that battle can make our lives chaotic and dangerous. Bizarre accusations leveled at school boards and teachers are accompanied by voucher programs intended to destroy the schools that create a democratic polity; rogue Courts ignore longstanding jurisdictional rules in order to accommodate anti-gay religious bigotry; a contingent of Congressional mental cases has now gone beyond their effort to defund the FBI by refusing to fund the military if the Pentagon doesn’t eliminate what they call its “woke” policies.

Rational people are understandably depressed and/or frightened.

I don’t know who first uttered the phrase “this too shalll pass,” but it definitely applies to the culture warriors’ current eruption of fear and hate. What we are seeing is a tantrum triggered by subconscious recognition that the America they are fighting so hard to prevent is inevitable.

Why do I say it’s inevitable? Because it is already here.

A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a local church’s Sunday school class about anti-Semitism. It was a good discussion (they were members of a denomination that I categorize as actually Christian), and as I was leaving, a lovely lady stopped me to say she’d appreciated the conversation, because her grandchildren are Jewish.

She has a lot of company. A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 42% of all currently married Jewish respondents had a non-Jewish spouse. (I’m obviously one of them–in case you were confused, Kennedy is not a Jewish name.) For that matter, the high rate of Jewish intermarriage is of great concern to the Rabbinate and to Jewish organizations; to the extent intermarriage reduces the number of people identifying as Jewish, we may disappear entirely. After all, there weren’t that many of us to start with.

Of course, it isn’t just inter-religious marriage. It’s also interracial and same-sex unions.

America is experiencing the demographic “mixing”that so terrified Southern slaveholders (at least, when they weren’t engaging in some of that “mixing” themselves, with slaves who couldn’t refuse…) The most recent data I could find from the U.S. Census Bureau was from 2019; at that time, about 11% of all marriages in the United States were interracial. Even more significantly, in 2021, according to Axios, approval of interracial marriage in the U.S. hit a new high of 94%, according to Gallup polling.

The article noted that the prevalence of intermarriage continues to increase. In 1967, when Loving v. Virginia was decided, just 3% of married couples were interracial. In 2021, Pew estimated it at 20%.

Numbers and percentages can change, depending upon the definitions used, but whatever the “accurate” percentages, the rate of demographic inter-mingling continues to rise, and to affect the social context within which increasing numbers of Americans live.

It isn’t just increased acceptance of opposite-sex intermarriage. A poll conducted by the Trevor Project found that two-thirds of American adults report personally knowing someone who identifies as gay or lesbian, and nearly two-thirds of them (62%) said they would be comfortable if their child came out to them as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.(Only 13% would not be comfortable–a huge change from past attitudes.) Approval of same-sex marriage is now at 71%.

Dobbs was also too late to re-stigmatize abortion. Researchers tell us that one in four American women have terminated a pregnancy at some point in their lives. Gallup tells us that 85% of American women support reproductive choice–and that 45% would impose no restrictions on the procedure.

We now live in a society in which a not-insignificant number of older White Christians have Jewish, Black, Latino or gay grandchildren. Some number of those people react by rejecting those grandchildren, but a larger number will fight for a world that treats them fairly.

It isn’t just our friends and families. Increasing numbers of Americans go to jobs every day where their colleagues and co-workers are “diverse.” We have doctors and lawyers and CPAs who come from backgrounds different from our own.–and increasing numbers of those doctors, lawyers and CPAs are female.

In short, the world has moved on, and most of us prefer its current contours to the bigotries and caste-like social structures of the past. The exceptions are very angry and very loud, and they can do a lot of short-term harm. But their time has passed–and the tantrums they are throwing are evidence that–deep down–they know it.