Tag Archives: government

It Goes WAY Beyond Hypocrisy

While I am on a rant against insanity, can you stand one more diatribe about anti-vaccination, anti-mask hysterics?

There are a number of theories about the motivation of these truly horrible people. (Not everyone who is unvaccinated falls within that category, of course–I’m focusing on the “activists” who are promulgating lies about the vaccines and threatening school board members.)

Paul Krugman recently opined that much refusal is political, pointing to the strong negative correlation between Trump’s share of a county’s vote and vaccinations. As of July, 86 percent of self-identified Democrats said they had had a vaccine shot, but only 54 percent of Republicans did.

He also pointed out that peddlers of quack medicine and right-wing extremists cater to more or less the same audience.

That is, Americans willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that Italian satellites were used to switch votes to Joe Biden are also the kind of people willing to believe that medical elites are lying to them and that they can solve their health problems by ignoring professional advice and buying patent medicines instead.

And those peddlers are making money. Horse dewormer, anyone?

But it’s the sheer lunacy–the extreme cognitive dissonance–that drives me up a wall. 

  • “We don’t  know what’s in it.” There’s a meme going around Facebook, enumerating all of the things Americans ingest without the slightest idea “what’s in it.” Everything from hotdogs to McNuggets to horse dewormer.
  • “Bill Gates has placed a chip in the vaccine to track people”–usually uttered by people carrying cell phones equipped with such chips…
  • “I have a right to control my own body”. This is a particular favorite of mine, coming as it does mostly from men who adamantly refuse to extend a similar right to pregnant women. Or people who disagree with them.
  • “Requiring masks is government overreach.” If the government can’t require a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth, why can it require that you cover your genitals in public? I want to see these “constitutional scholars” at the grocery, shopping naked. (I bet the men have teeny weenies.)
  • Speaking of overreach–these also tend to be the people who want government to drug test poor folks on welfare…
  • “I’m rejecting vaccines because I trust God.” If they truly trusted God, why do so many of them own/carry guns? Do they lock their doors? Buy eyeglasses and/or hearing aids? For that matter, why do they check into hospitals when they’re gasping for breath?
  • Speaking of individual liberty–government mandates seat belts, imposes speed limits, enforces smoking ordinances and issues multiple other rules to protect public safety. According to Hobbes, the original purpose of government was to remove us from the state of nature, in which there is “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Government is supposed to keep the strong from hurting the weak, the predatory from taking advantage of the helpless, and the stupid and/or selfish from spreading a deadly disease.

The hypocrisy is stunning. Republicans are suing businesses that require masks. Florida’s insane Governor is fining businesses that require vaccinations. These are the same  Republicans who insist that businesses have a right to refuse service to LGBTQ customers… 

I could go on and on…If COVID is a hoax, why ingest bleach or dewormer to treat it?

Many Republicans encouraging vaccine resistance know better. They just want to hurt Joe Biden politically. Biden promised to defeat the virus, and they’re determined to keep him from delivering on that promise. If lots of their own voters get sick and die as a result–well, them’s the breaks…

Former Republican and sane person David Frum made an interesting point in a recent issue of The Atlantic.

As cases uptick again, as people who have done the right thing face the consequences of other people doing the wrong thing, the question occurs: Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth—and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another. Something else they do for one another: take rational health-care precautions during a pandemic. That reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld…

In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

I certainly have.

 

 

 

Why America Elects Moral Midgets

I haven’t previously posted about the Impeachment trial. Initially, I figured that, since virtually everyone who has an opinion has written, spoken and generally fulminated about those opinions, there wasn’t much of value I could add.

Most of the commentary has–quite correctly–pointed to the cowardice and lack of integrity of all but seven Republican Senators. Columns and editorials have especially zeroed in on the breathtaking hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell; in his speech immediately after the vote, he made it clear that he knew Trump was guilty as charged. The fig leaf that McConnell and his spineless colleagues  were frantically trying to hide behind was an utterly unpersuasive opinion that a President who no longer held office could not be constitutionally impeached–an opinion rejected by virtually all constitutional scholars.

It also didn’t escape notice that McConnell was the reason the trial had been delayed until after Biden was inaugurated.

Suffice it to say that the overwhelming hypocrisy and dishonesty in the face of what everyone in that chamber clearly knew was astounding–and it has all been the subject of widespread condemnation. What hasn’t been adequately analyzed, however, is how we got here–“here” being a legislative chamber containing so many Senators clearly unworthy of public office.

I am convinced that the pathetic performance Americans saw last week was the result of forty-plus years of denigrating the very existence of government and belittling those who serve in it.

Reagan started the incessant attacks, and Republican dogma ever since has been that government–far from being an important tool for collective action addressing America’s problems–is always and inevitably a threat that must be constrained and hobbled.  Republican messaging has been sneering and dismissive of the very notion that government might be an essential mechanism for achieving the common good. It has been years since I heard a Republican politician employ terms like “statesmanship” and/or “public service.”

When I saw that both of Indiana’s undistinguished, moral-pygmy Senators had (predictably) voted to acquit, I could almost picture them spitting on Dick Lugar’s grave…

The Republican demonization of government has largely succeeded in changing the identity of the GOP. The political culture that produced statesmen like Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut has been replaced by the slimy “what’s in it for me” opportunism of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump–and Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and too many others.

Honorable, talented people are attracted to careers that those in their particular tribes consider prestigious and admirable. When government employment is denigrated and mocked–“couldn’t get a real job?”– when political actors are expected to be corrupt, and when politics is widely considered the refuge of blowhards and scoundrels, blowhards and scoundrels are who it will attract.

It’s instructive to emphasize that these persistent attacks on government and public service have come overwhelmingly from Republicans. Democrats have been far more likely to defend the importance and worth of  America’s political institutions, and I don’t think it is just happenstance that as a result–as we can see at the federal level– Democratic officeholders these days tend to be considerably more public-spirited, honorable and impressive than their Republican peers.

Today’s Democrats have Jamie Raskin; Republicans have Marjorie Taylor Green…

 

Trust Me

One of the approximately ten zillion critical tasks facing President Biden is the need to restore Americans’ trust in the integrity of their government. Biden is well-equipped to begin that restoration–he is a thoroughly decent and trustworthy man–but it won’t be easy.

Time Magazine recently began an article with some very concerning data:

After an unprecedented year of global pain, loss and uncertainty, a new report finds that 2020 marked “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.”

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, a study published annually by global communications firm Edelman, unveiled its findings on Wednesday after conducting more than 33,000 online surveys in 28 countries between October and November 2020. The firm found that public trust had eroded even further in social institutions—which Edelman defines as government, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media—from 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global outcry against racial injustice and growing mistrust of what political leaders say and journalists report.

The research found that most people trust businesses– especially their own employers– over government and media. Trust in journalists is split along party lines. Among the consequences of this pervasive distrust is a particularly worrisome one:  only 1 in 3 people are “ready to take the [COVID-19] vaccine as soon as possible.”

Social trust is an essential and irreplaceable basis of a democratic society. Social capital–the bonding and bridging connections to others that make a society work–is defined as a combination of trust and reciprocity.

Social scientists warn that erosion of interpersonal trust has very negative implications for democratic self-government. When I was researching my 2009 book Distrust, American Style, that erosion was already visible. Some scholars suggested that the country’s growing diversity had led to a loss of the cohesion achievable in more homogeneous societies; my research suggested a different culprit. I became absolutely convinced that generalized social trust requires reliably trustworthy social and governing institutions.

In other words, fish rot from the head.

As I argued in that book, the nature of the trust we need is justifiable confidence in the integrity of government and civil society writ large. That confidence was being steadily undermined–not just by what seemed to be daily scandals in business (Enron, Worldcom, et al), sports (doping, dog fighting), religion (revelations about the Catholic Church’s inadequate response to child molestation), and the George W. Bush government (duplicities which seem almost innocent in contrast to the past four years)–but especially  by the Internet.

Suddenly, Americans were marinating in information. Publicity about each scandal and details about a seemingly pervasive lack of trustworthiness was impossible to avoid.

It has gotten considerably worse since 2009. Now we are swimming in a vast sea of information, disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theories–and as a consequence, trust has continued its sharp decline.

The problem is, without widespread social trust, societies are impossible to maintain.

Think about our daily lives: we deposit our paychecks and trust that the amount will be reflected on our next bank statement. We put a deposit down with the local electric utility and trust that service will be forthcoming. We call the fire department and anticipate their speedy arrival. We drop our clothing off at the cleaners and trust it will be there, cleaned, to pick up. We buy goods online and trust they’ll arrive. We buy meat at the grocery and trust that it has been inspected and is fit to eat. We board an airplane and trust that it has passed a safety inspection and will travel in its assigned air lane..

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. And that picture is much broader–and social trust much more critical– than most of us realize.

An article in The Week had a relevant factoid: evidently, Twitter’s permanent ban of Trump has already made a huge difference. “One research firm found the amount of misinformation online dropped 73 percent in the week after the president and 70,000 QAnon aficionados were shut down by the platform.”

So–the solution to our trust deficit is obvious and simple (cough, cough); we just have to make government visibly trustworthy again, enforce regulations on the businesses and other institutions that are flouting rules with impunity, and figure out how to get online platforms to disallow misinformation and propaganda, without doing violence to the First Amendment.

Piece of cake!

I think I’m going to go pour myself a very stiff drink….

 

 

Mencken Didn’t Go Far Enough

A quotation by H.L. Mencken has been a recurring favorite on my Facebook feed since 2016. Famously curmudgeonly (is that a word?), Mencken wrote that

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

The Trump Administration has fulfilled Mencken’s prophecy, but his prediction arguably didn’t go far enough. Those “plain folks” who elevated the “downright moron” have also saddled the other branches of government with a wide assortment of defective/dishonest incompetents.

There’s a tried-and-true assortment of ignorant racists in Congress. There’s Louie Gohmert, perfectly described by Charles Pierce as “the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.” Steve King finally lost his seat, but Jim Jordan is still there. And of course, there’s Devin Nunes, who memorably sued a cow...There’s no dearth of candidates for the dubious honor of “dimmest lawmaker.”

The Washington Post recently ran a column by Dana Milbank that should have embarrassed newly elected Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. However, Tuberville and those who voted for him appear immune to embarrassment, since the emotion requires recognition of what constitutes an embarrassing defect.

Tuberville — or “Tubs,” from his college football coaching days — is the Republican senator-elect from Alabama, and he’s proposing to object to the election results in the Senate on Jan. 6. Trump exulted: “Great senator.

Problem is, Tubs, if he were a Democrat, is what Trump might call a “low-IQ individual.” In their wisdom, the voters of Alabama chose to replace Democrat Doug Jones, who prosecuted the Birmingham church bombing, with a man who recently announced his discovery that there are “three branches of government,” namely, “the House, the Senate and the executive.”
  
He further informed the newspaper that “in 2000 Al Gore was president, United States, president-elect, for 30 days.” (Actual number of days Gore spent as president-elect: zero.)

Evidently, “Tubs” was able to avoid debates and interviews during the campaign. He did, however, issue a few statements transmitting a variety of his less-than-well-founded beliefs. When asked about his denial of climate change, he explained that “only God can change climate.” In response to a question about the opiod epidemic, he responded that “it isn’t just opioids, it’s also heroin.”

There’s more:

On health care: “We don’t have the answer until we go back to open up being a capitalistic health-care system where we have more than one insurance company.” (There are 952 health insurers in the United States.)

On education: “We’ve taken God out of the schools and we’ve replaced the schools with metal detectors.”

 Tubs has declared his desire to serve on the Senate “banking finance” committee, apparently unaware that banking and finance are separate committees — and that he is ineligible to serve on banking because Alabama’s senior Republican senator already does.

Milbank characterized Tuberville’s Senate campaign as “a magical voyage of discovery.” Tuberville had been unaware of a little Senate prerogative called “advice and consent,” or the existence and purpose of the Voting Rights Act–despite its centrality to years of public debate. 

As Milbank notes, as long as there are mental giants like Tuberville, “Trumpism will remain.” Trumpism, in this iteration, contains equal amounts of ignorance and venality; 
 when his business partner in a hedge fund pled guilty to fraud, Tuberville claimed he didn’t know anything. (Given his general performance, the assertion was convincing.) He also set up a foundation purportedly to help veterans, but veterans got only a third of the money raised.

As a candidate, Tubs offered exotic views on why rural hospitals closed (“because we don’t have Internet”), on impeachment (“I’ve been trying to keep up with it but it’s so hard”) and on constitutional democracy (“We’d probably get more done with just the president running this country. So let the Democrats go home”).

Alabama voters–who twice made Roy Moore the Chief Justice of their state Supreme Court– evidently epitomize the “plain folks” of Mencken’s observation.

Actually, it may be time to amend that Mencken prediction. It should read “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and they will be governed  almost entirely by morons.”

 

 

 

Trust Tells Us A Lot

As our social distancing drags on, researchers have been investigating the effects on social solidarity–how Americans view each other, and especially, any changes in the level of “social trust.” In this context, social trust is an indicator of what sociologists and political scientists call social capital.

The bad news is that, thanks to the ineptitude and constant and pathetically obvious lies from the Trump administration, trust in the federal government is very low. (Recent example: Israeli news reports revealed that U.S. Intelligence told Israel and NATO in November  about the threat posed by the coronavirus– contradicting Pentagon claims that no such report existed.)

The good news is that a couple of recent surveys have found improvement in the way Americans view each other. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of the change in attitudes triggered by the Great Depression. Suddenly, the very American (and arguably Calvinist) view that people are poor because they are morally defective–lazy or unmotivated–was replaced by recognition that poverty is largely a social phenomenon. (If there are no jobs, its harder to blame people for not having them.)

Social capital is the label we give to our memberships in social networks–the human relationships within which we are embedded. Trust is an important component of social capital–but so is reciprocity. Scholars define social capital as the institutionalized expectation that other people will reciprocate co-operative behaviors–the recognition that If we fail to work together when collective efforts are needed, we all become poorer.

There are two kinds of social capital: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital is possible only with shared identity (however identity is defined). It’s at the heart of tribalism: “I belong to this group, and I look with suspicion/disdain at those who don’t.” Bridging social capital, which has been in short supply recently, links people across cleavages that typically divide us (race, class, or religion). Its associations create ‘bridges’ between communities.

The surveys that suggest a growth in “generalized social trust” are encouraging because they hold out the hope that America may be restoring some of its lost bridging social capital.

I was reminded of the importance of trust and bridging social capital when I was cleaning out cabinets in my home office. (I don’t know how other people cope, but stress tends to turn me into a maniacal cleaning machine.) I came across a reprint of “SPEA Insights” –a PR publication we used to put out, highlighting faculty research. This one was from July of 2010; titled “Trust Me, Said the Spider,” it was focused on the then-recent publication of my book Distrust, American Style.

In it, I pointed out that trust in social institutions–especially but not exclusively government–is absolutely essential to contemporary life.

Think about it. We deposit our paychecks and take for granted that the funds will be there when we need to draw them out; we pay the electric bill and expect the lights to turn on when we throw the switch; we order a gizmo from Amazon or other Internet merchant and are confident the gizmo will be delivered. We go to our local grocery and buy a chicken, confident that we won’t have to individually test it for e coli when we get home.

On and on….

And–as I argued in that paper– Americans rely on government to ensure that our water is drinkable, our air breathable, our aircraft flyable, and so much more.

I was particularly struck by my own words from 2010:

“And when we go through a period when government is inept or corrupt, that confidence is shaken–but our skepticism and distrust affect more than just the political system. Trust in government sets the tone for confidence in all social institutions….From time to time, America goes through periods where the failures of our civic and governing institutions are so manifest that awareness of them is simply inescapable. In the era of the Internet, the amount of information received by even the most “low information” voters has been enormously amplified. When I wrote Distrrust, the American public was positively marinating in news of corruption and incompetence.”

That was 2010. Ten years ago. I’d say we’re pretty thoroughly marinated now.

The last sentence of that essay is truer today than ever, in the wake of this pandemic: “our first order of business must be the restoration of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness of our government.”

No kidding.