Tag Archives: Jennifer Rubin

Privacy And Diversity

America has always been more diverse than most countries. Initially, that diversity meant different kinds of Christians–Maryland, for example, was Catholic, while the other original colonies were dominated by a variety of Protestant denominations. We are far more diverse these days, thanks to immigration, the splintering of numerous sects, and the explosive growth of the “nones,” Americans without religious affiliations.

We aren’t only diverse in our religious beliefs. Individuals represent different races, different regional cultures and backgrounds and very different political and ideological commitments.

The big question is: what sort of government can serve such wildly different citizens and be  viewed as fair across all those differences? (That, of course, is a question that has long preoccupied political philosophers. John Rawls proposed a “Veil of Ignorance”–an intriguing mechanism for determining fairness.)

These days, as columnist Jennifer Rubin has written, an uncomfortable number of Americans are uninterested in fairness; they are interested in dominance. That faction is represented by a right-wing, activist Supreme Court and the Christian nationalists they favor. In their ahistorical vision of proper government,  “a sliver of the electorate (White, Christian, male) exploits anti-majoritarian aspects of our democracy (e.g. the filibuster, the electoral college, gerrymandering) to use the awesome power of the government to impose values rooted in the 19th century on a diverse country.”

In that vision, the proper beneficiaries of public policy are mostly White, Christian and male, and elements of modernity like science and expertise, not to mention diversity, are “foreign, elite and alien.”

Rubin uses a speech by retiring Justice Breyer to explain the countervailing, constitutionally-anchored viewpoint–one that, as she says, recognizes the heterodoxy of America.

“This is a complicated country. More than 330 million people. My mother used to say, it’s every race, it’s every religion — and she would emphasize this — it’s every point of view possible. It’s a kind of miracle when you sit there and see all those people in front of you. People that are so different in what they think. And yet they decided to help solve their major differences under law.”

This vision posits that to achieve “ordered liberty” for a diverse, noisy, rambunctious people, we must respect the right to self-determination — to choose one’s family, one’s lifestyle, one’s profession and one’s philosophy of child-rearing. That necessitates restriction on government so as to protect a sphere of private conscience. It’s what Louis Brandeis called the “right to be left alone.”

Poll after poll affirms that a large majority of Americans believe that the “right to be left alone”–the right to direct their own lives, consistent with their own moral commitments –should extend to such matters as contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, child rearing and lifestyle.

Until the advent of this rogue court, the Supreme Court had largely agreed. As Rubin reminds us, even before Griswold v. Connecticut was decided in 1965, the court had protected the right to send your child to the school of your choice and receive instruction in a foreign language. In the 1950s, the Court affirmed the right to choose your profession; and the right to travel (neither of which is expressly set forth in the Constitution).

The court in 1923 held that “liberty” includes the right “to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

After Griswold, that zone of privacy was extended to interracial marriage, private consensual sex, abortion, the right of grandparents to live with their grandchildren (i.e. how one defines a “single family”) and to same-sex marriage.

The zone of privacy erected by the Court is precisely what a fair reading of the Bill of Rights protects–the right of individuals to make personal decisions without government interference.  That is precisely what the MAGA movement cannot abide: it wants  government to “control how schools teach race, what teachers say about sexual and gender identity, how parents treat transgender children, and, now, whether women can be forced to give birth against their will.”

In response to the constitutional question “who decides?” the White Christian Nationalists of the MAGA movement respond: “we do.”

At stake right now is the individual’s right to live “free from the tyranny of the government and the mob.” As Rubin says, we need a counter-movement.

In sum, Americans need a counterweight to a Christian nationalist movement that seeks to impose on the majority the set of social beliefs of the minority. They need a movement to defend the myriad ways 330 million Americans engage in “pursuit of happiness” — ways as diverse as the country itself.

 

Trading Places

Many, many years ago, I joined a Republican Party that no longer exists. I was attracted to it–despite its longtime extreme-right “fringe”–because its rhetoric and philosophy was mainly that of classical liberalism: limited government, the rule of law, and the social contract.

Limited government, by the way, is not the same thing as small government–classical, 18th Century liberalism stood for limiting the ability of government to intrude into areas of citizens’ lives where government doesn’t belong. Determining where to draw that line has always been subject to debate, of course, and the GOP of my time was, admittedly, too often willing to pass intrusive  laws against “sin,” and resistant to necessary business regulations.

Back then, however, most Republicans took pride in the party’s history: the party of Lincoln had been the anti-slavery party while the Democrats had ruled the South and defended the ownership of some humans by others.

Over the years, America’s two major parties have essentially traded places, and I am only one of the many Republicans who realized that the party had morphed into something that had very little in common with the one we’d originally joined.

I thought about just how complete that switch has become when I read a recent column comparing Jared Polis, the Governor of Colorado, with Ron DeSantis of Florida, by Jennifer Rubin.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a 2024 presidential aspirant, has told cruises how to run their businesses. And he has threatened to raise taxes on Disney in retaliation for speaking out against the hateful “don’t say gay” bill. These are things you might expect from a petty authoritarian such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban or defeated former president Donald Trump, who threatened companies that didn’t kowtow to his administration.

Now, DeSantis wants to go after the board of directors of Twitter. “We’re gonna be looking at ways the state of Florida potentially can be holding these Twitter board of directors accountable for breaching their fiduciary duty,” he bellowed on Tuesday.

In response to DeSantis’ assaults on businesses in his state, Colorado’s Jared Polis tweeted

Florida’s authoritarian socialist attacks on the private sector are driving businesses away. In CO, we don’t meddle in affairs of companies like @Disney or @Twitter. Hey @Disney we’re ready for Mountain Disneyland and @twitter we’re ready for Twitter HQ2, whoever your owners are.

The GOP pooh-bahs who constantly talk about “freedom” clearly don’t understand what freedom is. (Hint: it isn’t “freedom” to refuse a vaccination so that you can infect your neighbors, or “freedom” to pick on people of whom your church disapproves.)

Rubin defines it properly.

Polis also understands how powerful “freedom” can be — freedom to run your company, freedom to raise your child (and seek legitimate medical care for them), freedom to choose not to give birth to a child, freedom for teachers to teach about civil rights without being sued, freedom to cast a ballot in the most convenient way for each voter, freedom to learn math. It’s remarkable how much control the GOP wants to exercise over every aspect of Americans’ lives and the economy.

Indeed, in abandoning classic liberalism (limited government, the rule of law, etc.) in favor of an authoritarian, theocratic model, Republicans have defied an essential feature of democracy. This is what scholar Yascha Mounk describes in the Atlantic as “the recognition that there is a sphere of life in which everybody should be able to do what they like without having to worry about anyone else’s opinion.” Having decided that America’s identity is White, Christian and straight, the MAGA right now spends an extraordinary amount of time and effort stretching the power of government to boss around everyone else.

Classical liberalism limited the role of government to actions necessary to protect citizens from others’ wrongdoing. Government could–and should–prevent businesses from dumping toxic waste in the river or cheating customers; government should prevent the selfish or heedless from harming others.

Barry Goldwater famously said that government didn’t belong in your boardroom or your bedroom (he won an award from PFLAG, the LGBTQ rights organization.) Today’s Republicans are intent upon invading both.

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that the GOP of my day believed in over-restraining government. (When Nixon established the EPA, it was seen in some quarters as a betrayal of Republicanism.) Today’s version, however, has totally abandoned any respect for freedom, civic equality and the rule of law.

DeSantis, Abbott and their ilk define “freedom” as the right of businesses to support their hateful policies and the right of citizens to obey their dictates.

 

 

A Pivot Point?

I was a child during World War II, and in the many years since–although the United States has rarely not been at war somewhere–I had come to believe that warfare would continue to be confined to localized conflicts and terrorist forays. The world economy had become too interrelated and interdependent for “old fashioned” state versus state conflicts.

Or so I thought.

Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine certainly tests that theory. In a recent “Letter from an American,” Heather Cox Richardson suggested that, as a result of that attack, the world may be experiencing a “paradigm shift.”

The question, of course, is the direction of that shift.

Despite the naysayers on the Left, the traitorous crazies on the Right, and those in the media who have automatically defaulted to what Jennifer Rubin calls “partisan scorekeeping,” President Biden has thus far managed America’s response masterfully. Despite his predecessor’s constant attacks on NATO, he has strengthened that body and united the West (including, unbelievably, Switzerland) in opposition to Putin’s assault. As Rubin says,

We are all too familiar with the journalistic inclination to make every story into a political sporting contest denuded of moral content or policy substance. Who does this help? How did Biden fail? Aren’t the Republicans clever?

This sort of framing is unserious and unenlightening, failing to serve the cause of democracy, which is under assault around the globe. (If you think the media’s role is pure entertainment and coverage must be morally neutral in the struggle between democracies and totalitarian states, this critique may be mystifying.)

A real question is whether the American public’s short attention span will prevent us from (1) understanding the nature and extent of the ongoing global assault on democracy; and (2) displaying the staying power that will be required to reverse decades of  decisions that have undermined and weakened that democracy.

As Rubin writes,

Let’s get some perspective. Russia’s invasion was decades in the making. Under three presidents, two Republican and one Democratic, we failed to address the threat Russia posed to democracy and the international order. President George W. Bush’s response to the invasion of Georgia in 2008 was entirely insufficient; President Barack Obama’s reaction to the seizure of Crimea in 2014 was equally feckless.

Then came Putin’s dream president, who could amplify Russian propaganda, divide the Western allies, abandon democratic principles, extort Ukraine in wartime, vilify the press and interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump and Putin had a sort of call-and-response relationship, damaging democracies and bolstering autocrats.

No wonder Putin got the idea that he could erase national borders, stare down the West and reconstruct the Soviet empire. (If you think this all came about because Biden withdrew from Afghanistan, you’ve missed decades of Putin’s deep-seated paranoia and crazed ambition to reassemble the U.S.S.R.)

As I write this, the unprecedented sanctions imposed by a united West have already begun to bite.

The degree to which the global economy is interdependent means there will be negative consequences for the West, as well– we have become too dependent on Russian oil and gas– but sanctions are already having huge consequences for Russia’s economy and the fortunes of the oligarchs who surround Putin. Critics who minimize the effects of the sanctions that have been leveled simply don’t recognize the extent to which Russia’s feeble economy is dependent on continued integration with the broader world.

I have no crystal ball, and no idea how this immensely dangerous conflict will turn out. Putin’s none-too-veiled nuclear threat is unnerving–after all, here in America, we’ve seen how unpredictable an unhinged President can be, and how much damage one can inflict.

On the other hand, the bravery and determination of the Ukrainians who are faced with an unprovoked assault by a much more powerful neighbor has been heartening. The courage of Ukraine’s President, who has refused to run to safety–unlike Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his Ukrainian predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych– has been inspiring.  Ukrainians  fighting for genuine self-determination and political freedom are exposing the sniveling complaints of our various home-grown “freedom fighters” for the childish  tantrums they are. ( Wearing a mask to protect your neighbors is not what  actual tyranny looks like..)

America’s long enjoyment of relative peace and prosperity has allowed far too many of us to avoid growing up. If, as Richardson suggests, we are at a point of “paradigm shift,” I hope that shift is in the direction of maturity.

All those Putin loving “Christian warriors” need to actually read their  bibles, especially 1 Corinthians 13:11. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

And for those who pray– put on a mask and pray for Ukraine and its people.

 

 

If It’s The Economy…

The “Big Lie” has worked so well with the GOP base (polls show some 58% of Republicans believe that Trump really won the election) that they’ve extended the tactic. If James Carville’s famous 1992 motto–“It’s the Economy, Stupid” was right, then lying to an astonishingly credulous  base  about the economic performance of the Biden Administration should be a no-brainer.

Granted, the criticism bears virtually no relationship to reality, as a slew of economists routinely document and as Jennifer Rubin recently pointed out in the Washington Post. But facts are clearly irrelevant to Republican party “leaders” who insist–in the face of millions of deaths worldwide– that COVID is a hoax. Also that California’s wildfires were set by Jewish space lasers, and that Democrats eat small children.

The 64-Thousand-Dollar question, of course (young people, Google the reference…) is whether Carville’s insight was right. Do verifiable economic facts on the ground influence voters, or is misinformation being sold by politicians with an ax to grind a more potent motivator?

Rubin begins by reminding readers of the success of the stimulus.

Quite simply, stimulus packages kept the economy and workers afloat during the pandemic, setting the stage for an economic surge when employees could return to work. The Post reports, “The U.S. economic recovery from the covid pandemic was the strongest of any of the big Western economies. That is in large part thanks to the multiple rounds of government stimulus that totaled at least $5.2 trillion.”

Without a single Republican vote, Biden passed an economic plan that, coupled with the Federal Reserve’s near-zero interest rate policy, proved to be precisely the recipe needed to help stave off a long-term recession. The Post reports, “The Biden stimulus pushed the bank accounts of even the lowest-income Americans to unexpected heights. On average, they had more than twice as much in their savings accounts as they did when the pandemic began.”

The effects of the stimulus are only a part of the story. The job market–responding to pent-up demand–is more favorable than it has been in a long time. Unemployment is 4.2 percent, and according to The Wall Street Journal, applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, have trended near five-decade lows. Jobless claims are at the lowest level since 1969.

Perhaps the best news is that workers — especially low-wage workers — have been the biggest beneficiaries of this surprisingly robust economy. Rubin quotes Steven Ratner, who noted that, as the economy rebounded from the pandemic,

the size of wage increases began to recover, especially for less-well-off Americans, in part because of increases by some states in their minimum wages. The many Covid-related federal stimulus programs helped push the growth rates in pay for many workers to levels not seen since the early 2000s. Thanks in part to these programs, wages are growing fastest for the bottom 25 percent of workers.

Rubin notes that this data contradicts Republican’s longtime insistence that wage increases mean fewer jobs–an insistence increasingly at odds with that pesky thing called “evidence.” Not only that,  the past year has seen some notable successes in unionizing, allowing American workers to demand both higher wages and better working conditions.

If Rubin and multiple economists are correct, what accounts for the evidently widespread belief that economic times are bad? Paul Krugman asks–and answers–that question.

Overall the economic picture looks pretty good — indeed, in many ways this looks like the best economic recovery in many decades.

Yet consumers appear to be feeling very downbeat — or at least that’s what they tell surveys like the famous Michigan Survey of Consumers. And this perception of a bad economy is clearly weighing on President Biden’s approval rating. Which raises the question: Are consumers right? Is this a bad economy despite data showing it as very good? And if it really isn’t a bad economy, why does the public say it is?…

One clue is that there’s an incredible amount of partisan skew in the responses. Republicans say, bizarrely, that current economic conditions are much worse than they were in March 2009, when the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month…

Another clue is that you get very different answers when you ask people “How are you doing?” rather than “How is the economy doing?” The Langer Consumer Confidence Index asks people separately about the national economy — where their assessment is dismal — and about their personal financial situation, where their rating is high by historical standards.

So–the midterm elections will give us a clue to the proper interpretation of Carville’s axiom. Will people vote their personal economic situations? Or will they vote the faux reality peddled by their political cult?

I guess we’ll find out.

 

 

The Politics Of Religion

What happens when politics–or racism–masquerades as religion?  Because that’s where America finds itself.

A guest essay in the New York Times put it, “Evangelical now means ‘Republican.'”The article noted that what is drawing people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is its identification with the Republican Party rather than theological affinity for Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, in 2019, fifty percent of the self-identified Evangelicals who never attended church said they were politically conservative. 

A recent column by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin amplified those findings, casting doubt on the conventional wisdom that abortion and gay rights motivated “devout” Evangelical voters.

Conservative commentator and evangelical Christian David A. French acknowledges in a piece for the Dispatch: “We know that opposition to abortion rights motivates white Evangelicals far less than their leaders’ rhetoric would suggest. Eastern Illinois University’s Ryan Burge, one of the nation’s leading statisticians of American religion, has noted, for example, that immigration drove Evangelical support for [Donald] Trump more than abortion.

”As for gay rights, the Public Religion Research Institute’s annual values survey shows a majority of White evangelical Christians still oppose gay marriage, but that “substantial majorities in every major religious group favor nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people, ranging from 59% among white evangelical Protestants to 92% among religiously unaffiliated Americans.” Moreover, even opposition to gay marriage is declining because of a massive generational divide on the issue between older evangelicals and more tolerant millennials and Generation Xers.

Rubin’s reading of the relevant research leads her to conclude that what Evangelicals want is not a government that produces legislative fixes to real-world problems but a government willing to engage their enemies on behalf of White Christianity.

Longtime devout Evangelicals have reached similar conclusions. Peter Wehner recently shared his pain in an article for The Atlantic, in which he described the Evangelical Church as “breaking up,” and argued for reclaiming Jesus from his church.

Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC. The Christian Post, an online evangelical newspaper, published an op-ed by one of its contributors criticizing religious conservatives like Platt, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, as “progressive Christian figures” who “commonly champion leftist ideology.” In a matter of months, four pastors resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church, a flagship church in Minneapolis. One of those pastors, Bryan Pickering, cited mistreatment by elders, domineering leadership, bullying, and “spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.” Political conflicts are hardly the whole reason for the turmoil, but according to news accounts, they played a significant role, particularly on matters having to do with race.

In an effort to understand what was happening, Wehner reached out to dozens of pastors, theologians, academics, and historians, as well as a seminary president and people involved in campus ministry. What he found clearly pained him.

The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.

How is it that evangelical Christianity has become, for too many of its adherents, a political religion? The historian George Marsden told me that political loyalties can sometimes be so strong that they create a religious like faith that overrides or even transforms a more traditional religious faith. The United States has largely avoided the most virulent expressions of such political religions. None has succeeded for very long—at least, until now.

Wehner quoted one scholar who noted that Evangelicals “are quick to label their values ‘biblical. But how they interpret the scriptures, which parts they decide to emphasize and which parts they decide to ignore, all this is informed by their historical and cultural circumstances.”

More than most other Christians, however, conservative evangelicals insist that they are rejecting cultural influences,” she said, “when in fact their faith is profoundly shaped by cultural and political values, by their racial identity and their Christian nationalism.”

The lengthy Wehner article is wrenching; it testifies to the pain of truly religious Christians in the face of the politicization of their faith. 

The rest of us are faced with a different pain: the threat to America posed by a racist politics that its practitioners think is religion.